Whatever It Takes by Paul Tough


Paul Tough, a writer for the New York Times Magazine, has taken on a large topic in his book about Geoffrey Canada and his "Quest to Change Harlem and America," as the subtitle has it.  Geoffrey Canada is an educator who has worked in Harlem for many years.  His own life story enabled him to observe the differences in parenting styles that are key to having the skills to move out of poverty in America.  When he had a later-in-life son, after he had become successful and moved to the suburbs, he observed that his fellow parents expended lots of energy on activities to increase their children's ability to succeed.  Without even thinking about it, beginning on day one, they talk endlessly to their children and give them countless learning experiences.

At the Harlem Children's Zone work begins with Baby College, where pregnant women and their partners learn ways to improve their babies' opportunities.  They hear about talking to the baby, reading to them daily, changing their discipline, and more.  The children then move "on the conveyer belt" through the various programs run by the organization, including elementary school.

Paul Tough spent many hours over a five year period at the various programs and tells the stories of some of the parents and students.   He reviews programs aimed at reducing poverty in America beginning with LBJ's war on poverty.  His review of the research on the topic is riveting — hard to believe, but, it is.  He does a great job at enabling you to understand why the approach of Geoffrey Canada has a real chance of making a difference.  This is the most heartening book about poverty I could imagine.

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