Empowerment and Education: Civil Rights, Expert-Advocates, and Parent Politics in Head Start, 1964–1980
by Josh Kagan — 2002
Much has been written about Head Start in the form of evaluations of the program’s effectiveness, but little unbiased work about the program’s politics has emerged. This essay asks how Head Start has survived and even thrived over thirty-five years when other Great Society programs have died. To answer this question, it explores the coalition that emerged between civil rights activists, intellectuals studying child development and social programs for children, and community action embodied in Great Society legislation. The essay traces the development of Head Start out of the emerging academic interest in "compensatory education for cultural depravation" and the New Left's desire to build a movement focused on civil rights and community action. These two groups, united in their support for Head Start and for broader reform of public education, fought over its treatment of parents of children enrolled in the program. However, neither side could correctly predict how parents actually experienced Head Start or how parents helped to ensure Head Start's political survival.
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