Canada and the US – “No Excuses”

In the May 8 edition of The New York Times, David Brooks writes about “The Harlem Miracle,” the inspiring results that have occurred in student achievement at The Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ), a group of schools founded by Geoffrey Canada. Brooks quotes Harvard economist Roland Fryer who pronounces that what Canada and the HCZ have done is “the equivalent of curing cancer for these kids.”

Brooks describes HCZ as at the forefront of what he calls “no excuses schools.” He explains, “The basic theory is that middle-class kids enter adolescence with certain working models in their heads: what I can achieve; how to control impulses; how to work hard. Many kids from poorer, disorganized homes don’t have these internalized models. The schools create a disciplined, orderly and demanding counterculture to inculcate middle-class values.”

Brooks continues “Basically, the no excuses schools pay meticulous attention to behavior and attitudes. They teach students how to look at the person who is talking, how to shake hands. These schools are academically rigorous and college-focused.”

Brooks concludes, “The approach works. Ever since welfare reform, we have had success with intrusive government programs that combine paternalistic leadership, sufficient funding and a ferocious commitment to traditional, middle-class values. We may have found a remedy for the achievement gap. Which city is going to take up the challenge? Omaha? Chicago? Yours?”

I have followed Canada’s work ever since I read his 1995 book fist stick knife gun – A Personal History of Violence in America. My initial interest was perhaps due to the fact that he graduated two years ahead of me at Bowdoin and I had heard he was doing some good stuff. In 1995 we had yet to take the charter school plunge. Now that we are all in it, he offers a compelling inspiration to keep swimming.

To learn more, check out Paul Tough’s excellent book Whatever It Takes – Geoffrey Canada’s Quest to Change Harlem and America. You can read the Brooks piece at

Onward, Malcolm Gauld