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Whatever it Takes (on Educating in the midst of Concentrated Poverty)

June 3, 2012

“Canada’s objective was to create a safety net woven so tightly that children in the neighborhood couldn’t slip through. It was an idea both simple and radical …” ~Paul Tough, author of Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada’s Quest to Change Harlem and America

The book primarily explores and examines both Geoffrey Canada, as a fascinating, charismatic leader seeking positive social and economic change in the most challenged communities, and the Harlem Children’s Zone, his epic, multifaceted community uplift effort. It is, at times, difficult to read about all the uncertainty and struggle that so many people encounter while trying to improve their own lives and that of their children and other young family members. One of the strengths of the book, however, is not merely this intriguing journalistic aspect, but rather its collection and integration of a wide swath of the most relevant literature of the past several decades on issues like class/socioeconomic status (esp. poverty), child development, intelligence and brain development, early childhood and elementary education, and the complicated policy/political environment in which all of these topics are being analyzed and addressed. If nothing else, this book is a great place to start, the first of many breadcrumbs.

There are, of course, critiques of this model, particularly considering the way in which it relies on massive amounts of financial backing and its literal “uplift” orientation, which aims to prepare marginalized youth to function in explicitly “middle class” (and, possibly, Euro-American) ways.  Yet, it remains compelling as a project – a collaborative, holistic initiative striving to address education and poverty all at once.  It is not THE solution (the silver bullet or anything else that some might wish it to be), but I’m not sure there can even be a singular solution to the myriad concerns affecting the educational achievement and economic stability of children and youth growing up in areas of concentrated poverty.  Canada’s model offers us some ideas and, it seems, it has also offered some parents hope.  That is very much worth acknowledgment and respect.

Pick up your copy here:   Amazon link.

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