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Reading Paul Tough

jccohen's picture


dharris's picture

"Success" & a college degree

On page 12, Tough quotes Canada: “’If your child gets into our school, that child is going to succeed.’”  But how is “success” being defined? that seems like an important question to ask if we’re going to give the lives of our children so fully, in an unprecedented way, to a community educational organization.  In my knowledge, in terms of “quantifying success” (which is truly impossible, in an objective sense), Canada uses the measure of college matriculation and graduation rates, the latter in particular, as his measure of whether or not the child (now young adult) “succeeded”.  I’ve been dubious of this measure (though unable to come up with a better one) for some time now, but as I read and reflect on my own life, I’m starting to see the logic of striving so ardently for one physical piece of paper, the ever-elusive college degree.

An older and wiser friend of mine once shared an anology about the process of getting a college degree, and the degree itself, as a “ticket” that promises to open up manifold opportunities in the future.  “It’s like this one laundry-mat used to take my clothes to," she said.  "I’d ask for my clothes (in this case it was a shirt I’d had dry-cleaned), but the woman behind the counter insisted I present the ticket I’d been issued when I’d dropped off my clothes.  'No ticket, no shirt.'"  This phrase, “no ticket, no shirt” has become a sort of mantra for me with regards to graduating college.  The "shirt", the higher-paying job (and I don't think we should be ashamed of wanting to make money -- it's pretty important), the opportunity to invest in graduate schooling, the social standing that gives us, is only open to us if we have the "ticket" for the shirt.  That is, did we do what our society expects of a competent, intelligent young adult, even if it meant jumping some anachronized hoops?  I’m trusting that this friend, who has more perspective than I can imagine, is right in saying that though the idea of this “piece of paper” that is a diploma actually does carry weight, not itself, but in the paths it will leave open. In this, I start to see where Canada is coming from when forced with the decision of how to measure "success" in some kid of measurable way.

dshu's picture

Sorting "Bad Apples"

"We can't fail." states Druckenmiller telling to Land and her principals (157).

Schools districts never want to see failure in the students and in the schools. In Chapter 6, Bad Apples,Tough allowed his readers to gain insights into the decision-making process Canada takes on to keep control of his dream for Promise Academy and the Harlem Children's Zone. In addition to the problem of disappointing poor tests results, there is a conflict between Canada and his middle school principal who believes that it is impossible to recognize the kinds of gains in achievement needed to ensure all of the student population is ready to go to college and to complete college. On the other hand, Canada thinks that all students are capable of learning no matter what their situations or behavior is. From Chapter 7 of Paulo Noguera's book, "The Trouble with Black Boys," he states "schools treat the removal of students as though it were the only form of punishment available" (121). To me, we shouldn't be sorting and removing the "bad apples." He also writes, "I often point out to teachers and administrators that the only students whose behavior is likely to improve is they are suspended students who care about school and who believe their participation in school will help in meeting goals they have set for themselves" (121). Rather, changing behavior of the students who get into trouble and suspended more frequently, rarely change their behavior for the better since they are not permitted to go to school for a few days. Thus, what are the methods in having a "solution" for all students to stay in class and in school?

transitfan's picture


This text has many memorable and impressive characters, ideas and quotes, and raises important questions, but it also expresses many educational ideas that really frustrate me. I'll try to focus on one: Why should we teach the poor to behave like the middle class?

One point in Friere that resonated with me is that we should not be teaching the "oppressed" to just become new "oppressors," but Canada's focus in contrast is on teaching students to be able to thrive in the "mainstream." "[We offer] resources they need to become successful middle-class adults" (39) Anything a private school can pay for, we will provide for free" (127) Obviously Canada isn't trying to make his project like an elite private school; I appreciate that Baby College instructors and staff are all people of color (95) (although it's interesting that the Board is mostly white businesspeople). And the needs are very real. (I was moved by Wyatt leading the crowd in a chant "You [prisons] Will Not Have Our Children." (16) But it seems like while potentially effective in cutting off the prison-to-pipeline for some, the success in terms of transforming society will be limited if HCZ and KIPP continue to put students in almost prison-like-disclipnarian rote-learning behavior-modification schools to teach them to behave the middle-class.

Yes, one might say that as someone raised middle-class, I have more choice to live in the "mainstream" or not and these students are deprived of that choice and that I shouldn't argue against their opportunity to gain middle-class privilege. I would counter that we live in a world of finite resources; that we will never all be able to live like today's middle class. Even with all of the world's billionaires lined up to support inner-city education in Harlem, Canada will not be able to "save the world" by giving everyone all the "resources they need to become successful middle-class adults" in the long term. 

On the other hand, the middle-class parenting values that lead to better "language skills, memory, and cogntive control" seem like good things for people to adopt. Still, other parenting styles have their own advantages. It was interesting that Tough cites Annette Lareau, who text we read in Critical Issues and who I appreciated for acknowledging the advantages of working-class parenting styles; which Tough acknowledges but shrugs off as irrelevant to thriving in our culture. (Speaking of people Tough cites; as far as researchers are concerned it is mainly economists and a few sociologists; and I think not a single teacher-researcher.)

There may be things to be learned from the middle class, but that doesn't mean mean we should focus on making everyone "middle-class." I'm trying to remember the article on "resilience-thinking" from the Education for Sustainability course as part of the 360; I feel like it would be useful here. While I'm not remembering the exact details, I feel pretty sure that Canada's rote-memorization-and-disclipinary-test-cramming style does not teach students to be resilient in an evolving world.

jcb2013's picture

"Attacking" Education from Multiple Angles

After meeting Geoffrey Canada, and hearing him speak two years ago at Haverford I read, Whatever It Takes for the first time. I was incredibly impressed with his passion, and determination for improving our education system after seeing him in "Waiting for Superman," and hearing him speak live, but it was in reading Whatever it takes that I began to understand the depth and breadth in which Canada targetted so many aspects directly and indirectly related to our education system. 

In the first half of Whatever it takes Tough discusses Canada's struggle with violent crime through out his childhood and mentoring experience.  He says at one point that he thought that if he kept kids out of crime, that their academic life would improve.  When he found this was not necessarily the case, he realized that he had to do more.  I appreciate Geoffrey Canada because he sees student's education as not just time spent within the classroom from 8am to 3pm, but as including various aspects of their life (their home life, the crime rate within their neighborhood, the parenting they've received, involvement in extra-curriculars, etc.).  In Canada's Harlem Children's Zone the culture of school has spread to the surrounding community.  In fact, this is one of the active goals of the charter school, to improve the surrounding community.  To Canada, this means teaching parents how to parent (hoping to decrease the education gap seen in low income students when they enter kindergarten), raising community standards for education, and having high expectations for all involved (parents, teachers, administrators, students, etc.), etc. 

HCZ serves as a model for communities with struggling schools, but also presents greater questions (which we've brushed upon in past classes) to education reform movements and to the general education system: what is the responsibility of the school?  Does the school have a responsibility to it's surrounding community?  How much can the education system be stretched to include all the factors that influence a child's academic career? The HCZ is more of an extreme when it comes to redefining what we consider school responsibilities, but is this what it will take to turn our schools AND neighborhoods around?

I wrote a paper last semester for my Urban Culture & Society course arguing the relationship between communities and schools.  My argument was that communities (including their traditions, culture, attitudes, etc.) influence their local schools, and vica versa, that schools influence their local communities (if schools are failing leading to students who are failing, then how does this influence the local education level, economy, priorities, crime rate, etc.).  I think the HCZ is the perfect example of a positive influence between schools, and their communities, but I also believe that this relationship is often overlooked by many school districts.  How can establishing a positive relationship (like that seen with the HCZ) between schools and communities have a greater impact on our education system (if it can at all, can it?)? 

Also, I thought this commercial helped to illustrate Canada's ideology (American Express commercial profiling the HCZ and Geoffrey Canada):

lyoo's picture

School Choice

I've always heard of Geoffrey Canada and his Harlem Children's Zone project, and was interested in finding out more about it so I was excited to read Paul Tough's book. From Tough's journalism it shows that Canada truly cares about the plight of black inner-city students because he can relate to their struggles and challenges. He certainly has his own ideas about what changes in the traditional school system would make a difference in improving the quality of education for these children; i.e. longer school years, longer school days, after school programs, and parent education courses. While critiques of the system exist, the Harlem Children's Zone has been known to be a success in producing quality education for inner-city Harlem students in many respects.  

A theme in the first chapter that resonated with me was the relationship between good intentions (as embodied by Geoffrey Canada) and real outcome (as represented by the likes of benefactors on the HCZ board such as Drucken Miller). Tough writes:

The way Druckenmiller saw it, the tools of corporate America--management consultants, long-range plans, marketing data, quarterly targets--had created the strongest economy in the history of the world but in the charitable sector, those tools were being ignored in favor of guesswork and good intentions. (10)

To a certain extent, I think Druckenmiller is right. Too often, we judge programs and institutions by their good intentions and the emotional chords they strike instead of looking at the actual results they produce.  Take the public school system for example.The initial idea of government-run public schooling was based on this good intention: that every child needs and deserves to be educated. (I'd like to throw in a disclaimer that I'm not saying that I'm against this idea. I am very much for it, but against the approach that our society has been taking in order to meet it).  But the results of what public schooling has become today have not only failed to meet its good intention, but adversely, it has become an oppressive institution that helps to keep the poor poor and the wealthy rich. Reading about how desperately the parents of Harlem were hoping to  get their kids out of the public school system in Tough's book was a testimony to the failures of how public schooling has been managed in this country thus far. 

Geoffrey Canada asks some very important questions after the lottery of promise academy takes place:

"For me the big question in America is: Are we going to try to make this country a true meritocracy? Or will we forever have a class of people in America who essentially won't be able to compete because the game is fixed against them?"

The status quo of today's public schooling system is a fixed game and evidently many parents in the inner-city and their children want out. I think this is where independent start ups like charter schools play a positive role in places like the inner-city. While not all charter schools are successful, the ones that are give people living in these areas options and to them options apart from their failing local public school means hope.  But one or two charter schools like the Promise Academy in an inner-city still does not address the question that Canada raises since these schools can only take a certain amount of students.

In Belgium, their public education system works so that every student gets to choose which school they want to go to.  Instead of giving a lump sum of money to the schools (which may or may not be well-managed and run), the government gives a certain amount of money to each student to be used to get into the school of their choice. I think this is might be a model to consider emulating because it gives each student the ability to choose their own education and on top of that, the money following the student aspect keeps schools accountable in that their service to the children must be of good quality in order for the school to stay open. 

Sarah's picture

Do the ends justify the means?

I hadn't heard of Geoffrey Canada until he visited Haverford a few years ago.  At that point, I hadn't taken very many education classes, but knew I was interested in the field and went to hear him speak.  I remember thinking he was a great speaker and agreeing with a lot of what he said.  At one point I remember him saying something about whether or not college is for everyone and taking this perspective: when in doubt, do what rich people do.  Rich peoples’ children go to college.  I remember he meant what he said, but said it in a somewhat joking manner and I laughed and thought “that’s so true!”   I remember the next day in my education class someone brought up that exact part in his lecture and talked about how insulting that was to poor people, and I remember feeling conflicted.

Jumping to now, the present, I feel even more conflicted about Canada’s work.  I don’t know if this is a result of being “indoctrinated” with Bi-Co education related thinking (well, it’s not limited to the Bi-Co, but that’s where I know it), or if I’ve learned more and really do feel critical of Canada. Basically, I try to remember not to think in binaries, but if I have to, I think I would label Canada as one of the “good guys”.  Though I don’t always agree with him, I think he really does care about children and is getting at least some positive results from his work.

However, the question that keeps coming to mind for me is “do the ends justify the means?”  Personally, I have a negative reaction to that question, because to me it’s not simply about the end, but the process/how you got there matters.  In the beginning it sort of describes how Canada and Klein stepped over and pushed their way through to make Harlem Children’s Zone happen.  Again, part of me understands.  Getting group consensus and going through the typical process would take a long time, and children need quality education yesterday.  At the same time, it makes me nervous that two people had enough power to plow through, without considering the input of the community they serve. One thing that I do appreciate about Canada is that he is from the area, but I don’t think his insider knowledge give him permission to not consult with others.  It reminds me of Freire and makes me think that many of Canada’s tactics are well intentioned, but paternalistic.

Another issue I have with the reading is that it seems Canada is striving for a different end goal than I personally would.  At one point he says “The big question in American is: Are we going to try to make this country a true meritocracy?”  For me personally, I don’t think meritocracy is something I want to be striving for because I think it becomes an easy way to perpetuate the belief that some people just don’t work or try hard enough.

Laura H's picture


Sarah- I definitely hear what you are saying that the process matters, and in many ways Canada's approach can be seen as problematic. However, I think there are two goals when it comes to urban education: addressing the larger system (which includes changing the values of the country), and actually helping children who are struggling in the current system. It is clear that Canada came to terms with the fact that he wasn’t going to fix the whole system because that takes time, so he wanted to find a way for students to do the best they can within the current system in order to eventually change it. Is an approach like this problematic? Of course. But so is every education reform initiative that has ever been tried. It’s easier to think about and criticize solutions because thinking cannot usually be problematic, but every action will have problems. However, only focusing on criticisms of these efforts can prevent us from ever taking action because we are always thinking about what the best solution would be, when in reality, there is no perfect solution. Personally, I respect Canada for physically going into a neighborhood and trying to change things. I think if more people had that kind of initiative maybe we would be closer to changing the larger system. 

Sarah's picture

Laura- I definitely see what


I definitely see what you mean.  Earlier during cross visitation we discussed how more theory based education classes can be almost paralyzing because they may make students overly idealistic without catalyzing any real life change.  I think recognizing Canada's initiative as positively as you do is a helpful lens to me in some ways.  One reason I really don't want to teach is because I know I can't actually enact all the idealistic theory I preach/think of in class.  Maybe what I need from my classes is a concentrated focus on shifting idealized theory into the class. My concern with this is sometimes people think things are impossible, but they are just new.  I don't know if that makes sense, but I wanted to reply to show your comment really made me think/rethink about Canada's actions.  I'm still not completely convinced, but I think my perspective has widened.

et502's picture

take aways?

First of all, I just want to say, I really appreciated this thoughtful but honest exchange of ideas. I’m still on the fence about supporting Canada’s initiative, so reading this discussion was very refreshing.
Since last Spring, from my experience with the ‘Learning and Narrating Childhoods’ 360, I’ve been really skeptical of any sort of aid/mission-type actions. For this reason, as soon as I read “Saving a few no longer felt like enough” (19), I cringed, and shied away from this book. Having the power to declare oneself a “savior” seemed too “paternalistic,” as Sarah said; good intentions are not enough: the people who are being “saved” - the people who need to be “humanized” -should be involved in this process, from as early as possible. Because of this view, I wanted to criticize every decision and action; I inwardly smirked when I read Transitfan’s observation about Tough’s use researchers: “it is mainly economists and a few sociologists; and I think not a single teacher-researcher."

So I wanted to disengage from learning about this project. However, I also value taking action, getting involved in one’s community – so I’m conflicted. I suppose one thing I can take away from this, is that by choosing to act, you are also choosing to expose yourself to the critical gaze of both intellectuals and the population you want to serve. As Sarah wrote, “sometimes people think things are impossible, but they are just new.”

ccalderon's picture

Transitioning from theory to practice

I can see where you are coming from I think a lot of "education people" try to apply the theories they have learned into their classroom. From experience I have seen how difficult this. Certain topics that I am particularly interested in do not always transition well or "relate" to lets say a math classroom. I am curious if anyone has had a successful transition, if so please do share I am interested especially possibly going into a classroom next year. 

ellenv's picture

Questions and Reform

While I found the description of the development of the HCZ to be very interesting, the section that stuck out to me the most was the part on page 19 when Tough outlined the different questions that brought Canada to the development of the HCZ. In class discussions across several Ed classes, the idea has been raised that reform efforts often look for "The" solution to the problem of public education. For that reason, a single measure is deemed a success or failure without looking at the context that might lead to differences in success or without acknowledging that several factors may be at play. Therefore, I found the fact that Tough describes Canada as asking questions like "what would it take to change the lives of poor children not one by one, through heroic interventions and occassional miracles, but in a programatic, standardized way that could be applied broadly and replicated nation-wide? Was there a science to it, a formula that you could find? Which variables in a child's life did you need to change and which ones could you leave as they were?..." (19) to be very refreshing. Implicit in these questions is the idea that a single solution might not be out there, that variables shift and change depending on the students that you are working with. While the goal of Canada's reform effort may have been to find a solution that could generalize to a broader population, this goal was not approached without explicitly acknowledging that it may not be 100% possible. After reading this text, I was left wondering whether our approach to education reform needs to be changed from the beginning, with a closer look at what questions we are asking and why.

mencabo's picture

Parenting and Teaching

The book was very intriguing in its presentation of Canada’s journey in creating the Harlem Children’s Zone and in the description of the many people he encountered. I liked how there were a lot of details about the parents in the “Baby College” chapter. I was able to see them more fully and get a glimpse of their “realities.” That chapter stood out to me because it foregrounded the idea that a parent (or the guardian/parent-like figure in a child’s life) is a child’s first teacher.

Schoolteachers are only a part of the equation when it comes to a child’s education. That is why I appreciated the fact that “the parents were made to feel appreciated, like they were the ones doing a good civic deed” (96) and that “the real goal of Baby College was not to impart information. It was to change the parents’ whole vision of themselves as parents, to encourage them to accept the idea that their child’s education and intellectual development began at birth, if not before, and that they, as parents, had a crucial role to play in that development” (97).

In the later chapters, there is such a palpable pressure to get high test scores. Grey implied that parents were too dependent on teachers and the school. Teachers and parents are supposed to be a team, but that idea does not get articulated to many parents as clearly and as efficiently as it could be.

In terms of practice, I’m wondering what sorts of strategies could we, as future teachers, employ to develop an ongoing and efficient communication with parents? Also, what is the place of teachers in terms of parenting? Personally, I see teachers as second parents, but how much say do we have with regards to parents’ methods? How can we help them see that parenting is teaching and it affects what happens in the classroom? 

On a more personal note, the book has given me a black and white lens to use to better understand the issue of poverty, race and class in America. As an Asian, I wonder, where do I fit in this discussion? I’ve talked about this with a few friends lately so I’ve been thinking about the visibility of Asian teachers in American schools. I believe that my image as an Asian will not affect my ability to teach and while I continue to think that, it seems that the effect will be different depending on people’s experiences and understandings of other “cultures.”   

AmbrosiaJ's picture

Parents as Second Teachers

Working in an urban environment, as future teachers, I think we should expect to take on the role as a second parent. Like we've discussed so many times before, the majority of these parents want the best for their children and definitely want to see them succeed, but they just don't have the time to do so. As teachers in urban environments, it's important that we try to make ourselves as available as possible so that we can possibly fill in that missing gap, offer that extra help, and be that helping hand. 

When Canada hired the new principal for Promise Academy, what the Principal did differently was that instead of just discussing the promises and what the parents should expect from the school, he blatantly told the parents what is expected of THEM. To me, that was important and it stuck out. As a future educator, I am going to be sure that the parents of my students understand that I will offer my whole heart and all of my effort to the success of their children, however, I NEED them to work with me as well. If you can't be there to offer homework help, as a parent, TELL ME so I can step in. Communication is key. I understand that the schedules of these parents are extremely hectic, but communication can go a long way. A phone call, a text message, or a quick conversation before or after school can make a huge difference. If I was a parent sitting in on the assembly of the new principal, I think I would slowly nod my head in approval. It takes a village to raise a child. 

sully04's picture

The Line between Parenting and Teaching

Mencabo, I also was struck by the idea of Baby College as a way to get parents and schools on the same page about their students from a young age. Since we began talking about parent-teacher meetings as space for teacher reflection, I’ve been thinking about how this seems like a manageable and easy way to involve parents. We have talked about how teacher-parent relationships are sometimes strained because parents don’t trust teachers or because they trust them too much, expecting teachers to do the job of parenting for them. Starting a good, healthy, and trusting relationship with parents at an early age is a great precursor to these meetings. I am sold by the idea that keeping parents, students, and teachers on the same page will help keep the student focused and doing well in school. Further, it ensures that students are well cared for in body and spirit- not just mind. 

Uninhibited's picture

Baby College and Physical Discipline

I have to admit that reading about baby college made me uneasy at times although I enjoyed reading about the goals of ensuring that parents had the adequate information to raise the children, I often wondered how the program could run better. To start at the beginning, I thought that the way in which Canada came to the idea of Baby College was very interesting; he noted that the latest buzz about vocabulary and infants had not reached the streets of Harlem. In a way he is saying that the education that swept through America's middle-class did not reach the poor. I can appreciate this because it's not saying that middle-class parents inherently knew how to raise their children, but that they had access to knowledge and resources that gave their children a leg up. I actually thought that most things at baby college are important for everybody to know, such as safety in the home. These things did not seem like white middle-class values but rather strategies that benefitted all families

It wasn't until they began talking about discipline that I began to notice how classed and racialized some parts of Baby College could be. I know that there's a lot of controversy surrounding this topic and that there are many academics that strongly condemn it, backed by research results, but after all they're still academics that often subscribe to a particular ideology (read "middle class"). I was very bothered particularly by how Carol responded to Victor's commenting about pinching his children. I felt that the exchange had strong implications for the power dynamics of Baby College, especially when Carol says, " For the record hitting, pinching, kicking, spitting, tapping, slapping- it's all abusive and Harlem Children's Zone Baby College discourages it." Carol not only completed put down Victor's parenting style but she also spoke in a way that shamed Victor and made it seem as though parents who engage in physical discipline were not acting in the spirit of Baby College. 

I think that the flaw with this thinking begins with a strong possibility of shutting people out, but also with a lack of general understanding and appreciation for other forms of child rearing. I think that there are certain forms of physical discipline such as tapping and pinching that can be productive if used right. I think that there is a way in which it instills respect for adults, not just fear in children. I think back to my experiences as a child in my family, and although I wasn't often hit, there were times in which my mom used would pinch me to make me understand. Although I can understand the benefits associated with time out and negotiation in child rearing, I also think that there's a certain way in which these forms of discipline spoil children. I'm not sure how to articulate this further, but this just brings me back to my time in school in which I would hear my middle-class white friends who never got hit be disrespectfully to their parents. Something I never did because I had a general feeling of respect and gratitude for my parents.


ccalderon's picture

Baby college

I too felt uneasy while reading that chapter. Although I did like some of the ideas or rather the larger concept of helping parents in their pursuit to better prepare their students, I was still thrown aback by how much control they were taking over "raising" their students. I'm not sure if control is the best word for it but it shall have to do. 

I also actually noted the same situation with victor on pg. 82. I would like to further discuss this in class of given the situation if other people thought it was handled well or could it have been approached in a different way. I too felt that Carol's voice seemed a bit condescending. 

While reading Baby college I kept thinking what affect would this have on my family, how would they have reacted. Being told how to raise your child is a very sensitive topic. From experience they would have reacted the same way as victor but maybe a bit more harshly. I wonder how much of this is placing a specific ideology. I think the way that they handled it would have parents checking out. My main question how would you approach this?



rbp13's picture

Racial Culture

While reading Paul Tough's Whatever it Takes, I too was struck by the chapter on Baby College largely because it addresses the idea that there is a such thing as racial culture. I am currently taking a sociology course, Class, Race, and Education, and several of the theorists we have read focus on differential cultural characteristics as an explanation of the achievement gap. Likewise, as Uninhibited mentions in this post, discipline is one thing about which African-American and white parents often have different ideas. This is understandable considering the different environments in which they live. Tough points out that in the ghetto there is an abundance of poor roll models; despite parents best efforts, children often end up on the street because that lifestyle holds a certain appeal, especially for young men. In Chapter 3, when Cheryl and Victor, two young parents enrolled in Baby College, found out they were having a boy, they were forced to confront this reality and consider what it would mean for them as parents. Cheryl told Tough "'We're going to have to be more stern. If we don't tell him what to do in life, he's going to be out on the street, and we're trying to avoid that early'" (88). Although white families, and individuals like Carol who lead programs at Baby College, believe that physical punishment should not occur, it may not be realistic to assume that conversing with children is enough to stop them from succumbing to the culture in which they live. As  Uninhibited wrote, the conviction that corporal punishment is wrong is a classicized and racialized perspective. Without taking a stance on corporal punishment as a whole, like Uninhibited, I too took issue with the fact that Carol was so aggressive because I feel that the conversation is more complex that whether or not to pinch a child.   

On a related note, although cultural differences in behavior are common and justified, Tough also points out that they can be problematic. For instance, in Chapter 2, Tough describes research conducted by Annette Lareau and writes, "In poor households Lareau studied, for example, family members didn't look at each other when they spoke-an appropriate response in a culture where eye-contact can be interpreted as a threat" (50). Although this is a behavior that young black children aquire, and which indicates respect and submission in their culture, in school, teachers could interpret this as rude or disinterested.  

mschoyer's picture

Baby College methods

I was also intrigued with the chapter on Baby College as it raised many interesting questions. I commend Canada and the HCZ for trying to get parents involved in a child's education, even when said child is not in school yet. I really appreciate that these programs are accessible to parents, and teach valuable information. Of this information, I think teaching parents to read and constantly communicate with their children is great. I recently read an article about one of the studies cited in this text, called "The Early Castastrophe: The 30 Million Word Gap by Age 3" by Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley. This article detailed a longitudinal study in which researchers studied children of different backgrounds and looked at many factors that impacted development, including how much children were spoken to and their own vocabularies and success in school later in life. They found that not only was vocabulary at age 3 predictive on vocabulary at age 10, but also in a "100-hour week (given a 14-hour waking day) shows the average child in the professional families with 215,000 words of language experience, the average child in a working-class family provided with 125,000 words, and the average child in a welfare family with 62,000 words of language experience. In a 5,200-hour year, the amount would be 11.2 million words for a child in a professional family, 6.5 million words for a child in a working-class family, and 3.2 million words for a child in a welfare family." I can appreciate how Baby College is making parents aware of issues like this, and trying to close the achievement gap.

The part on parenting strategies and punishment also stuck out to me. While I would typically assume that the HCZ should not tell people how to parent as there are many factors that determine how/why/what ways to discipline children, I can't help but supporting Baby College in this as well. I am strongly against Corporal Punishment: I know respectful and disrespectful children who were parented both ways. Going back to Hart and Risley's article, they found that, when the data was "extrapolated to the first four years of life, the average child in a professional family would have accumulated 560,000 more instances of encouraging feedback than discouraging feedback, and an average child in a working-class family would have accumulated 100,000 more encouragements than discouragements. But an average child in a welfare family would have accumulated 125,000 more instances of prohibitions than encouragements. By the age of 4, the average child in a welfare family might have had 144,000 fewer encouragements and 84,000 more discouragements of his or her behavior than the average child in a working-class family." To me, this shows that perhaps positive reinforcement goes along way. Parents shouldn't only praise positive behavior and ignore negative behavior, but a discouragement centered parenting style is not the way, and Corporal Punsihment definitely isn't either. While I still struggle a little bit with whether Baby College should tell parents how to discipline their children, I still strongly lean to yes, they should expose parents to this information. Especially since this is a voluntary program. Parents who are not interested in being told how to parent do not have to enroll in the program. Parents also don't have to necessarily follow exactly what the program teaches. I do think it is important to educate parents on all the factors that can influence a child's education, including style of punishment.

JBacchus's picture

Punishment/Discipline in Baby College

First, I just want to problematize the somewhat "reverent" tone that Paul Tough seems to take for Geoffrey Canada, and ask if any others have noticed this? Various passages have alerted me to this tone of reverence- even just the beginning of Baby College felt overly-reverent. I am concerned about reading this book, and trying to fully understand and learn about the Harlem Children's Zone, when it appears to me that the author is so incredibly unable to place aside his own respect to be objective enough. 

Like many of you, the Baby College chapter struck and stuck with me. I am intrigued also that so many of us got stuck on the part about disciplining. While many of you seem to problematize the idea of informing parents how to discipline their children in Baby College, I feel opposite. I do not want to discredit any other opinions, however, as my parents were incredibly against corporal punishment, and thus I admit that I do not have a lot of knowledge in that area (ie., how corporal punishment may have helped me behave better). As Uninhibited says, Carol informed the parents that HCZ discouraged corporal punishment, citing it as abusive. I do not think this is overstepping boundaries, in terms of what the Baby College mission was. Had the mission of Baby College been different – for example, had it been a time for parents to get together as a group and discuss parenting amongst themselves – it could be overstepping. In this case, I agree that the information indoctrination would have been indicative of power dynamics. However, Canada and the others “put together a bare-bones curriculum for a new parenting-skills program” (58). With the words curriculum, and college, it implies that the Harlem parents were there to be taught. Whether the parents agree with what is being taught or not is a different matter, but if they are there for something referred to as “college” and “class” then I think it is acceptable that the indvidiuals at Baby College transfer their opinions.  

Sharaai's picture

Uninhibited, I feel like you


I feel like you really articulated a lot of the thoughts I also had when I was reading the Baby College chapter. Simply the idea was something that struck me. That parents were attending classes that had been advertised (like a product or material thing), a program that I felt was saying that everyone in Harlem’s parenting style could be improved. When it comes to parenting, I understand that it is always a learning experience but this method didn’t completely sit right with me. My inkling is that this feeling comes from a power dynamic between the parents and those teaching them that seems a bit unexplainable.

On the topic of discipline, I really just don’t agree with parents being told how to “discipline” or “punish” their children. I felt like this cross a line for me. This is a topic that I have never discussed in a classroom environment and am sure that it will strike up some opposing opinions as well. Growing up, I did get pinched here and there, or a slap for something completely out of hand and looking back, I see no problem with it.

In general, Baby College had a lot of culture components that I felt like could have been changed because of the population that it was targeting. For instance, why Mozart, why not Salsa/Bachata for Latino families?


hl13's picture

Testing Culture at HCZ

              One of the most provocative sections of Tough's book so far for me was his depiction of the school's attempt to negotiate high stakes testing with their students in order to achieve success for them and the school. Obviously, standardized testing is an incredibly important issue in education today, and one that is hotly debated. I am personally averse to standardized tests as a student (and likely as an educator), though my views on it are constantly shifting, though never far from my negative view.
            I appreciated the depiction of a divide within the Harlem Success Academies between educators who advocated for rigorous test prep with educators who did not want to push the students too hard. The students' test scores were important insofar as to show how much they were learning, but their scores were also vital to keep the school open, which is a slight conflict of interest. Clearly, the students should be at or above grade level no matter what, but what HSA decided was necessary to get them there might have impeded a form of education that makes them excited about learning, since their time seemed almost entirely devoted to test prep. Ultimately in the first year, it did not seem to help at all (though their subsequent successes will hopefully feature in the second half of the book). 
          Over time, I have grown to recognize the unfortunate necessity of standardized testing. When we debate the testing culture of schools, I think it in many ways comes down to a question of do we educate children for the world as it is (with the importance of succeeding on standardized tests) or for the world as it should be (with a lesser emphasis)? The answer I have found so far is that we have to educate children for the world as it is, but give them as much as we can the tools, motivation, and thinking skills to realize they can make the world into what it should be. Part of this involves keeping the values of the community children grow up in, such as the values of Union Avenue that live in Canada's heart. In the end, whether or not such changes involve a frantic devotion to standardized testing, like Canada I am "for anything that blows up the status quo" as long as it's for the better (131). 
(I don't understand why it's not displaying correctly (with divisions between paragraphs. I've tried to edit it.)