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Fist Stick Knife Gun: A Personal History of…

Fist Stick Knife Gun: A Personal History of Violence in America

by Geoffrey Canada

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I found this book fascinating because it articulated a social dynamic which I had previously been unaware existed. When confronted with the spectre of violence within the inner city, or amongst the impoverished in general, the first and only reaction by those outside of that situation is to dismiss it as an "epidemic." However, this violence within the streets is beyond a simple disease that can be cured. Rather, it served (in the author's childhood) as a means by which a social order/hierarchy is established. From there, violence as normalized behavior would accompany his peers as they progressed through life and as they "upgraded" the weapons with which they asserted their dominance. The proliferation of firearms into this environment, according to Canada, would have a profound effect upon violence within the inner city.
I found that his personal history of violence could almost be taught alongside such "mirrors of princes" as "The Prince," and "The Book of the Courtier."
In general, I liked the issue of violence being presented with greater nuance than simply addressing it as inherently race mixed with poverty. ( )
  CharlesHollis | Apr 13, 2015 |
A memoir by Geoffrey Canada, the book describes the conditions that he faced as he grew up in South Bronx. As an adult he opened the Beacon schools to reverse the trend of violence that he faced when he was growing up. The book describes the actual problems happening in our cities. It shows how Geoffrey went from an innocent kid to fighting with the big boys and then becoming a leader to fight against violence. The book is filled with stories from his childhood and his work. The book starts when one of his brothers lost a coat and their mother commanded him to get it back and beat the offender. The kids were scared but the strategy worked. So the children learned that violence gets what they want. From then on at every stage of their lives they learned the same lesson again and again. Violence earns respect and that is the most important commodity that a person might have. The turning point in the story came when drug trade switched to crack and gun from fists and knives. There were no more rules of conduct. The person with the biggest weapon rules everyone. It seemed glamorous and powerful to young men and women to carry guns. With no role models, this was a disaster in the making. The book then goes on to describe how the Rockefeller Laws and the drug explosion led to an epidemic of gun violence in our country.

The one thing that made this book stood out for me was the fact that Canada talked about the problems and then gave a solution through the creation of Harlem children’s zone. “The reality is that we pay more to incarcerate kids across this nation than we do to educate them” (p.133) instead of putting them away in jails we should get our kids off the streets. The whole community should be involved in this process.

The book has conversational tone and precise language. The author tells his story in matter-of-fact way. The contents are clearly organized in twenty-five chapters. The target audience can easily understand the language used. I believe that every student should read this book. It is especially relevant to our students, as New Orleans has one of the highest crime rates in the country. ( )
  nmathur | Apr 11, 2015 |
This book was very graphic, and at some times, difficult to read. It was a personal recall of experiences that brought to light the injustices that many children experience. Reading a book written by a child who has undergone more than his share of discrimination and social pressures reminded me of the implications a teacher has when he/she has access to children like Geoffrey.
  mdhoward | Apr 7, 2015 |
Fist, Stick, Knife, Gun immediately reminded me of Jonathan Kozol's book The Shame of the Nation, where Kozol describes the restoration of segregation in schools. Canada's book provides a first-hand account of what it means to, not only grow up in that culture of violence in America's ghettos (or projects), but also what it means to really earn an education. What I most liked about his book was the fact that he presented a solution to this problem through the creation and promotion of his Harlem Children's Zone. What he does, essentially, is rebuild the community around a school in order to create a safe environment for children to be just that - children. There are just a couple of things I would have loved to see in this book: 1) more examples of how educators could create their own "Harlem Children's Zone" in their community. Even just small things that would help re-establish that community feel that seems to be such a strong component of his project would help motivate educators reading the text on ways they can make a difference themselves; 2) some citation for statistical evidence provided. While I understand that this book is autobiographical in nature, Canada could have provided at the back a list of informational sources to support the data and numbers that he seems to pull out of thin air.

I would definitely recommend this book to all teachers, but especially to those working in urban schools where they're faced with violence on (occasionally) a daily basis. This would be a great resource for just getting students interested in reading, and then taking it to another level from there. ( )
  vroussel | Apr 7, 2015 |
While reading this book, I only thought about how relatable this text is to my students. That's why I chose it as the non-fiction book they'll read next nine-weeks. This book takes the "street" life and analyzes it through an academic lens that attempts to rationalize and understand the nuances of language and activity in a tough inner-city neighborhood. I particularly enjoyed the fact that the book shows Mr. Canada as more than a Harvard grad. He isn't the kid who avoided the streets at all costs and built his life outside of it. Instead, he used his tough upbringing to mold him into the person he is today. All too often, we teach kids that the best way to move up is to abandon their surroundings and avoid all of the troublemaking. However, it is irrational and unreasonable to believe that this course of action is possible. Instead, this book teaches that understanding your surroundings and embracing it with an eye toward a better life is how you can go to better places.
  jhuynh5 | Feb 16, 2014 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0807004235, Paperback)

Long before U.S. News and World Report named him one of America's Best Leaders and Oprah Winfrey called him "an angel from God," Geoffrey Canada was a small, vulnerable, scared boy growing up in the South Bronx. Canada's world was one where "sidewalk" boys learned the codes of the block and were ranked through the rituals of fist, stick, and knife. Then the streets changed, and the stakes got even higher. In this candid and riveting memoir, Canada relives a childhood in which violence stalked every street corner. "If you wonder how a fourteen-year-old can shoot another child his own age in the head and then go home to dinner," Canada writes, "you need to know you don't get there in a day, or week, or month. It takes years of preparation to be willing to commit murder, to be willing to kill or die for a corner, a color, or a leather jacket."

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:59:05 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Through shattering storytelling, Geoffrey Canada recreates his childhood world, one in which the "sidewalk" boys learned the codes of the block from their elders and were ranked - and to some degree protected - through the rituals of fist, stick, and knife. He gives a cogent, chilling analysis of how, through an unforeseen chain of consequences set in motion in the 1960s by New York Governor Rockefeller's drug laws, everything changed on the streets. And there is a portrait of present reality - of drive-by shootings, of ever-younger, automatic weapon-toting drug runners, of gun manufacturers' cold-blooded marketing of guns to children - which follows logically from our nation's public stance on children and violence, and yet still, to this gifted writer and passionate child advocate, makes no sense at all. The author's vision for a changed future for these children, and so for our nation as a whole, is backed up by descriptions of Canada's acclaimed and innovative inner-city programs for children and their families - Peacemakers, Beacon Schools, and the Harlem Freedom Schools. His is a vision that includes governmental, community, and personal innovation and bravery and one that offers indelible stories of lives lost and of lives turned around.… (more)

» see all 2 descriptions

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Beacon Press

2 editions of this book were published by Beacon Press.

Editions: 0807004235, 080704461X

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