Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Vision for Math Education in America

BOND: So would it be fair to say there’s not so much a change in vision but a modification and an expansion, a broadening?

HRABOWSKI: That’s right. I would say a broadening of it, yes. And even refinement in understanding with greater specificity things I’ve always believed about what’s possible and how I might go about doing things and through all of that, I should say I still am convinced we can help many more Americans become excited about mathematics.

BOND: It was a challenge for me, I’ll have to say.

HRABOWSKI: It’s because you didn’t have the best teachers. One of the things that you need to know is that that problem is that kids who’re good in math and science who become teachers for the most part are accustomed to being told they’re smart and they are. They’re bright and they were taught that either you’re good in math and science or you’re not. Now, you can be smart in English and history or something else, but either you are in math or you’re not. And that’s just not true. It’s not true. Some people may grasp concepts more quickly. That doesn’t mean they’re going to be the deeper thinker but we tend to think if you can do it like this, it necessarily means you’re smarter. That’s just not true.

BOND: My teacher -- chemistry teacher in Morehouse was Henry [Cecil] McBay. He was famous, well known all over the country. And at the first class in a big lecture hall with a big blackboard at the bottom, he held two pieces of chalk and he said, “I’m here and you’re here,” and he ran down to the end of the blackboard and said, “At the end of the semester, I’ll be here and you will be here, here, here, and here,” and he adequately predicted where I would be. But let’s move on. Now, you’ve said that you want it to be cool to be smart and you want everybody to do the best they can and you’re not above correcting people for using bad grammar and as we’ve been walking around this campus, you speak to everybody, say hello to everybody. I cannot believe you know them all, but you clearly know more people than I think would be typical. Do you know what effect this has? Can you measure what effect this has?

HRABOWSKI: I have no doubt that people watch what presidents of colleges do all the time and those actions of leaders have an impact on other people. I do work to know a lot of students and even when I don’t know them, I want them to know I care by the questions I ask, by taking a minute just to look at someone and it does make a difference. Leaders can do so much more through their actions than they can through their words. Words are important but actions are even more important and I do know that large numbers of colleagues, faculty and staff have said to me over the years, "You know, you’re right, we should be connecting with our students more. We shouldn’t just assume that it’s okay to walk by people without connecting in different ways," and that a part of this community that’s important, a really important part of it, is relationships. The importance of connecting with students and other colleagues to let them know that what they do is important and that they matter. I am always thinking about how much my teachers did for me in school -- in elementary, middle, and high school -- in saying I matter and how little I got that one summer and how that one summer sticks with me when they were telling me through their actions I didn’t matter and that -- it’s amazing how we’re all shaped by our childhood experiences and my point for today and the University is that I know my colleagues care about these students. I see it all the time.

BOND: Well, I don’t know if this is a reflection of this. I’m sure it is. The three of us coming here for the first time found people incredibly welcoming and asking, “Are you lost? Do you know where you’re going? Can I help you?” And that’s not to be expected everywhere, and it’s much appreciated.

HRABOWSKI: And I should say, that is UMBC and it’s not just about me. What’s really important for me to say is that there’re so many people here who’re just smart and caring and they exude that. You get that feeling they want to help and it makes a difference. People want to be here, you know. And they don’t take this experience for granted because every place is not like this.