New York Times Magazine editor Tough profiles an ambitious effort to simultaneously address the seemingly eternal societal problems of poverty, class stratification, educational underachievement and racial discrimination.
Frustrated by the limited number of people he could help in his job at a nonprofit organization providing services for at-risk youth, Geoffrey Canada in 1999 founded a large-scale initiative eventually dubbed the Harlem Children’s Zone. He believed that to truly make a difference in a disadvantaged community, he must provide comprehensive services to residents from birth (or earlier) until death. With money raised privately as well as from government entities, Canada formulated programs providing prenatal care, instruction in parenting skills, early childhood education, K-12 schooling and help with the college-application process. The breadth and depth of his vision was either breathtaking or breathtakingly impractical, depending on your point of view. The author, though obviously an admirer, delineates the problems with Canada’s program theory and its implementation as well as the strengths. While doing so, he moves seamlessly among three areas, situating accounts of Canada’s life and policies within the larger context of previous movements to alleviate the consequences of poverty, class and race. Tough shows even the most naïve reader how difficult it is to grapple with the question of how to take an entire community of mostly disadvantaged children and mostly undereducated parents without financial resources and transform them—or at least the children as they grow—into fully functioning members of the middle class. To the extent that Canada is succeeding, the author attributes a portion of the victory to his ability to appeal to donors and volunteers across the political spectrum. Neither Democrats nor Republicans nor independents can articulate sound reasons to oppose this visionary socioeconomic experiment.
Outstanding literary nonfiction, distinguished by in-depth reporting, compelling writing and deep thinking.