Obama Developing Baby Colleges to Combat Poverty
"Schools found out a long time ago that the way you get parents into school is you have their kids perform, you have their kids do things. So, good schools have great choir and drama programs, art programs, so there is a constant flow of parents coming in and saying 'Oh, this is great, this is wonderful.' And then you can develop a relationship with these parents over time where they respect the school, they respect the principal, and when, and if, there are issues, it's not the first time a parent is coming and meeting all of the players. One of the problems is that in tight fiscal times the first things that get cut are all of these kinds of programs that allow parents to find great excuses to come to school to celebrate teaching and learning through the arts and the sports and those kinds of things."
The Harlem Children's Zone offers parenting classes or what you call "baby colleges." How do persuade someone to participate in a parenting program without feeling a stigma? How do you keep parents from saying: "I know how to raise my own kid?"
"First is the quality of the programs we offer. Our partner - Dr. Berry Brazelton - is the most famous pediatrician in America. All the parents are excited about meeting Dr. Brazelton. Second, we use aggressive outreach to the entire community. We don't just limit it to poor families although 85 percent of families who come are poor. We try and get everyone in the neighborhood."
What are some of the things that parents learn in Baby College?
"The first thing they learn is brain development: why it's important to read to your child, play with your child, why the language you use is so important."
Are you going to leave Harlem and come to Washington to oversee the Promise Neighborhoods for Obama?
"If there is one administration that I would love to be part of, it is this one. But even for this president, I would not leave the Harlem Children's Zone. Our work is at such a critical stage right now. However, I think this is a great opportunity in America and a great leader will be able to do great things in my opinion with Promised Neighborhoods."
When do you expect Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan to announce who is running the program?
"I am thinking that there will probably be some decisions made in 6-8 weeks, in my opinion."
Obama said during the campaign that he wants to create Promise Neighborhoods in 20 cities around the country. Is he biting off more than he can chew?
"I would suggest that coming out of the chute with 20 at the same time would be a lot. But absolutely, he should do 20 in his first term."
"What I have argued is all of these may not work. So within the 20 there may be some that don't work but it won't mean they don't work because the concept is not good. In some places, it will take hold. In other places, they may struggle.
What role did Superman play in motivating your life's work?
"One day my mother told me Superman wasn't real. I was absolutely stunned and broke into tears and she thought it was because of how much I loved Superman. What she didn't recognize was that I realized that if there were no Superman then no one was coming to rescue us. And I always thought Superman would get around to the South Bronx once he took care of Lex Luthor and some of the other villains in the world."