Paul Tough

Writer & Speaker

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

Boston Review review

From the May/June issue of the Boston Review, a long and thoughtful review by James Forman Jr. of “Whatever It Takes” and Jay Mathews’s book on KIPP, “Work Hard. Be Nice.”

My favorite section was on something that doesn’t get mentioned much in either book: segregation.

It says something important that the schools offered up as our best hopes are so completely segregated. It says even more that neither Tough nor Mathews feels the need to address the question of segregation in their books.

It is a tragedy that we have taken integration off the table. Perhaps I believe this because my parents—one black, one white—met in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and saw themselves as part of a struggle for an integrated, beloved community. Perhaps it is because I am still moved by Thurgood Marshall’s argument that our nation will only learn to live together when our children learn together. Or maybe it is because of my lingering fear that if poor kids are isolated in schools of their own, they will inevitably end up being shortchanged by a society content with massive wealth inequality. If we make schools better and improve the lives of some kids (or, in Canada’s case, a whole neighborhood) but do nothing to disrupt segregation, are we simply making separate a little more equal?

Despite these misgivings, I think I know how Canada, Feinberg, and Levin would defend their choice. I know it because, when I saw the terrible schools for jailed kids in D.C., I felt an obligation to help create a better alternative, even though I knew that almost every child in the school would be African-American and that most would be poor. I recognized the urgency of offering those kids the support and resources that no other program was going to provide. But I do not want to live in a society that accepts this situation as inevitable. And I am confident that Canada, Feinberg, and Levin do not, either.

2 comments on “Boston Review review

  1. Frankie Lancos says:

    HCZ is such an exciting concept. Do you know which cities are currently planning to adopt this model? Your book was terrific.

  2. Paul Tough says:

    Thanks, Frankie.

    I don’t know of any cities that are quite at that stage. But there are many where people are seriously considering the HCZ model, including Chicago, D.C., New Haven, Baltimore and Philadelphia.

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