By the age of 26, Dr. Steve Perry had accomplished more than some do in a lifetime. He had directed a grassroots organization, nabbed a full-ride scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Work, and written a book – the first of his four. In 2004 after focusing on education in the inner-city and kids from low income housing, Dr. Perry’s work led him to found Capital Prep, a charter school in the lowest performing area of Hartford, Connecticut. Capital Prep now boasts some of the best graduating rates in the country and was recognized as one of the best schools to attend by US News & World Reports. In this sit down with Life + Times, the good doctor talks about the benefits of the arts, how hip-hop helps and what he would change with today’s youth.
Life+Times: What is the “American Dream?” Is it an achievable goal for today’s youth?
Dr. Steve Perry: The American Dream is to live out your full potential. The American Dream is really having the freedom to dream and live the dream. It is absolutely attainable, yet, some children’s ability to dream is more limited than others.
L+T: If you could erase a concept from the collective mind of the young, what would it be?
SP: If I could erase a concept from the collective mind of the young, it would be that that failure is an option.
L+T: Classically, the arts have been the black sheep of the school system, and generally are the first to get cut. How do you feel the arts should be handled?
SP: Children learn differently and arts are a very effective way of teaching. I have not met too many dumb artists, most of them are insightful and often well-read. Encouraging more children to participate in the arts is essential.
L+T: You’ve expressed a distaste for hip-hop, citing misogyny. But given its cultural impact, don’t you think an education in hip-hop could help the youth?
SP: Hip-hop helps in many ways. It makes children think anything is possible, it’s the quintessential fantasy world. Practically speaking, people like JAY Z, Kanye, Eminem, Lil’ Wayne, Lupe and Pharrell have changed the actual language that we speak. People like Snoop, love him or hate him, have created a sub-slang – a slang within a slang. Finally, hip-hop encourages children to write. And oh, by the way, what form of music isn’t misogynistic?
L+T: A student wants to advance, but certain societal hurdles are excessively taller for him/her than they are for others. Should this student work out more, and learn to jump higher? Or should he simply duck under the hurdle?
SP: Students should do whatever it takes, whatever they’re capable of, to get past the hurdles in their life.
L+T: You have succeeded where others haven’t. What is it about your philosophy/approach that is so successful in reaching your students?
SP: My kids know that I love them so they forgive me for being from another generation or being especially hard on them.
L+T: How has your life experience helped you succeed in educating your students? Can you imagine how your life experience might hinder your effectiveness with your students?
SP: I don’t know that my life experience in particular has prepared me in the sense that traditionally, people think that if you grew up poor, than you’re better at educating the poor. I think the part of my life experience that matters the most is that I abhor losing and love winning.
L+T: Some educators question a “one size fits all” model. Do you think your approach can be duplicated in all schools?
SP: There are parts of our school experience that need to be duplicated in all schools but everything ain’t for everybody. Schools should go year-round. Every child needs to be assigned a professional that needs to work with them as an advisor. High expectations need to be the standard and teachers should love their students as they love their own biological children.
Dr. Perry’s new book, Push Has Come to Shove: Getting Our Kids The Education They Deserve – Even If It Means Picking A Fight is in stores on September 13. Order here.