, Salem, MA


September 2, 2013

Watson: Schools and family are key to race relations

In my last two columns — discussing black-white race relations — I mentioned that both races have plenty to do to promote improved mutual understanding. I described how differently the Trayvon Martin case can look to the two races, and why.

But I also pointed out that a major area of agreement exists on the subject of child development and education. Both races agree that — regardless of the skin color of a child — one of the best ways to promote healthy, competent and successful young people is to support them with outstanding educational institutions.

Last week, I read “Whatever It Takes” by Paul Tough. The book is about Geoffrey Canada, who founded the Harlem Children’s Zone, a 97-block area in Harlem that Canada and his staff have turned into one big, comprehensive initiative where almost all activities are measured by their effectiveness in creating and supporting smart and thriving children and — not incidentally — capable and productive parents and adults.

Canada is black, and so is almost everybody else in the zone. But what he has learned about child development, about schooling, and about all of the ingredients that go into making successful young adults (and adults) applies to all children, regardless of color or ethnicity.

Sometimes, when talking about schools, race and family and the persistent dysfunctions and low performance that accompany the generations-spanning cycle of poverty, we get into arguments about which factor is more to blame — bad schools or broken home life.

Canada has no patience with that argument. He believes that both factors — schools and family — play such critical roles in the development of a child that we must ensure the effectiveness of each.

Canada did not start out that way. When he first began as a teacher, he thought he could transform radically underperforming ninth-graders and have them ready to go to college by graduation. He soon learned otherwise.

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