Last Wednesday evening, civil rights advocate Bob Moses addressed students, faculty and community members in an open forum discussion sponsored by the Center for Community Engagement on the need to reform the American education system.
Moses, the former director of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee’s (SNCC) Mississippi Project and founder of the Algebra Project, recently edited the book Quality Education as a Constitutional Right: Creating a Grassroots Movement to Transform Public Education.
During his lecture, Moses introduced the struggle for quality education by narrating his own experience fighting for African American rights during the 1960s.
“One of the issues that we are trying to wrestle with here is how you deal with the issue of public education here with the legacy to expand freedom [in the United States],” Moses said. “All of the things that trouble us as a nation are involved in our public education in one way or another.”
Fundamental to Moses’ argument was the premise that schooling is a federal, as opposed to state, issue. He said that he believes a comparison can be made to Civil Rights Movement figure Fannie Lou Hamer, who protested during the Mississippi Freedom Summer for African American voting rights. According to Moses, both he and Hamer strive to enable an individual to be a “citizen of the nation, not just a citizen of the state.”
Moses traced education inequity back to the age of sharecropping, positing that “sharecropper illiteracy was the subtext of the right to vote” because illiteracy prevented many African Americans from even thinking about approaching the polls.
Moses also acknowledged the correlation between lack of education and incarceration. This “struggle with the country to close the gap between the ideals that it preached and the practices that it condoned” is a critical task, Moses said.
After these opening remarks, Moses passed the microphone to his son, Omo Moses, who proceeded to lead an open discussion on enhancing the American education system.
Student participants contributed to the forum and broke into smaller group discussions to formulate ideas. The individual groups reported back to B. Moses on their own personal empowering and disempowering educational experiences.
After the small group discussions, audience members questioned whether the country was “mature enough” to converse about education inequality but concluded that regardless the national sentiment, reform is needed.
“We haven’t been a nation that has been able to talk about the deepest troubles,” B. Moses said, speaking about the history of the country.
Some students present at the talk pointed out that the country “wasn’t ready” when the debate was about race or gender either. Despite this obstacle, the group concluded that the discussion must continue to ensure that American education practices are reformed.
B. Moses’ appearance at the forum in Brooks Rogers was one of many efforts in his trip to the Berkshires to lobby for a constitutional amendment to ensure quality education for all young United States citizens. At the College, B. Moses also visited Professor of History Sara Dubow’s class, The Fourteenth Amendment and Meanings of Equality, and Professor of Political Science Alex Willingham’s seminar, Voting Rights and Voting Movements.
B. Moses also engaged Mount Greylock Regional High School and MCLA students to analyze the terms of what he believes is a much-needed constitutional amendment guaranteeing Americans quality education. O. Moses, who serves as the founder and national director of the Young People’s Project, and Jessy Molina, the co-director of the national organization Quality Education as a Constitutional Right, joined B. Moses to facilitate discussions.