Dr. Edward F. Zigler, Founder, Zigler Center in Child Development & Social Policy
Though he proffers that he’s getting a bit long in the tooth, in the same breath he speaks determinedly about the books he’s continuing to write and edit that promote his passion: universal pre-school education. To date, 32 books and over 600 scholarly articles reflect his unwavering advocacy of pre-school for young children starting no later than age 3. There are also the various commissions and initiatives he has headed and the boards on which he sits, awards won and testimonials from members of Congress and from the various presidents he served, Republican and Democratic. Dr. Edward F. Zigler, Sterling Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Yale University and director emeritus of the Edward Zigler Center in Child Development and Social Policy, has also had the distinction of being able to vote in two departments—the psychology department in the School of Liberal Arts and the Yale Child Study Center in the medical school. His Ph.D. is in clinical psychology from the University of Texas at Austin.
His experience is awesome: He was a member of the National Planning and Steering Committee of Project Head Start and shortly after was named administrator of the program. He is particularly proud of his work on infant care that led eventually to the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (he would have such leaves extended as well to families who adopt). Though his research cuts across many fields, he has been particularly active in integrating cognitive and social-emotional development, especially for low-income at-risk children. His work on the retarded child as a whole person clearly confirms that the basic problem is not cognitive alone.
Much of Dr. Zigler’s thinking is reflected in the School of the 21st Century (21C schools), a program based at Yale, that now has approximately 1,300 participating schools across the country in 38 states (Arkansas already has a state-wide program). According to website information, the 21C school “develops, researches, networks and supervises a revolutionary education model that links communities, families and schools.” Key to the 21C concept is preparing children for school before they enter kindergarten by way of home visits, then by partnering with local child care providers, extending the school day with after-school activities and working with parents to educate them about the benefits of integrating academic, physical, psychological and social services.
It bothers him not at all if he sometimes finds himself in the minority, as he does in the debate over mixing poor and middle-class children in the classroom. He recognizes that there are many who believe that such an arrangement might benefit poor children but not those in the middle class. He begs to disagree. Given his wider concerns about educating the whole child, he feels that middle-class kids can learn a lot from poor children about tolerating frustration and confronting adversity, for example. He wants attention to be paid to these areas as early as possible in a child’s development. Studies show that between birth and eight, the brain is at its most plastic, and scholarship clearly confirms that the earlier such concerns are addressed (start at the age of 2 in poor areas), the better for the development of the whole child. He supports what 21C schools now offer: home visits, integrated child care, after-school programs and parent involvement in the evenings. Assessments prove, he says, that students in the 21C schools in Arkansas perform better in 6-7 academic subject areas than other students.
He does not yield to partisan politics: “My politics is children.” He points out, with a chuckle, that he was one of the few members of the Nixon administration who did not go to jail. He also notes that he served President Johnson, who wanted him to come to Texas as a visiting professor. He himself, Dr. Zigler adds, came from a poor background and, like Johnson, who hailed from poor hill country, became a staunch believer in the transformative power of education. Indeed, LBJ once told him that were it not for education, he’d be following “the north end of a south-bound mule.”
What can be done to strengthen the fight for schools such as 21C and for educating the whole child early on? Even class differences can be detected in children at 18 months, he points out. Parents must be educated about what research supports, form a constituency, become advocates and convince their legislators to act on what data reveal about the workings of the brain and child development.
Dr. Zigler may be long in the tooth, as he says, but he’s not lost his bite nor his appetite for the pursuit. Within a year, those 32 books will be 34. #