Program Note: Tune in tonight to hear more on how to stop the violence in Chicago from Steve Perry, on AC360° at 10p.m. ET.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/LIVING/07/22/bia.education.success/art.steve.perry.cnn.jpg caption="CNN's Education Contributor Steve Perry grew up in a public housing project and he founded the school to serve kids from similar backgrounds."]
Yesterday before the program Steve Perry, CNN’s Education Contributor, texted me.
He said he was in make-up and wanted to come down and meet him if I had the time. Two hours earlier we had talked on the phone preparing his segment with Anderson about the violence in Chicago and the changes that need to take place in schools around the country in order to curb inner city crime.
I was happy to make time. I’d heard a lot about Steve. He’s the principal and founder of Capitol Preparatory Magnet School in Connecticut. Before that he managed a homeless shelter, campaigned as a candidate for state representative and published three books, including the best seller "Man Up! Nobody is coming to save us". As a graduate of Newark public schools in New Jersey, I’m always interested in educators who are really trying to improve schools in big cities. I know first hand the need that exists.
When I walked into the make-up room. He was already in an animated discussion about education and the economy with Ali Velshi. Ali left for his live hit so I asked Steve what he thought of Jesse Jackson’s op-ed in which he wrote “…in many cities of the country, children are sensibly scared as they go to school. They should have safe passage to school. In Little Rock, Ark., when we first desegregated students, the federal government sent in troops to guarantee safe passage to school…”
“Is it time that the government take a different approach?” I asked, “Is that what’s needed to fend off inner city violence?
“No,” Steve answered.
“It didn’t work then and it won’t work today. Schools in Arkansas aren’t integrated today. The schools that failed the needs of our kids must be shut down. You can give kids access to schools outside their neighborhoods,” he replied.
“But critics say moving kids into neighborhoods is the problem because it fires up turf wars,” I said.
Steve disagreed: “The them-versus-us mentality starts only when you move a small number of students,” he said. “But the truth is all over the country kids find ways of getting along. At my school we have kids from 22 towns and cities. What we need to do is create better schools and that can mean shutting some in some neighborhoods down. Some schools aren’t providing the basics, teachers aren’t teaching and they can’t be fired.”
Then he said something that really struck me. “The kids who kill in Chicago don’t kill because they have no regard for the life of others. They kill because they have no regards for their own life. They don’t value their life. They have no plans no goals no future. Part of the solution are teachers who really teach, parents who get involved and male role models who don’t go missing."
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