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Bob Moses: Black Students Must Demand College Prep Math

We follow “One New York City High School Cohort” of 77,501 students from 2005 through 2009 to discover (p.21-22) that “the average black or Hispanic student in this cohort completed no (math) college preparatory courses.”

I enter the all black student body of P.S. 90 at 148th St. between 7th and 8th Ave, in Harlem in January 1941. I graduate in January 1947; the nation is on a search for “promising students” following the installation of the Education Testing Service, the introduction of “meritocracy” via the SAT, and the WW II G.I. Bill giving unprecedented college access to college prepared vets.

The nation’s “search” scours every elementary school in Harlem and the South Bronx for one or two “promise-students”; I am scooped into a “rapid advance class” at P.S. 164 on Edgecomb Ave. overlooking the Polo Grounds on the edge of Harlem.  Two white girls and one white boy “integrate” our school via “rapid advance.” I finish junior high school in two and one-half years instead of three, complete a year of algebra, take the test for Stuyvesant and spend three years, the only black, in a “special” class.  Mr. Eifert, my home-room teacher, and I conduct verbal war, he, furious at a black presence in this “special” class, at one point throws something at me (I throw it back) and, in my senior year, works to blacklist me from getting into any college. But Mr. Schindelheim, the basketball coach, helps me find Strontium in his qualitative chemistry class, gladly writes a recommendation on behalf of his favorite basketball player (We beat Commerce HS for the ’52 Manhattan championship), and a “promise-student” gets into Hamilton College.

The average black student in every cohort that ever went through the NYC school system has never completed (math) college preparatory courses.

Every reporter seems to have the same editor, or, at least they all have the same 1960s question:

“Bob, isn’t apathy the reason black sharecroppers don’t go down to register to vote?” 

SNCC’s (The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) field secretaries and sharecroppers wrestled together to refute that attribution and demand what everyone says sharecroppers don’t care about. 

How do we get students warehoused in the “sharecropper-end” of the NYC public school system, since day-one, to demand their education?  How does collective action develop demand for the math the “stats” say they don’t care about?  The paper (p.41) suggests fundamental system reform: “developing alternative structures” and re-examining “progress” for “Leroy” and “Hosea.”  Good luck with that. I suggest going toe-to-toe and face-to-face with “Leroy” and “Hosea” as they leave 8th grade on their way to high school, wrestling together to refute attributions laid on them by “objective” statistics until grit takes hold and “Leroy” and “Hosea” demand the high school math the “stats” say they don’t care about, transforming themselves and their peers into New York City High School Math Cohorts.

Bob Moses is the President of The Algebra Project, Inc. located in Cambridge, Massachusetts.