Whatever it Takes: Geoffrey Canada’s Quest to Change Harlem and America, by Paul Tough

If you are looking for some good summer reading, I would recommend Whatever it Takes by Paul Tough. Tough is a journalist and editor at the New York Times Magazine. In Whatever it Takes, he chronicles the work of Geoffrey Canada and the Harlem Children’s Zone. You may have seen Canada in an American Express commercial where he shares his belief that if we provide high quality health, education, and parent support from birth through graduation, we can create conditions in which even our most poverty-stricken communities achieve. Canada calls this approach ‘the conveyer belt’. And the data indicates that this approach works, with children from the Harlem Children’s Zone outperforming the rest of NY state in reading and mathematics. Tough writes,

“But in the end, what really persuaded me that the Harlem Children’s Zone was such a promising model was not just the results that in Harlem; it was also the surrounding research, a slew of recent studies by economists, sociologists, psychologists, and neuroscientists, much of which I’ve explored in this book and all of which independently points, as I read it, toward a set of solutions very much like the ones Geoffrey Canada has chosen to follow. To change the trajectory of a poor child in an inner-city neighborhood, this research shows, you need to: intervene early in the child’s live; continue to intervene throughout adolescence; give him extra time in school and extra support outside of school; involve his parents if possible but be prepared to compensate for their absence; focus on improving his cognitive skills but also nurture his noncognitive, social, and emotional skills (p. 282).”

It seems to me that a perfect summer read for any educator is one that presents hopeful solutions to the challenges we’ve been grappling with for decades. If you choose to read this book, you will be inspired and energized to continue serving our children well.

Whatever it Takes by Paul Tough is published by Mariner Books (2008).

© Diane Sweeney, all rights reserved.