Talking Points for the opening Panel of Elders – 5/16/2019

Political Knowledge and Practice for Teaching Mathematics Research Conference

Making the Case for Direct Constitutional Federal Investment and Involvement (DCFI)

to Achieve the Common Good in Education.

The Problem:

In a 1964 treatise on Federalism and Civil Rights, Marshall Burke offers a historical platform for understanding how federal actions and inactions between 1875 and 1885 eroded and then eliminated federal prohibitions against racial discrimination, thereby laying the foundation for the displacement and replacement of federal standards by state laws, which established a caste system which was then codified in a 1883 Supreme Court decision declaring the Civil Rights Act of 1875 to be “beyond the powers of Congress to enact.”  Only the dissent of Justice John Marshall Harlan warned of the bleak future ahead. He pointed out that “if Congress could not “independently of the action or non-action of the States legislate to protect federal rights, if that obligation rested primarily, not on the nation, but on the States,” then

“…we shall enter upon an era of constitutional law, when the rights and freedom of American citizenship cannot receive from the nation that efficient protection which heretofore was unhesitatingly accorded to slavery and the rights of the master.” 

This History of residual and persistent racism has now morphed into a national education problem that threatens the Common Good – a multi-racial class and caste system that is leaving behind a significant number of youth who both live in communities that are in the bottom economic quartile but who also perform in the academic bottom quartile and will therefore be denied the opportunity to participate in the 21st century Information Age economy and be competitive in the rapidly emerging global workforce;  In addition our nation will find itself losing ground as a world leader in this changing economic and social context where literacy, and particularly math literacy, will define leadership.  We cannot afford to be left behind nor can we afford to leave any of our youth behind.

The Solution:

In his treatise, Marshall offers some advice on solutions to these problems: He cautions us to  “remember, however, that the direction taken was not inevitable.  Our task is to reverse it, and to make the reversal work, but to do so within the framework of the same institutions.” In that spirit we should organize to translate the moral crawl space opened up by the Constitution (the citizenship and equal protection tenets of the 14th Amendment) to Reinvigorate a Federal Will and therefore its Direct Investment and Involvement in establishing a federal education crawl space that acts on its responsibility for guaranteeing opportunity for those youth struggling to emerge out of the bottom quartile.  There is historical precedence:  the Voting Rights Act of 1957, along with the establishment of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice and the appointment of an Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights in effect created a federally sanctioned and legal space that allowed SNCC field secretaries in the early 1960’s to conduct a voter registration insurgency that dismantled the state of Mississippi’s use of race to deny blacks the vote. Failure of the federal government to act – on its direct Constitutionally sanctioned Will – means that we as a nation continue to be willing to accept inequitable and unjust outcomes based on race, ethnicity, identity, culture and economic status. 

WHAT WE NEED – Direct Federal Involvement and Investment in Public School Education (DCFI):  

Many of the initiatives being discussed as we enter the 2020 election space are clearly reestablishing the role of Federal Will:  Medicare For All is a DCFI for Health Care.  A federally established $15/hour Minimum Wage is a DCFI for employment. In public education, we are pushing for a DCFI which would tackle the “teaching, learning and measurement” of mathematics for the bottom quartile that provides opportunity structures for them grounded in aspirational mathematics platforms geared to the needs of the 21st Century.  The planet wide transition from Industrial economies to Information-Age economies brings with it math literacy and knowledge work that requires quantitative literacy, which, along with reading and writing literacies, is required for participation in our democracy and for access to 21st century economic arrangements.

This issue of educational opportunity for all can no longer be navigated state by state – federal action is needed to ensure that we are “Promoting the General Welfare” as articulated in the Preamble to the Constitution, for the “We the People” who take this geography of the United States as their home.


Robert P. (Bob) Moses, President

The Algebra Project, Inc.

Thursday, May 16, 2019


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