Ed School Honors Geoffry Canada '75, Harlem Children's Zone Founder

“It is so good to be back home,” said Geoffrey Canada, a leader in education and a 1975 graduate of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, to an auditorium of students and community members on Wednesday.

Canada was the recipient this year’s Medal for Education Impact, the highest honor given by the Ed School.

During his lecture following the award presentation, Canada inspired laughs from Ed School students as he joked about the campus and his other experiences while he pursuing a master’s degree.

“I don’t usually talk about this part of my career. In many ways, there have been powerful forces shaping my own career, and a lot of those forces came from here,” Canada said.

Canada recalled his relationship with Bruce P. Baker ’57, his professor for a behavior modification class whom he credited with teaching him that every child is capable of learning and demonstrating the importance of building strong educational leaders.

“To see someone who can say ‘Watch me do it,’ it forever changed me. I never doubted it again,” Canada said.

After graduating from the Ed School, Canada worked at Robert White School in Boston while working to apply scientific data to education.

He later founded the Harlem Children’s Zone, a nonprofit organization that strives to provide educational resources, social services, and other forms of support to low-income children and families.

“I love Geoff. He’s someone who has actually done it,” said Robert Kegan, a professor at the Ed School who once taught Canada.

Canada warned audience members that they may face challenges in their attempts to reform educational institutions. He said that the public tends to demonize people who try to innovate.

He shared stories of obstacles he has faced during his career in education reform, from speaking with White House officials to teaching in an all-white classroom at the Robert White School at a time when the school was segregated.

“It was nice to hear such an influential leader say that and knowing that he had to weather that,” said Julie K. Dlugokecki, a master’s student at the Ed School.

Canada called for a generation of advocates to hold educators accountable and to get “rid of lousy teachers,” an idea that has sparked controversy in the field. He closed his address by reciting a poem about accountability he had written and memorized, entitled, “Don’t Blame Me.”

The Medal for Education Impact honors an educator who advances the Ed School’s mission to improvement student opportunity, achievement, and success, said Dean of the Ed School Kathleen McCarthy.

“He is one of the best friends children could have,” McCarthy said of Canada.

—Staff writer Kerry M. Flynn can be reached at kflynn@college.harvard.edu.

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