Moses Charge

Robert Moses, you are a leading pioneer of the Civil Rights movement and an educator of extraordinary vision, who on a national scale has brought innovative training in science and math literacy to the challenge of overcoming persistent, debilitating sources of inequality in our society.

You were born in Harlem in 1935; earned a B. A. from Hamilton College in 1956; an M.A. in philosophy in 1957 from Harvard; and you taught math for four years at the Horace Mann School in New York. But inspired by sit-ins in the South and alarmed by the violence of reactions to them, you moved to Mississippi to organize a voters' rights campaign — in a state half of whose population was black, but only five percent of whom were able to vote. You quickly became as well the driving force behind the Mississippi Summer Project of 1964 and organizer of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which challenged the legitimacy of Mississippi's delegates to the 1964 Democratic Convention. In the face of repeated bombings and beatings, and of the murder of three student volunteers, yours was a voice of restraint but also of determination to pursue the quest for just change.

In 1966, you joined those who resisted the draft, moving first to Canada and then to Tanzania, where you worked for the Ministry of Education and, for seven years, chaired the math department at the Samé School.

In 1976, when President Jimmy Carter granted amnesty, you returned to Harvard to pursue a PhD in Philosophy. And in1982, you received the prestigious MacArthur Genius Award. That fellowship enabled you to act on your conviction that math and science literacy are now as critical to economic access, and to full citizenship, as voting rights were in the 1960's.

You founded, and took leadership of, The Algebra Project — a national program that develops innovative algebra and geometry curriculum and trains teachers to deliver that curriculum in exciting and accessible ways to youth from inner city and rural communities. The program has moved more than 40,000 under-prepared math students from relying on situationally-specific mathematical intuition to the joys and the rewards of generalizable understanding of abstract mathematical concepts and operations.

Your book, Radical Equations: Civil Rights from Mississippi to the Algebra Project, published in 2001, is required reading in our Social and Cultural Perspectives in Education seminar because of the link it forges between schooling and social change, because it unfailingly inspires our student-teachers to understand themselves as powerful agents of that change.

Ever the trailblazer, you have just launched an initiative calling for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would make quality public school education a basic civil right.

You have been honored by the War Resisters League Peace Award, the Heinz Award for the Human Condition, and the John Dewey Prize for Progressive Education; and you now serve as the Frank Rhodes Professor at Cornell.

Robert Moses, your resolve in the field to secure the rights of the disenfranchised and your dedication, through education, to ensure inclusion and economic justice reflect the deepest values of the Swarthmore community. We are honored and proud to admit you to this community.

Read Robert Moses's address.