After more than 40 years of teaching, psychology professor Edward Zigler will see off his final class of undergraduates this semester.
Zigler, the father of the Head Start early education program, will continue to work at Yale as director of the Bush Center in Child Development and Social Policy. Zigler said he would also remain involved in efforts to influence public policy as a professor emeritus.
“I’m going to do pretty much the work I’ve been doing for a while,” Zigler, 72, said. “I’m still planning to be very active in — helping to shape legislation to improve the lives of children.”
Zigler, who began teaching at Yale in 1959, became the first director of the Bush Center in 1978. In the course of his career, he has served on numerous advisory committees to the federal government and as an administrator in the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare.
But Zigler is best known as the co-founder and director of Project Head Start, initiated in the 1960s during President Lyndon Johnson’s administration. Head Start — one of the remaining legacies of Johnson’s “Great Society” program — is a child development program that prepares low-income children for later schooling.
Psychology Chairman Peter Salovey said Zigler has played a critical role in developing a more complete understanding of government programs that affect children.
“He is singular — in bridging the gap between science and policy,” Salovey said. “There isn’t anyone working in the early childhood education field who doesn’t know his work.”
Zigler, a pioneer in social policy, said his career, which began in the 1950s, has coincided with significant advancements in the field of child psychology.
“The field of child development was essentially the relationship between mothers and children,” Zigler said. “Back then, we didn’t think that policy issues were important to human development.”
Zigler said the study of child development has also evolved significantly as researchers moved outside of a laboratory setting. This broader perspective toward the field is reflected in the wide range of issues Zigler has worked on, from early childhood education to parental leave to health care programs.
While Zigler will no longer teach classes, he will continue to advise upperclassmen and graduate students at the Bush Center. Salovey also said he expected Zigler to remain active in the field as an advocate on policy issues.
“We think of him of as retiring only in the sense that he will stop his formal teaching,” Salovey said. “I think he will still be a major figure in the childcare policy scene.”
Rosana Garcia ’03, who took Zigler’s course on child development and social policy, said the professor’s experience provided a “behind-the-scenes” look at the creation of government programs.
“I thought it was really valuable to have him — as the person who started Head Start, especially with his perspective on where it went wrong and what needed to be fixed,” Garcia said. “He had a very personal and unique perspective on history because he worked so closely with the White House for many years.”
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