Volume VII, 2009
Whatever It Takes
Tough, Paul. Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada’s Quest to Change Harlem and America. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, Co. 296 pages. $16.34. [ISBN: 9780618569892]
Written by Peter Tough, this is an inspiring story of a man named Geoffrey Canada who set out to better the lives of children in a 97-block area labeled the Harlem Children’s Zone. Within this space, Canada is testing strategies that can improve the lives of thousands of children raised in poverty.
Raised in poverty himself, Canada understood first-hand the difficult circumstances these in which children are often raised.  His mother did her best to raise him and his brothers on public assistance without the support of their father.  Understanding the importance of books and educational experiences, she regularly took her sons to the library and the museum.
As a junior in high school, he was struck by the shortcomings of his own school while part of a youth delegation visit to a neighboring town’s high school.  When he returned, Canada envisioned a role for himself that would allow him to help poverty-stricken youth.
The book includes data that paints a startling picture of poverty’s impact on children.  From differences in communication to the ability of parents to identify and understand the importance of teachable moments, these children suffer the long-lasting effects of poverty that can reach into their adulthood.
Canada and his team developed several programs to improve the success of the children for whom he cared so passionately.  These programs included Baby College, Three-year-old Journey, Harlem Gems, and Promise Academy.  From encouraging soon-to-be parents to rethink their notions of child rearing to challenging children to do their absolute best, these programs were built with a focus on results.  After re-thinking the overall process, Canada decided to implement a conveyor belt system in order to continue to build upon the success of program participants.
While reading this book, I was struck by the importance placed on testing. While children were expected to succeed overall, I was surprised to find out that much of the classroom emphasis was geared at increasing the scores for a variety of tests including those required by the state.  But this was a very important indicator for success, especially for the board members who had donated their time and personal wealth to complete this project.
In conclusion, Whatever It Takes is a valuable book for those interested in improving the overall success of vulnerable children and families.