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

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  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 2008-08-12
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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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 central Harlem where he is testing new and sometimes controversial ideas about poverty in America. His conclusion: if you want poor kids to be able to compete with their middle-class peers, you need to change everything in their lives- their schools, their neighborhoods, even the child-rearing practices of their parents. Whatever It Takes is a tour de force of reporting, an inspired portrait not only of Geoffrey Canada but also of the parents and children in Harlem who are struggling to better their lives, often against great odds. Carefully researched and deeply affecting, this is a dispatch from inside the most daring and potentially transformative social experiment of our time.

Author Biography

Paul Tough is an editor at the New York Times Magazine and one of America’s foremost writers on poverty, education, and the achievement gap. His reporting on Geoffrey Canada and the Harlem Children’s Zone originally appeared as a Times Magazine cover story. He lives with his wife in New York City.

Table of Contents

The Lotteryp. 1
Unequal Childhoodsp. 21
Baby Collegep. 53
Contaminationp. 98
Battle Modep. 126
Bad Applesp. 155
Last Chancep. 174
The Conveyor Beltp. 188
Escape Velocityp. 213
Graduationp. 234
What Would It Take?p. 257
Acknowledgmentsp. 271
Notesp. 276
Indexp. 286
Table of Contents provided by Ingram. All Rights Reserved.


"Can I have everyone's attention?"Canada mounted the stage and stood behind a lectern, leaning over the microphone. The room was loud, a steady din of chatter pierced by an occasional wail from a child, and Canada waited for the noise to recede. On a long table next to him a gold drum held a jumble of index cards, each one printed with the name of a prospective student...When the hum in the auditorium died down, Canada began. "We are calling our school Promise Academy because we are making a promise to all of our parents," he said. "If your child is in our school, we will guarantee that child succeeds. There will be no excuses. 'We are not going to say, The child failed because they came from a home with only one parent.' We're not going to say, 'The child failed because they're new immigrants into the country.' If your child gets into our school, that child is going to succeed." The curriculum at Promise Academy would be intense, he said. Classes would run from 8 A.M. to 4 P.M., five days a week--an hour and a half longer than regular city schools. After-school programs would run until 6 P.M., and the school year would continue well into July. There would be brand-new facilities, healthy lunches, a committed staff. "If you work with us as parents, we are going to do everything--and I mean everything--to see that your child gets a good education."

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