- Paperback: 310 pages
- Publisher: Mariner Books; First edition (September 10, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0547247966
- ISBN-13: 978-0547247960
- Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 0.8 x 11 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 99 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #71,907 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada's Quest to Change Harlem and America First Edition
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About the Author
PAUL TOUGH is the author of Helping Children Succeed and How Children Succeed, which spent more than a year on the New York Times hardcover and paperback bestseller lists and was translated into twenty-eight languages. He is also the author of Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada’s Quest to Change Harlem and America.He is a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine and a regular contributor to the public-radio program This American Life. You can learn more about his work at paultough.com and follow him on Twitter @paultough.
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This book praises Geoffrey Canada as a charismatic visionary who has done his research. Half of the book details how Harlem’s Children Zone actually functions, and the other half explains the academic debate around education empowerment. For both Paul Tough and Geoffrey Canada, the scientific evidence says this: Yes, nature and nurture are important, but so is schooling. Through early, sustained, and deliberate intervention, children can adopt the habits, attitudes, and ways of thinking that will transform their lives. And Geoffrey Canada is obsessed with transforming the lives of Harlem’s residents, whatever it takes – and regardless of Harlem wants to change or not.
Paul Tough is a very good and diligent reporter, but much of the book is unsettling. It reads more like a hagiography rather than a nuanced and sophisticated look at the American education reform debate. For one thing, he never questions Geoffrey Canada’s obsession with test scores, and he would never dream of questioning the agenda of the hedge-fund billionaire who is financing Geoffrey’s “quest to change Harlem and America.” For both author and protagonist, the ends justify the means. Yes, the focus on test scores means that teachers and students are stressed-out all the time, and are deeply unhappy, leading to massive turnover among the faculty. But getting into college changes lives, doesn’t it? Isn’t getting Harlem kids into the middle-class worth all the sacrifice? These are questions that no one can answer except the parents and the kids themselves, but I don’t think anyone has really bothered to ask them these questions. There’s something deeply repugnant about the top-down, results-oriented, data-driven approach that Geoffrey Canada has opted for in Harlem. Whether or not he succeeds in creating the conveyor belt to success he envisions, the fact that he thinks it’s a worthy goal to properly and rationally structure the lives of children is worrisome in itself.
The book illustrates some interesting aspects these programs took on to inform both their structure and management. For instance, since the Harlem Children’s Zone was a charter school a significant source of its funding was through private foundations. As a result the school’s operates with a different requirements and methods for accountability than of most public schools. Canada used this to make student achievement the goal that would drive every aspect of their work. “Canada believed the best way to achieve that goal was to act not like a bighearted altruist but like a ruthless capitalist, devoted to the bottom line. He didn’t think it was right to hold himself or his employees to a looser standard of achievement simply because they happened to be making the world a better place.” (pg. 135) This perspective raises some concerns regarding what motivates our work in education and what we truly value about schools and the growth of the young people we serve.
Although I struggle with this idea of acting like a ruthless capitalist, I can certainly agree with the notion of using data to drive decision making and the urgency of work and change that needs to take place within an organization to facilitate progress towards making all of our students successful. This in part certainly motivated the community partnerships that allow the Harlem Children's zone to engage in so much of the social education and services work that has made their work so successful. As schools consider their place and roles within communities “Whatever It Takes” offers valuable insight on how and why organizational partnerships within local networks don’t happen nearly enough within our schools. In this way the Harlem Children's Zone is a fantastic model for school leaders to use in examining how they can better utilize resources already present within their communities to support the families and children they serve.
The way the book describes how these partnerships and programs have interwoven into the organization fabric of the Harlem Children’s Zone made this idea of the Conveyor Belt of safety nets and support structures that have made the school so successful. What I think is lost in the book is that Organizational frames were consciously used to inform how develop these programs developed. (Structure, Human Resources, Political, Symbolic) But, the context was unique to Harlem and although Canada’s quest has been to change Harlem and America the book fails to illustrate the degree of impact that context has on this work. While Baby College, 3 Year Old Journey, and Pre-Kinder (All Day) programs did wonders for Harlem many other factors need to be considered in developing functioning “Conveyor Belts” across schools in the United States.
“Whatever It Takes” gives school leaders an opportunity to consider how relations with external organizations can be worked into the fabric of a school's structure. There are many lessons to be gained from considering how social capital can be cultivated from similar work and there are plenty of things to consider with regard to how Canada’s very authoritarian leadership style drove change in this institution through passion, dedication, and an unrivaled commitment to the students and community he serves in Harlem. Although this would not be a recommended read if you're looking for examples of distributed leadership, there are important lessons that can inform leaders of times that require more definitive charge and direction from a leader. “Whatever It Takes” is a wonderful read for leaders considering the structure and connections within their organizations and will challenge readers to consider the role leadership should take in driving school reforms.