Pre-K plan rests on faulty premise

Letter to the Editor

By DR. LENORA FULANI | 2/20/2014, 3:45 p.m.
Pre-K, and the call to create a dedicated tax-based funding scheme for it, rests on the assumption that we must ...
Dr. Lenora Fulani

This is not a time for lowest-common-denominator science. Given the crisis of poverty and income inequality, it is a time to turn to the most advanced and sophisticated discoveries. This is not an argument against pre-K. It is an argument for a rigorous exploration by the City Council and the mayor of the breakthroughs in development at all ages that we see at the All Stars every single day.

I also told the City Council that the point at which they choose to engage a problem—and in this case, we’re talking about the educational failure of an incredible magnitude in the poor community—they must also take into consideration the impact that, that engagement could have not just on the kids, but on the entire community. Teenagers—the very ones hanging out on corners and jumping turnstiles, etc.—are actually the role models for the little ones. If those teenagers can be developmentally engaged, this can be impactful on the small kids who look up to them, as well as on the parents and the adults in the community. I can’t tell you how many parents have joined our programs because they see their teenage kids transformed by the experience of performance or by being exposed to the world beyond the boundaries of East New York or Far Rockaway.

I would love to work with the City Council to move the discussion of youth development out of the narrow box that it takes place in while we continue to lose more and more people in our community to poverty and underdevelopment. I offered the All Stars Project as a developmental model to them, to the mayor and to the city.

I ended my testimony by dedicating it to Khalil, a 14-year-old Black kid who failed eighth-grade last year—actually eighth-grade failed him. After we talked openly about his humiliation around being related to as dumb, he said, “Dr. Fulani, how do you build confidence?” I said he needed to have experiences outside of school that made him confident. Then he could go back into school and put that confidence to work in ways that lead to his developing as a learner.

He said to me, “I want to do that.”

Millions of our teenagers feel the same way. Let’s not abandon them.

Lenora Fulani is co-founder of the All Stars Project, Inc., a constellation of privately funded after-school development programs that serve more than 10,000 inner-city youth and adults each year, among them Operation Conversation: Cops and Kids, a program she directs in partnership with the New York City Police Department.