Thursday, September 18, 2008

Whatever It Takes

Just heard a really fascinating interview on Fresh Air with Geoffrey Canada and the author of Whatever It Takes written by a reporter who gained access for five years in Canada's schools.

The interview is here.

Geoffrey Canada himself was raised in the Bronx to a single mom and ended up with a masters degree in education from Harvard. He started a "Harlem's Children Zone" that currently serves 8000 children and whose goal is to provide the same sort of comprehensive services that many middle and upper class students receive.

Canada uses a conveyor belt approach to education, where they work with parents and the child before Kindergarten all the way through college, providing both social and educational services the entire time. The goal is to transform not just the school but the entire neighborhood and culture these inner city kids grow up in.

Just a couple of political points made in the interview:

1) Canada is a big believer in the standardized tests component of No Child Left Behind. He says those who are critical of teachers teaching to the test are working with the basic premise that the students are on grade level. If only teachers in inner city schools were teaching to the test. In his schools, 70% of teachers assessments are based on test scores of their students. And Canada believes tests are a fair evaluation of student's and teacher's performance.

2) Canada was highly critical of the symbolism behind Palin's "gun-toting mama", seeing as he has children being murdered and murdering with hand guns. He talks about the hypocritical nature of our culture that steps in with all sorts of social workers when violence occurs in middle class schools, but nobody blinks an eye when it happens in inner city schools.

3) Teacher accountability: In Canada's schools, if you can't get the job done you can't work in his schools. This is at all levels, administrative and teaching. And it is whatever it takes. If you have to work weekends and summers, you work weekend and summers. If you have to show up at the student's home at 6pm, you show up at the student's home at 6pm.

4) Obama's educational plan has been influenced by Canada's successes. McCain's plan mainly involves school vouchers.

One final note: I had a friend tell me that he worries about Obama as president, thinking Obama might focus too much on the black community's needs.

To me, that is a huge plus. Black and minority communities are in trouble and have been for generations. We all suffer when significant portions of our community suffers. Imagine if we could transform black communities, injecting into our work force, thousands if not millions of talented, hard working, contributors to society, people who might otherwise be working in menial jobs or worse in jail.

Imagine the innovation possible having more not fewer people in energy research, in education, the arts. We would all benefit. We would all be richer.

Another article here.


H said...

First, I read this too fast in the beginning and didn't realize that "Canada's schools" was referring to the school run by Mr. Canada in Harlem (as opposed to the public school system in the country of Canada). My bad. I should slow down.

Second, Mr. Canada is an amazing man that I will elect to the highest government position in relation to the education field. He is breaking the rules, he's breaking the bank, and he's leading these kids in the right direction. I applaud him in his efforts, fund-raising abilities, and initiative to educate parents. Bravo! Seriously, if you didn't read the link go back and DO IT! (I think it was the "Whatever it Takes" one)

Third, my heart is jumping with excitement, yet at the same time is plumetting further down into the depths of cynicism. The reason this charter school is working is because, "at the Promise Academy... the school day is longer, summer vacation lasts only three weeks, and many kids go to school on Saturdays. Canada is able to run the school his way, free from the restrictions of the public education system that he says has been failing Harlem’s children for so long." I really, really, really would LOVE for this idea to spread across the country and save all the children. I really, really, really would support this in any way possible. I think charter schools are the way to go because public schools just don't have the ability to get things done the way they need to be done. (I'm pretty sure it is against some for of law for public school teachers to hand out money for perfect attendence and completing their work) Unfortunately, GOOD charter schools are few and far between, especially in the inner cities and low-income areas.

Finally, THANK YOU SCOTT for pointing out this fascinating article! It really gives me hope that something can be done by people that are committed to making a change, are able to get the financial backing, and are able to find the parents willing to support a safe and caring environment for their children to go to school and teachers to teach. Seriously, if you didn't read the article, GO DO IT! Fabulous, fabulous, fabulous!


H said...

Oops. The really great article was the last link marked "here" at the bottom. I think is was the last word Scott wrote :)

Thanks again and again and again...

Unknown said...

The military has a saying (I've heard) that a group is as only as strong as its weakest member. Applied to the society at large, it only makes sense to bring up and empower the traditionally disenfranchised. Great essay, Scott.

RJ said...

I agree, H. and Scott. I am so glad I read this article. I got teary eyed. This is a little miracle and I wish we could make it widespread. Mr. Canada is a hero. I listened to part of NPR too and want to finish it, you can just hear the sincerity and goodness in his voice. Thanks Scott.