Campus News

‘Whatever It Takes’ author Paul Tough to speak about poverty, education in America

Paul Tough

Paul Tough, former editor of the New York Times Sunday Magazine and author of the critically acclaimed book, Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada’s Quest to Change Harlem and America, will speak Dec. 2 at 5:30 p.m., in the Chapel. Following his presentation, Tough will accept questions from the audience, and copies of his book will be for sale.

Canada, the principal figure in Tough’s Whatever It Takes, is the 58-year-old president of the Harlem Children’s Zone-a nonprofit organization that provides education and support for more than 10,000 children and their families across 97 city blocks-where he is testing new and sometimes controversial ideas about poverty and education in America.

Canada also stands out as a voice of hope in director Davis Guggenheim’s recently released documentary film on the failure of public education, Waiting for Superman. Canada’s conclusion on what it takes, reports Tough, is that if poor children are to be able to compete with their middle-class peers, everything in their lives must be changed-their schools, their neighborhoods, even the child-rearing practices of their parents.

The Harlem experiment involves creating an interlocking web of services targeted at the poorest and least likely to succeed children: programs to prepare and support parents, health clinics, a demanding K-8 charter school and a charter high school, support for students once they are enrolled in college and a range of after-school programs for high school students.

Tough’s knowledge of Canada’s work is of recent local interest. A new initiative patterned after Canada’s work labeled Whatever It Takes Athens ( was formed locally to address the effects of poverty in the area. Whatever It Takes Athens established a goal that by July 1, 2020, every child in Athens-Clarke County will be on track to complete their post-secondary education.

UGA’s College of Education and School of Public and International Affairs have been involved with Whatever It Takes Athens since its inception. Students, faculty and administrators from both schools are serving as committee members, interns and researchers. In addition, the initiative is allowing faculty and students to become more involved in the local community.

In October, the initiative won a $500,000 planning grant from the federal Department of Education’s Promise Neighborhood program. The grant was part of $10 million the Obama administration awarded to 21 neighborhood groups across the country to help plan their own versions of the Harlem Children’s Zone.

The one-year grant will be used by Whatever It Takes Athens to collaborate with local government, nonprofit agencies and businesses to create a network of cradle-to-career services to boost the educational achievement and healthy development of children in the area.