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Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada's Quest to Change Harlem and America

4.15 of 5 stars 4.15  ·  rating details  ·  2,989 ratings  ·  434 reviews
What would it take?

That was the question that Geoffrey Canada found himself asking. What would it take to change the lives of poor children—not one by one, through heroic interventions and occasional miracles, but in big numbers, and in a way that could be replicated nationwide? The question led him to create the Harlem Children’s Zone, a ninety-seven-block laboratory in c
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published August 12th 2008 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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48th out of 98 books — 36 voters
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Nicole Jennelle
It has been said [by me] that if I hear another Portlander ask me if I've read "Lies My Teacher Told Me" in response to hearing that I'm a teacher, that'd I'd smack said Portlander in the face [possibly literally]. It's not that I hate the book: it's that it symbolizes the modern evolution of casual citations of Michael Moore movies and easy reliance on simplistic conspiracy theories that I think gives over-educated white people a dose of comfort for the guilt of living in a racist, classist soc ...more
"It's the parents' fault", is the oft-heard retort to all sorts of problems in our educational system. While that statement may be descriptive, it isn't prescriptive. Geoffrey Canada has an ambitious prescription to help poor urban kids in Harlem, first by ignoring vexing political and social question about the origins of the cycle of poverty. His plan is social engineering on a grand scale -- he needs to break the cycle somewhere, and chooses to draw a line in the generational sands. All the ki ...more
I like the idea behind Geoffrey Canada's Harlem Children's Zone. Take babies and parents of those babies and put them through a conveyor-belt system, from the time the baby is in the womb until high school. However, parts of the book annoyed me. I know test results are important in today's educational system but I felt Canada was obsessed with them, and like one of the members of his staff pointed out, you can't treat a school like a business. You can't take a kid, throw in X plus Y and get a co ...more
This book is important.

I heard this episode of This American life, and as the show often does to me, I stayed seated in my car in my driveway until the segment was over. The theme of the episode was "Going Big", chronicling the deeds of people who took impressive measures to solve a problem. One of those people is Geoffrey Canada, and the show talks about the Harlem Children's Zone.

At the time, I was a new mom (I'm still sorta newish) and the subject of maximizing a child's intellectual developm
I've heard about Geoffrey Canada; he was featured on episodes of NPR's Fresh Air and This American Life. As a former inner city teacher and current suburban teacher, I'm always interested in issues like education equity, achievement gap, etc...
I think Canada is a fascinating figure-- idealistic and intensely pragmatic at the same time. God bless him and people like him who serve the poor and oppressed
straightforward writing made this book about the effects of poverty (and the many issues that accompany it) on the spectrum of children's education really digestable and extremely compelling. Makes the best case for why an integrated and holistic approach to raising/nurturing/education children is essential for them as individuals as well as the society.
Redeemer Community Partnership
We shared this book with our board of directors in September. It tells the story of the Harlem Children's Zone, one of the most innovative and impactful community development efforts in the country.

Geoffrey Canada, the organization's director, is attempting to transform a 100 square block section of Harlem. Not just provide services to those who want/need them, not just help a small number of young people "escape" their neighborhood, not just intervene in one or two specific urban problems. Wit
Nicholas Karpuk
I bought this book on the strength of a piece Paul tough did about the Harlem project "Baby College" played multiple times on This American Life. The piece is incredibly uplifting, discussing a program Geoffrey Canada started in Harlem in an attempt to stop the cycle of poverty and violence. The task was to start out kids as early as possible with the right tools to succeed, teaching parents the techniques upper class parents use to give their children good linguistic and mathematical skills.

This is a genuinely important book. The famous pro-capitalism quote "the business of America is business" could easily be updated to "the business of America is education" as the only employees who are still in demand are the well-educated and those willing to work for pennies (and the second group are not to be found in the U.S. anymore). Yet voters and politicians who are all blandly willing to repeat how valuable an education is have not taken the concrete actions to improve a system that has ...more
Reads like an extra-long NYT Magazine profile of Geoffrey Canada. Well written, researched, and edited. Fair, informative, and engaging.

As a journalist, Tough is adept at "hiding his tracks" -- muting any personal bias, and making his prose flow seamlessly between various scenes, dialogues, summaries of relevant research, and historical/biographical background that enriches our understanding of the overall story.

Substance-wise, this book helpfully distills all that's sad and wrong about urban po
Lady Jane
May 09, 2011 Lady Jane added it
Shelves: education
I was disappointed in this book. I wanted more information about the actual educational processes that Canada is advocating and implementing. Apart from the discussion of the "conveyor belt" concept and the detailed description of the Harlem Gems program that concentrated on language, I found the obsession with test scores highly disturbing. I also thought that his time-goals for raising test scores for the middle school students were unrealistic. He made decisions based on his benefactors' need ...more
This book is about Geoffrey Canada and his continuum of programs designed to get kids from Harlem into college. His programs offer intensive support starting before birth continuing all the way through high school. As I read the book, I had conflicting reactions. I completely agree with the philosophy that interventions need to be all-encompassing. A six hour school day isn't enough when kids are going home to chaos.
I think my main problem with the book is that I don't necessarily agree with th
Paul Tough does an incredible job of detailing Geoffrey Canada's life, his passions, his dreams. While the book is about Canada and the programs he establishes in Harlem, Tough weaves personal stories of families into the mix along with a splash of history about poverty and race relations to give the story an even bigger context.

From this book, you learn that everyone wants something better for their children. You learn that many want something better for other children and spend their careers
Nov 01, 2009 Sarah marked it as to-read
Shelves: nonfiction
Picked this up at Borders today. Been meaning to read it for a while now... ever since these guys were all over NPR last fall. Heard Paul Tough on the September 26, 2008 episode of This American Life. Then Geoffrey Canada appeared on both This I Believe and Eight Forty-Eight on November 6, 2008.
Jackie Rose
This is a really important book. Geoffrey Canada and the Harlem Children's Zone are doing amazing, life- and generation-changing work in Harlem and I pray that they continue to have success and that similar programs will start blooming across the country so that the problem of education in impoverished areas will finally start to heal...

Reading this, I feel that I learned a lot about the nature of poverty, about cognitive development in toddlers and very young children, and about education refor
I liked this book because it told about the struggles to get a good idea up and running, the pitfalls, setbacks, and triumphs. I heard the author interviewed on NPR and picked it up at the library, but turns out I needed to waitlist because lots of other people wanted to read it too. After having been a tutor/mentor in language arts for students in grades 3-4-5 for several years, I wanted to see how another program worked to help students who were behind in school catch up.
Feb 03, 2009 Iris added it
This was a hard-hitting look at the impact of poverty upon the education of minority children. It can be applied to any child growing up in an area of 60% poverty whether they live in Harlem or not. Tough chronicles Geoffrey Canada's life experiences and revolutionary perspectives. He deftly combines research with real life experiences to detail the struggle between hopelessness and possibility. I LOVE IT!!!!
this book is about the organization i work for and the big boss man. it's informative and interesting, weaving the developmental theory that underlies our programming with the stories of how it's come be. if you like books like "there are no children here" or "random family" i think you will really like this. i would give it 4.5 stars, but that's just not a possibity.
I had goosebumps and was close to tears in the 1st 15 pages. So far, this is both an engaging read and incredibly well written book. (Finally an author/editor/copy editor who is skilled in the art of writing and the English language! After some of the books I've read lately, I was beginning to wonder....)
Excellent. A good read on HCZ, education, poverty, and how complicated it is for our nation to raise it's education; but a must and a right we owe future generations of new learners.
Mathew White
As an educator, I really enjoyed learning some of the details of the Harlem Children Zone project, Promise Academy, and insights from other programs, such as where administrators focus their resources and why, the problem of students "fading out", and simple suggestions that can be presented to students to help them modify their behaviors in class in order to get better results (i.e. SLANT from KIPP Academy). Thanks to Paul Tough for making it an enjoyable read, and hats off to Geoffrey Canada a ...more
Inner city poverty's causes are many, and programs to address or end it -- from government, faith-communities and the private sector -- have produced anecdotal successes, but no systemic, replicable solutions.

Against all odds, Geoffrey Canada has managed to assemble what he calls a "conveyor belt" -- from pre-natal classes through charter school to college admission -- designed to give kids born into desperate poverty a process through which to escape it, and to become ambassadors back in their
This is theMountains Beyond Mountains of ed reform. It's a compelling look at Geoffrey Canada and the Harlem Children's Zone, told by a journalist who has clearly lived and breathed his subject for many months.
There are two complementary strategies employed by the HCZ to help all the kids in their 97-block escape the cycle of poverty.

The Conveyor Belt
What Canada, along with many researchers, has found is that early interventions like Head Start significantly improve the academic achievement of
I picked this up after reading an article by the author in the New York Times magazine. While campaigning in 2008, President Obama talked about supporting "whole-community" programs such as Geoffrey Canada's Harlem Children's Zone, as a way to "break the cycle" of poverty in poor, urban communities. The article asked whether a community in Chicago's South Side had been helped by what Obama intended to do. The answer was no. The article piqued my interest in Canada's "Harlem Children's Zone" and ...more
Dec 21, 2009 Karin rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone committed to doing whatever it takes to make a positive impact in the educational community.
Recommended to Karin by: Executive Director of a Non-Profit
For a graduate project, I was researching the effects of poverty on first generation college bound students and this book was recommended to me by a friend.

I've worked in the field of education for 15 years in various capacities and have been more discouraged than encouraged regarding the importance of education for both the individual, communities, and our society overall. The lack of commitment from students and families, and lack of passion on the side of administrators and faculty, has crea

I chose this book because it is an assigned read for my son's sociology class- and you know how I like to read what my children are reading, (although, I never keep up with each of them)! Also, I was interested in this work because I lived in both Michigan and New York where in some cities, neighborhoods were stricken with poverty more abundantly than not.

This book has taught me so much about people a world apart from me; their ambitions or lack thereof, environment, family dynamics, lack of re
Elevate Difference
Geoffrey Canada comes from the Harlem streets, raised by a single mother who wanted to make sure her sons excelled even though the options for young Black men in poverty seem limited to imprisonment or death. Paul Tough’s book, Whatever It Takes, is part-biography of how Canada went from gang member to head of a large non-profit organization, and part-documentation of the Harlem Children’s Zone, which is Canada’s vision for egalitarian education. His method has gained support from Oprah, and Pre ...more
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
Geoffrey Canada is a teacher who came up against the most-difficult-to-educate group of kids a teacher can face: kids who grew up in poverty, with broken homes, surrounded by drugs and guns and alcohol. But Canada was not daunted by this group. As a child, he grew up in the same world and, somehow, he managed to transcend that world and make a good life for himself. Canada, unlike other reformers, found much to love in the Harlem in which he grew up. He found support and love among his fellow Af ...more
On its own terms, this book is a great read. Not only does it thoroughly depict Jeffrey Canada's vision for the Harlem Children's Zone, and why that KIND of vision really matters, it does a very useful job summarizing a bunch of research that correlates early childhood, education, parenting style, etc. to life outcomes: graduation, college attendance, having a job vs. landing in prison, etc. For the research summaries alone, I found the book an educational read.

I only gave this three stars beca
Daniel Lee
This book was a little problematic to me. I read and borrowed it from a Professor that I respect but it was hard to hold back my bias against charter schools and school privatization. I will say I was happy that the author (Paul Tough) and the subject of the book (Geoffrey Canada) also expressed some misgivings. That being said the thinking outlined in the book about a need for a systematic intervention in the realm of education is needed to truly address the decades (perhaps centuries) long epi ...more
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Paul Tough is the author, most recently, of How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, which has been translated into 25 languages and has spent more than a year on the New York Times hardcover and paperback best-seller lists. His first book, Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada's Quest to Change Harlem and America, was published in 2008. He is a contributing writer to ...more
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How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character What It Takes to Make a Student როგორ აღწევენ ბავშვები წარმატებას: შეუპოვრობა, ცნობისმოყვარეობა და ხასიათის უხილავი ძალა Cómo triunfan los niños (Educación y familia) Mirth of a Nation: The Best Contemporary Humor

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“Of course poor people have deficits, researchers could now reply. That’s what poverty is: a lack of resources, both internal and external. But those deficits, whether they were in income or knowledge or even more esoteric qualities like self-control or perseverance or an optimistic outlook, were not moral failings. The appropriate response was not to deny them or excuse them, nor was it to criticize them and cluck about them and wag a finger at them. It was to solve them.” 0 likes
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