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Black History Month Profile: Head Start Architect Dr. Edmund W. Gordon

By: Lysette Arnold, Community Engagement Associate at Groundwork Ohio

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For Black History Month, we’ll be sharing profiles of prominent Black activists who have paved the way for much of the work we do advocating for Ohio’s children and families.

Dr. Edmund W. Gordon is regarded as one of the leading designers of Head Start, an early intervention program vital to many of Ohio’s families.

Gordon grew up in the segregated town of Goldsboro, North Carolina. It wasn’t until he was suspended from Howard University after struggling to keep up and being discouraged to pursue graduate school when he discovered his professional passion and life’s work: education for all learners.

Gordon received his bachelor's degree from Howard University, a Master of Arts from American University, and a Doctorate of Education from Columbia University, along with an astounding nine honorary degrees.

His research includes the advancement of the concepts of:

  • The Achievement Gap,

  • Affirmative Development of Academic Ability, and

  • Supplementary Education.

All areas focus on improving the quality of academic achievement in diverse learners. He has held appointments at several of the nation’s leading universities and is the author of more than 200 articles and 18 books. Gordon’s work has heavily influenced modern thinking in psychology, education, and social policy.

In 1965, Gordon was selected as Director of Research and Evaluation as part of Lyndon B. Johnson’s “War on Poverty” to help design and evaluate the Head Start Program. The Head Start Program prepares America's most vulnerable young children to succeed in school and in life beyond school by offering free comprehensive learning and development services to children from low-income homes.

Many of Ohio’s families benefit directly from this early intervention, including so many in our Family Action Network.

“I always thought that preschool was preschool, they’re going to watch the kids, they’re going to teach them something. Head Start not only taught me a lot about how early childhood education should go, but also how families should be treated with the respect coming together and working together for the benefit of the child.” ~Family Action Network ambassador

When asked if he thought that Head Start has been successful, Gordon said, “As a political and social endeavor, it has turned out to be one of the most successful and effective of the federal government's experiments.”

Gordon understood the importance of strengthening the families and communities that children come from to improve opportunities for learning very early on, which still rings true to this day.

"Head Start taught me what needed to be done before kindergarten. By the time they hit kindergarten, they were reading, they were writing, they had basic math down.” ~Family Action Network ambassador

At 101 years old, Gordon is still an active member of the education community. He has lived through many aspects of the Black plight in America including the civil rights movement, landmark supreme court cases, and a number of social revolutions. Still, he used his education and knowledge to lift up others.

Early Head Start is another federally funded community-based program that came out of Head Start. To learn more about the Early Head Start program and how Ohio’s families are benefiting from this early intervention, register for our upcoming webinar, Early Head Start: Investing in What Works for Families of Infants and Toddlers, happening Wednesday, February 15.




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