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Published in Print: October 1, 2008, as New In Print

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Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada’s Quest to Change Harlem and America
by Paul Tough (Houghton Mifflin,;
304 pp., $26 hardback).

Paul Tough, an editor for The New York Times Magazine, has reported over the past five years on the Harlem Children's Zone, a network of education and social programs that today encompasses 97 city blocks and 7,000 children, and on its president, Geoffrey Canada, who launched the anti-poverty experiment in 1997. In Whatever It Takes, Tough narrates the project's development and describes its conveyor-belt strategy of supporting children from birth to college through services such as parenting classes, full-day preschool, a public charter school, and after-school offerings. He relates the program's struggles—students' test scores initially came back much lower than expected, for example—but also points to evidence of success. Indeed, among its supporters is Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, who said in July that "the first part of my plan to combat urban poverty will be to replicate the Harlem Children's Zone in 20 cities across the country." The following is an excerpt from the book:

"In starting the Harlem Children's Zone, [Geoffrey] Canada was asking a new set of questions: What would it take to change the lives of poor children not one by one, through heroic interventions and occasional miracles, but in a programmatic, standardized way that could be applied broadly and replicated nationwide? Was there a science to it, a formula you could find? Which variables in a child's life did you need to change, and which ones could you leave as they were? How many more hours of school would be required? How early in a child's life did you need to begin? How much did the parents have to do? How much would it all cost?

"The questions had led Canada into uncharted territory. His new approach was bold, even grandiose: to transform every aspect of the environment that poor children were growing up in; to change the way their families raised them and the way their schools taught them as well as the character of the neighborhood that surrounded them. But Canada had come to believe that it was not only the best way to solve the relentless problem of poverty in America; it was the only way."

Real Leaders, Real Schools:
Stories of Success Against Enormous Odds

by Gerald C. Leader with Amy F. Stern (Harvard Education Press,; 256 pp., $26.95 paperback).

Case studies of five Boston principals who reformed their schools and increased student achievement.

The Sea Is So Wide and My Boat Is So Small: Charting a Course for the Next Generation
by Marian Wright Edelman (Hyperion,; 176 pp., $19.95 hardback).

The head of the Children’s Defense Fund calls for an end to poverty—of body, mind, or soul—afflicting the nation’s children.

Stand for the Best: What I Learned After Leaving My Job as CEO of H&R Block to Become a Teacher and Founder of an Inner-City Charter School
by Thomas M. Bloch (Jossey-Bass, an imprint of Wiley,; 240 pp., $24.95 hardback).

A former tax executive relates the journey from millionaire to veteran math teacher.

Sweating the Small Stuff: Inner-City Schools and the New Paternalism
by David Whitman (Thomas B. Fordham Institute,; 386 pp., $16.95 paperback).

How emphasizing character, standards, and good behavior can help disadvantaged students succeed at school and in life.


The Trouble With Boys: A Surprising Report Card on Our Sons, Their Problems at School, and What Parents and Educators Must Do
by Peg Tyre (Crown, an imprint of Random House,; 320 pp., $24.95 hardback).

Although their educational experiences may seem far removed, an inner-city boy and his prep school counterpart share a disturbing commonality, writes Tyre, a journalist and the author of the 2006 Newsweek magazine cover story “The Boy Crisis,” on which this book builds. She finds that both perform less well than their similarly situated female peers, the result of a system that she suggests ignores boys’ needs. Tyre traces this disparity from preschool—where boys are five times more likely than girls to be expelled—to college, where they make up less than 43 percent of undergraduates. To explain these statistics, she examines factors such as the decline of physical activity during the school day, falling numbers of male teachers, the popularity of video games, and girl-focused education reforms implemented since the 1990s. Tyre argues that being pro-boy does not mean being anti-girl, pointing out that boys’ failures affect girls, too: Today, colleges seeking a balanced gender ratio increasingly favor less-qualified male applicants, while in the future, poorly educated husbands, fathers, and male workers may negatively affect families and the economy. In the end, she calls on parents, educators, and policymakers to move beyond gender politics and concentrate instead on solutions such as increased research and mentoring.


Stuck in the Shallow End: Education, Race, and Computing
by Jane Margolis (MIT Press,; 201 pp., $24.95 hardback).

What do swimming and computer science education in the United States have in common? As the recent Olympic Games in Beijing demonstrated, white and Asian athletes dominate the sport. The same can be said of American high schoolers studying computer science, reports Margolis, a senior researcher at the Institute for Democracy, Education, and Access at the University of California, Los Angeles. In California, for example, the home of Silicon Valley and of a high school population that is roughly half Latino or black, only 9 percent of students who take the Advanced Placement exam in computer science come from those two groups.

Using swimming as a metaphor to frame the book, Margolis investigates why few non-Asian students of color pursue computer science, and what this says about educational opportunity more generally. She examines three Los Angles high schools. The first is overcrowded, with an almost entirely Latino enrollment; the second, a math and science magnet school, enrolls mainly black students; and the third is an affluent school with a two-thirds minority population. All three are technologically well equipped as recipients of support under California’s “digital high school” grant program.

Margolis discovers that the first two schools are “technology rich, but curriculum poor”—their computing classes rarely go beyond keyboarding and simple applications. The third, in contrast, offers more advanced computer science courses, but they attract only a handful of black and Latino students. Technology, instead of serving as an equalizing force, more deeply entrenches the divisions between black and Latino high schoolers, on one side, and their white and Asian peers, on the other, Margolis finds. She analyzes how her results reflect schools’ and society’s wider expectations for disadvantaged students, and identifies ways educators can combat such stereotyping. Students of color may be stuck in the educational “shallow end” now, she writes, but it is possible to end their segregation through systemic reform.

Because of Race: How Americans Debate Harm and Opportunity in Our Schools

by Mica Pollock (Princeton University Press,; 304 pp., $29.95 hardback).

Challenges assertions that discrimination against minority children isn’t provable, shouldn’t be discussed, or can’t be fixed.

Walter White: The Dilemma of Black Identity in America
by Thomas Dyja (Ivan R. Dee,; 224 pp., $26 hardback).

A biography of the man behind the legal strategy that became Brown v. Board of Education.


Ceremonial Violence: A Psychological Explanation of School Shootings
by Jonathan Fast (Overlook Press,; 336 pp., $25.95 hardback).

Is there such a thing as a “typical” teenage school shooter? After six years of researching such students and their crimes, Fast, a professor of social work at Yeshiva University in New York City, offers a qualified yes. He examines “school rampage” killings—attacks that occur on school grounds, are perpetrated by an adolescent, and have at least two victims apart from the attacker—and finds 13 cases from 1974 to 1999, which he profiles, six of them in great detail. (Similar instances falling outside the author’s framework, such as the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting committed by a 23-year-old, are also discussed, but with less depth.) Fast compares the shooters in these rampages and discovers several common qualities: The student (nearly always male) had an unhappy childhood, usually was bullied, and often feels like a misfit in his family and/or community; he has a best friend who encourages the violent behavior, sometimes coaching him; he seeks attention, choosing to turn a suicide into a public event; and, once he has made his plans, he “announces” them, such as by telling others or recording them in a journal. The staging of the crimes is what make them “ceremonial”—one perpetrator Fast describes even played background music on a portable tape recorder during his assault. Among those profiled extensively are Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the students responsible for the Columbine High School shootings, as well as Brenda Spencer, a 16-year-old girl at the time of her crime. Fast concludes with recommendations for preventing such attacks and dealing with the aftermath, but the book focuses primarily on understanding the psychology of teenage shooters.

Letters to a Bullied Girl: Messages of Healing and Hope
by Olivia Gardner with Emily and Sarah Buder (HarperCollins,; 240 pp., $14.95 paperback).

Selections from a writing campaign launched by two sisters to comfort a bullied student they had never met.


Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives
by John Palfrey & Urs Gasser (Basic Books, an imprint of Perseus,; 384 pp. $25.95 hardback).

Getting inside the minds of today’s tech-savvy students.

The Hurricanes: One High School Team’s Homecoming After Katrina
by Jeré Longman (PublicAffairs, an imprint of Perseus,; 368 pp., $26 hardback).

A Louisiana football team made up of displaced students overcomes long odds to reach the state championship.

What Schools Ban and Why
by R. Murray Thomas (Praeger, an imprint of Greenwood,; 292 pp., $49.95 hardback).

Compiles censored items and the reasoning behind them, with suggestions for educators on resolving conflicts.

Vol. 28, Issue 06, Pages 30-31

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