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

4.15  ·  Rating details ·  4,187 ratings  ·  482 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
Hardcover, 296 pages
Published August 12th 2008 by Houghton Mifflin
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nicolle jennelle
Nov 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 10, 2009 rated it really liked it
"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
Aug 29, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 05, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 18, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 09, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
AJ Nolan
Jan 21, 2012 rated it liked it
I've read articles and heard interviews with Geoffery Canada and just heard him speak at Old Dominion University, and for the most part I am a fan of what he is doing in Harlem with the Harlem Children's Zone (HCZ) and his Promise Academy. And this book is definitely worth reading for anyone who hasn't read articles about him, or the HCZ. Canada has been doing excellent work with his varied different initiatives in Harlem, trying to tip the scales in his community, to break the cycle of imbalanc ...more
Nov 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Great book focusing on education changes in America. This was factual and also page turning.
Nicholas Karpuk
Oct 02, 2009 rated it really liked it
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.

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
Aug 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
This is a unique book on the role of a leader to bring vision into reality. First, it is an unfinished story; the Harlem Children's Zone has a vision of transforming the lives of a whole community, but the book ends with as many questions as accomplishments. Second, it shows the leader, Geoffrey Canada, as a real person with strengths and weaknesses, ups and downs, highs and lows. Too many books on leaders make them seem unapproachable. Third, the story is told as much by the people Canada leads ...more
Lady Jane
May 09, 2011 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
Jan 18, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
I read this book as it was required reading for an educational policy course at MSU. I thoroughly enjoyed and was surprised by the narrative style that Tough uses to describe the work of Geoffrey Canada, the families they worked with, and the scope of the Harlem Children's Zone's mission to reach the community. As an educator, I read a fair bit of literature about educational reform and feel I take them with a grain of salt. This book was a refreshing reprieve from the "white man savior" calls t ...more
Aug 23, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
S.L. Stacy
Dec 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
This is a worthwhile read for anyone interested in socioeconomic disparities, education, and even public health. Readers gain insight into both the life and career of Geoffrey Canada, and in particular the successes and failures he experienced creating the Harlem Children's Zone. I would be interested to find out what became of some of the families and children highlighted in the book. I have to say, though, I didn't feel nearly as hopeful after reading Whatever It Takes as some of the reviewers ...more
Oct 16, 2008 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. ...more
Joseph Mole
Sep 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I've been following Geoffrey Canada's work since reading his book "Reaching Up for Manhood," which I read in grad school. As someone who has spent my career addressing barriers facing children and families living in poverty, I am inspired and challenged by Canada's hard fought success with the Harlem Children's Zone. While the realities described by Paul Tough in this book are very familiar to me, I hope to some day make even a fraction of the difference Geoffrey Canada has made in the lives of ...more
Feb 03, 2009 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!!!! ...more
Aug 17, 2009 rated it really liked it
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.
Sep 12, 2008 rated it really liked 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. ...more
Feb 26, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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....) ...more
Clownface3 Kinder
Jul 17, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: couldn-t-finish
The writing is overly simplistic. The focus on political/social underpinnings of Canada's work was interesting, but would have been more engaging if told within the context of the stories of families in the Zone. Felt like the book couldn't find it's narrative home. ...more
daria ❀
Jan 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
I had to read this for a reading seminar I am taking at school. I'm hoping to eventually become a high school English teacher and this book was a real eye-opener and should be of extreme importance to all educators. ...more
Sep 01, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
May 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing
In Paul Tough’s book, Whatever It Takes, he takes the reader on a journey through Harlem, New York’s fractured public education system, and introduces a remarkable person with a solution to fix it. Geoffrey Canada, having grown up in an urban school system himself, had a vision for the city of Harlem and the children that resided there. For years Canada attempted to work with public schools in Harlem, attempting to provide the children with the education suburban kids are given on a daily basis. ...more
Eduardo Santiago
WHY do I keep reading books like these?? Do I really need more evidence that early intervention is crucial for childhood development? More heartbreaking anecdotes about the lost ones, the older kids who, despite everyone’s best intentions including their own, will simply never catch up? More recognition of the power of dedicated individuals in shaping lives? (Spoiler alert: yes, I guess I did, and quite possibly so do you).

This is a remarkable, powerful book. Mainly it’s a history (through 2007)
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
Jul 24, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
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Paul Tough is the author, most recently, of The Years That Matter Most: How College Makes or Breaks Us. His three previous books include How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, which was translated into 27 languages and spent more than a year on the New York Times hardcover and paperback best-seller lists. Paul is a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazi ...more

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