Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada’s Quest to Change Harlem and America (Tough)

As more and more attention is paid to the school to prison pipeline, I think we need to return to Canada’s work, as it is described in this sympathetic account by Paul Tough, an account that is at least 7 years old. (Has anyone re-visited Canada’s work?)

Rather than a pipeline or even a cycle, Canada thought in terms of a conveyor belt. We must, Canada asserts (and he is supported by a great deal of research) intervene early – with parents before their children are even of school age. The word gap must be closed before children arrive at school. And it is no longer enough to close the doors of the school house and try to accomplish everything inside those doors and within certain hours. We need to reconsider the school year and even the school day. What children are doing outside of school can be as important as what they are doing inside of school. The question is will those choices support what is going on inside the school or detract from it? And where, absent the charisma of someone like Canada, will this money come from? And how, aside from or perhaps even in addition to standardized tests, will we know if this approach is working?

I was glad to read Tough’s account of the decision to delay the opening of the high school. I had always heard it in terms of him simply just kicking out a whole year’s worth of students, but the reality is not that simple. The first year had not gone well. They had to re-set. Canada had to make the difficult decision to weigh the needs of the few against the goals of the Zone overall. And Canada and his staff apparently did a remarkable job helping their first group of students make the transition to high school. I would have liked to see Tough look into whether they still took advantage of the after school programs the Zone offered and, most importantly, whether they graduated and went off to college.

But though Canada knows he cannot reach everyone, he does not abandon the ‘superhero’ approach to trying to help older children. It may not be as cost effective or supported by research, but it’s still quite necessary. Canada truly wants to leave no child behind.



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