tonight, i was really excited to watch geoffrey canada lecture at the uw with carrie. canada has been running the harlem children’s zone for the past twenty years, which has as its motto, “whatever it takes.” his approach to “saving” inner city youth (his words) is comprehensive — he runs a set of integrated community programs designed to walk with kids from the cradle to college, promote physical and mental healthcare, and change how parents are raising their kids. president obama wants to try canada’s model in twenty other high poverty areas around the country.
canada said that much of what they’re doing isn’t particularly “new.” everyone knows that healthy habits will have a positive impact on academic performance, and that certain parenting practices are better for a child’s development than others. and equally important, research has long demonstrated the importance of early childhood education toward leveling the playing field, because poor students start school well behind their middle class peers.
what is revolutionary about canada and his work is the fact that he’s actually doing what we’ve known all along would work. as an aside, if nothing else, this is probably the most important point i can take from his talk. he shared a story from his professional life when the secretary of education asked him for some advice about how to fix education in america. at this point, he realized that superman was not going to swoop in and save the day, there was no grand plan somewhere that would wipe out all the educational inequity problems; that, if he wanted to see change, he would have to make it happen himself.
there were certainly some things that he said that i wasn’t completely sold on. or at least i felt like i needed more information before i could make a personal judgement. he touched on paying teachers like professionals; adopting the law firm model of HR (pay your newbies an enormous sum of money, work them to the ground, and keep the ones who are still left standing at the end of the day); putting up more charter schools; and evaluating teachers with student performance (which could be disaster for special ed students). this is in no way a fair representation of everything he said — these are just the things that i want to learn more about. he was quite right though in saying that the status quo is failing, and he is providing an alternative with some intriguing results to say the least.
on top of everything he said about making big-scale systemic change, i loved what i perceived to be his message to teachers. that is: work your ass off. be relentless. be relentlessly innovative. change what’s not working and learn from those who are starting to figure things out. think beyond the proverbial box. and then take care of yourself so you can do it all again tomorrow.
he closed with this poem he wrote, which he read powerfully:
TAKE A STAND
by Geoffrey Canada
Maybe before we didn’t know,
That Corey is afraid to go
To school, the store, to rollerskate.
He cries a lot for a boy of eight.
But now we know each day it’s true
That other girls and boys cry too.
They cry for us to lend a hand.
Time for us to take a stand.
And little Maria’s window screens
Keeps out flies and other things.
But she knows to duck her head,
When she prays each night ‘fore bed.
Because in the window comes some things
That shatter little children-dreams.
For some, the hourglass is out of sand.
Time for us to take a stand.
And Charlie’s deepest, secret wishes,
Is someone to smother him with kisses
And squeeze and hug him tight, so tight,
While he pretends to put up a fight.
Or at least someone to be at home,
Who misses him, he’s so alone.
Who allowed this child-forsaken land?
Look in the mirror, take a stand.
And on the Sabbath, when we pray,
To our God we often say,
“Oh Jesus, Mohammed, Abraham,
I come to better understand,
How to learn to love and give,
And live the life you taught to live.
In faith we must join hand in hand,
Suffer the children? Take a stand!
And tonight, some child will go to bed,
No food, no place to lay their head.
No hand to hold, no lap to sit,
To give slobbery kisses, from slobbery lips.
So you and I we must succeed
In this crusade, this holy deed,
To say to the children of this land:
Have hope. We’re here. We Take A Stand