Whatever It Takes is the story of Geoffrey Canada, the president and mastermind of the Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ) an audacious social experiment that hopes to reduce poverty and raise education achievement in a 97-block area in Harlem. (Coincidentally, the program was mentioned today in a post here.) Paul Tough, the book’s author, reported on one of HCZ’s most discussed programs, called Baby College, in a recent episode of This American Life. The program is typical of HCZ’s ambition: it aims to teach poorer parents child-rearing techniques that are more conducive to learning, and is the first step on a “conveyor belt” of comprehensive programs meant to carry those children all the way into college.
From a Q&A on Tough’s website about HCZ:
The people running [other education reform organizations] share a set of beliefs with Geoff: that the achievement gap between poor minority kids and middle-class white kids is the most important civil rights issue of our time; that despite the disadvantages they face, every poor child can succeed; that in order to overcome those disadvantages, those kids often need an extraordinary amount of support; and that finding a way to get them that support is a shared national responsibility.
But there are some important differences too. Those education reformers tend to focus on schools alone. And they have produced many excellent schools and teachers. But Geoff’s project is based on the idea that schools alone can’t solve all the problems facing poor children. Which is why he runs not just a charter school but also a parenting program and an all-day prekindergarten and an after-school tutoring program and family-support centers. He thinks that in order to succeed with big numbers of kids, you need to do it all.