Celebrants at a March 30 festschrift--sponsored by APA's Science Directorate and held in Washington, D.C.--commended Yale University's Edward Zigler, PhD, for his longtime research on and political advocacy for children, particularly underprivileged children, in America and around the world.
Zigler, who became professor emeritus after 44 years at Yale, was one of the original planners of the federal Head Start program. He later designed specific research and quality-control components of the program and, through his own research, demonstrated the need for quality early care and education.
Zigler was appointed by President Richard Nixon in 1970 as the first director of the U.S. Office of Child Development, now known as the Administration on Children, Youth and Families, and he became the chief of the U.S. Children's Bureau. Zigler's research in the years since Head Start was founded has focused on assessment of child and family intervention programs; recently he and his colleagues surveyed U.S. child-care standards to raise awareness of the importance of educational quality to positive outcomes.
Among those honoring Zigler for his work on Head Start was psychologist Ruby Takanishi, PhD, president of the Foundation for Child Development.
"Head Start started in the 1960s, at a time when the scientific establishment in child-development research was not supportive of the connection between research on children and policy," Takanishi said. "Ed asked, 'What is the role for a well-known, well-regarded child researcher?' And he stepped up and said he had an important role to play in policy.
"He had to really fight to be taken seriously, but he did, and that's made it possible for the field to have the credibility it does today," she said.
As a testament to that credibility, festschrift participants presented research papers on child development and social policy, members of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate placed statements of commendation in the Congressional Record and APA President Robert J. Sternberg, PhD, presented Zigler with an APA Presidential Citation.
"He's a model of what creativity is," Sternberg said. "Ed is somebody we can most admire because he is truly a redefiner of the field. Most of the smartest psychologists don't have the guts to do what he has done--to step up and say what he believes."
Speakers noted their personal fondness for Zigler, and many, like Lonnie Sherrod, PhD, a former Yale student, credited Zigler for mentoring students to become dedicated researchers and advocates willing to fight hard for children's rights.
"Nothing has the impact that Ed has had in terms of the people he has generated," Sherrod said.
In his remarks, Zigler, too, spoke of the early challenges of establishing political credibility for child-development research, but he focused more on the future--problems left to be sorted out, reasons to be optimistic and his hopes for his legacy.
He pointed to the unsung successes of Head Start, including improved medical care for children through early intervention and positive effects of early-education programs in terms of deterring crime and delinquency. Zigler advocated for better assessment of these "sleeper effects." Always the social scientist and advocate, he cited research on the benefits at-risk children reap from mental health screenings and discussed the need for even earlier intervention in children's lives.
"I'm absolutely convinced that the problem of Head Start is kids who come to us at age three already brushed off by the system," Zigler said. "What this shows us is we have to get to them earlier and attend to the mental health of the youngest children."
The 73-year-old father of one plans to remain active in research and policy matters. He will also continue to mentor students in the hopes that they carry on the mission he undertook after a difficult childhood of his own.
"[As the] son of a non-English speaker and having grown up in poverty, I've been able to exceed expectations and possibilities," Zigler said. "My only regret is that me and my generation couldn't achieve more. I'm sure that you in this room and your students will complete my life's work."
Many at the festschrift attributed much of Zigler's success to his willingness to put aside partisan politics. Psychologist Wade Horn, PhD, assistant secretary for children and families for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said Zigler's support during the first Bush administration allowed the department to pursue innovative programs.
"Though we have differences on the initiatives at Head Start, I still hear from Ed Zigler," Horn says. "He still encourages me with his wisdom."
Longtime friend and another in the group that created Head Start, former U.S. Surgeon General Julius Richmond, MD, spoke passionately of Zigler's commitment to children.
"When there are crises about children, you don't have to worry where Ed Zigler is," said Richmond. "He's just going to show up."