Paul Tough

Writer & Speaker

Posts Tagged ‘reviews’

Saturday, July 4th, 2009

Some recent links

– Geoffrey Canada visits the White House.

– Wicked Local Arlington does a stream-of-consciousness transcription of my talk (and a panel discussion) at the MassINC event in Boston.

– PostBourgie, an online “running, semi-orderly conversation about class and politics and media and gender and whatever else we can think of,” chooses Whatever It Takes as its Book of the Month.

– And a professor at Messiah College in Pennsylvania reviews Whatever It Takes from the homeschooling perspective.

Thursday, June 4th, 2009

Education Next review

In the Summer issue of Education Next, Cara Spitalewitz reviews Whatever It Takes:

Tough has been interviewing and observing Canada for five years, and his knowledge of the inner workings of Canada’s programs and the ideas driving them is striking. He provides overviews of the current research on early intervention as well as the evolution of poverty theory, from the controversy surrounding the 1965 Moynihan report to the debate between sociologist William Julius Wilson and political scientist Charles Murray about the root causes of poverty. …

Tough covers a great deal of ground, but what runs through all of his reporting is [Geoffrey] Canada’s staunch pragmatism. As competing education manifestos vie for policymakers’ allegiance, “which side are you on?” distressingly seems to be a more important question for many than “what works?” Canada, along with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, is one of the few education leaders to have signed both manifestos. Who can focus on philosophical debates when we are losing children by the tens of thousands?

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

Maclean’s blog

On his blog at, the website of Maclean’s, the Canadian weekly, Andrew Potter reviews “Whatever It Takes”:

Tough’s book is the distillation of four years of reporting he did on the HCZ, while working for the New York Times magazine. It traces the evolution of Canada’s efforts, narrating both the wonderful successes (such as the Baby College that teaches even the most inept and unprepared parents how to properly foster their child’s cognitive development) as well as the failures — the most heartbreaking of which is the summary expulsion of an underperforming class of eighth graders from his charter school, the Promise Academy. …

Harlem is one of the most complicated, fascinating, and exasperating neighborhoods in North America. Geoffrey Canada is a remarkable man, and Paul Tough has written a small masterpiece about him and his community.

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.

Monday, April 27th, 2009

Philadelphia Public School Notebook

In the Winter issue of the Philadelphia Public School Notebook, a quarterly newspaper for parents and teachers in the city’s public schools, a review of Whatever It Takes:

Whatever it Takes is an engaging read that will have teachers, parents, administrators, and students rethinking the ways in which change can happen and what kind of change is achievable. It also shows that determination, flexibility, and community support can bring about meaningful, widespread reform.

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

Wilson Quarterly Review

In the Spring issue of the Wilson Quarterly, Tom Toch reviews “Work Hard. Be Nice.,” “Sweating the Small Stuff” and “Whatever It Takes”:

Paul Tough argues compellingly in Whatever It Takes that new school models cannot by themselves transform urban education. A writer and editor at The New York Times Magazine, Tough tells the story of the Harlem Children’s Zone, a nonprofit agency working with 7,000 kids in 97 square blocks of central Harlem. To Geoffrey Canada, a product of the South Bronx who escaped to Long Island and then to Bowdoin College in Maine before founding the organization, “it wasn’t enough to help out in just one part of a child’s life: [Harlem’s Children’s Zone] would need to combine education, social, and medical services.”

Saturday, March 28th, 2009

Educational Leadership

Naomi Thiers reviewsWhatever It Takes” in the February issue of Educational Leadership magazine:

Drawing on the five years he spent chronicling the Harlem Children’s Zone, founded by a man named Geoffrey Canada, journalist Paul Tough gives a fascinating and ultimately upbeat description of the “outsized and audacious new endeavor” that Canada designed for a 24-block zone of Harlem.

Thursday, January 22nd, 2009

Baltimore City Paper

This week the Baltimore City Paper reports on Barack Obama, Whatever It Takes, and the movement to replicate the Harlem Children’s Zone in Baltimore:

Like Obama, Canada worked in urban communities before founding his Children’s Zone. Unlike Obama, he grew up poor and in a violent neighborhood. The problem as he saw it then in New York–and in cities like Baltimore–was that all the various interventions by social programs, schools, recreation centers, little leagues, and the like, was that they were all scattershot, often giving help in the wrong place at the wrong time. Yes, through the superhuman effort of a social worker here, a school teacher or coach there, you would have the classic story of the ghetto kid who made good–like Canada himself, who made it to Bowdoin College. Those feel-good stories, however, would never and will never change the communities themselves or the lives of the vast majority of their inhabitants.

Monday, January 19th, 2009

Daily Herald Review

The Daily Herald in Provo, Utah, reviews Whatever It Takes:

Tough’s engaging prose and his profiles of students, parents and HCZ staff members make “Whatever it Takes” a hopeful and compelling narrative.

Sunday, January 18th, 2009

American Prospect Review

Last September, the American Prospect published a review by David Kirp of “Whatever It Takes.” It’s now online. Kirp writes:

Can Canada make good on his guarantee that Promise Academy, and the additional academies on HCZ’s drawing boards, will rewrite the failure script for Harlem’s children? For starters, will it improve the lives of the 100 kindergarteners and 100 sixth-graders who enrolled in 2004? Tough, an editor at The New York Times Magazine, tells this story with the what-happens-next pacing of a good mystery and the richness of a fine ethnography, weaving together in lapidary prose the strands of a complex narrative.