What Would It Take?
This month we’ll be taking a look at Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada’s Quest to Change Harlem and America by Paul Tough. This book takes you inside the mind of visionary, Geoffrey Canada, and his bold experiment to change the lives of kids in Harlem and ultimately, poor children in the U.S.. (A fun side note: you can hear Geoffrey Canada’s story in person at the upcoming Orange Conference!)
Today, we’ll take a look at the introductory chapters of Tough’s book as he lays a foundation for Canada’s vision for a ninety-seven block “laboratory” in central Harlem called the Harlem Children’s Zone.
Start With a Question
Canada’s initial question was this: “What would it take to change the lives of poor children—not one by one but in big numbers, and in a way that could be replicated nationwide?” He chose an area in central Harlem to provide the answers, an area that included approximately three thousand children, more than 60 percent of which lived below the poverty line and regularly scored below grade level in standardized state reading and math tests. It’s here that Canada launched the Harlem Children’s Zone that included education from babies through graduating high school seniors.
Canada challenged the system: Instead of coming up with programs and then trying to figure out what they accomplished, Canada started with the outcomes he wanted to see achieved and then worked backwards, overhauling programs so they produced the right results. He started programs that followed the life of a child—from parenting classes, to intensive pre-kindergarten programs, to after school tutoring for teens.
Canada theorized that if you want poor kids to be able to compete academically with middle-class kids, you need to change everything—their schools, their neighborhoods, and even the childrearing practices of their parents.
Chapter Two of the book is entitled, “Unequal Childhoods” and it provides provocative research and insight into the achievement gaps found among poor and middle class children. Over the course of looking at several research studies conducted over the years, one theme consistently determined how children did academically—parents.
One study, conducted by the U.S. Office of Education, stated, “….a school’s financial resources were not the main contributing factor to a child’s educational success. It was the child’s family background, they said, that made the more significant difference.” (p. 27) Another research study that resulted in the book, The Black-White Test Score Gap, found this, “Changing the way parents deal with their children may be the single most important thing we can do to improve children’s cognitive skills.” (p. 41)
The Orange Connection
Geoffrey Canada discovered that it wasn’t just about a child’s economic status that determined academic success, it was also about getting parents on board and equipping them in helping their children succeed.
Orange is a ministry strategy—combining the critical influences in a child’s and teen’s life to fuel faith in the next generation. It’s not the sole responsibility of the church to generate and grow faith—it’s critical to combine the influential relationships in young people’s lives in conjunction with what they learn at church—a synchronized force to igniting faith.
Think On This
Challenge yourself to use Geoffrey Canada’s question as it pertains to your ministry: What would it take? What is your vision for kids, teens, and families? If you were to look at the outcome for your ministry area, what would that be? And what needs to be in place for that outcome to be reached? How are you partnering with parents to ignite faith in children and teens?
by Carmen Kamrath