Jessica Sager: Remembering Edward Zigler, 'Father of Head Start'

Jessica Sager
March 1, 2022 / 5 mins read

Today is the birthday of Dr. Edward Zigler.

Ed Zigler is the man who created the Head Start program. He was a child psychologist who believed with all his heart that as a scientist, it was his job to translate research into action. He cared deeply about children, parents, and educators, and he recognized, from the very beginning, that the well-being of all three groups was deeply intertwined. Head Start, his most lasting legacy, gives parents agency and power to shape their children's educational experiences. It provides holistic support, including health and mental health, to the whole family. And it values educators as leaders with knowledge and experience to share.

Dr. Zigler didn't just create Head Start: He also designed the Child Development Associate (CDA) credential, to give educators a pathway to turn their hands-on experiences into a meaningful, competency-based credential. He drafted the 1971 Comprehensive Child Development Bill, which came very close to creating a universal child care system for the United States (Nixon vetoed the bill at the very last minute). And he chaired the committee which helped to resettle over 3,000 infants and toddlers evacuated from Vietnam after the war.

I had the great honor to meet Ed Zigler once, when All Our Kin was in its infancy. I gave a presentation about our very young organization, and he was in the audience. Afterwards, he told me that we were "doing God's work." I have never forgotten it.

Ed Zigler was born in this country, but his parents had only recently fled Eastern Europe. He based the Head Start model, in large part, on his own family's experience with the settlement houses that offered services to immigrant families. He felt a deep kinship with those facing oppression and persecution. As I write about him, I am thinking about the 7.5 million children in Ukraine; I am thinking about the families there and the terrible choices that they are facing. May they come safely through this unspeakable time. And may we, like Ed Zigler, do the best that we can for children and families both in the United States and across the world, in any and every way that we can.