Growing up the child of immigrant parents in the United States, Edward Zigler (doctor’s degree in psychology, 1958) didn’t speak English until he participated in a program similar to today’s Head Start program. The settlement houses, popular with immigrants during his youth, significantly impacted his chances for success by providing fundamental services like health care as well as the preschool that became the foundation of Zigler’s education.
“From the son of two immigrants growing up in poverty, I’m a Sterling Professor at Yale and fairly well known,” he said. “That help I got as a child in those important years was critical. And the new brain research tells us that what you experience in those early years is the foundation for brain development in later years. I valued very early supporting poor children because that was like my life. When you’ve been discriminated against yourself you hate discrimination against others. It’s that simple.”
Zigler came to The University of Texas at Austin to study clinical psychology, but expanded his research to include child development. He became an acknowledged expert in mental retardation, identifying the fact that there were remarkable similarities in the problems suffered by poor children and children with mental retardation. His work focused on ways to improve behaviors in both types of children.
Because of his expertise, Zigler was asked to join the Head Start Planning Committee, a program to help children overcome the obstacles caused by poverty, resulting in improved school readiness.
“The story of Head Start is one of impact,” he said. “Twenty-five million poor children and their families have now been through this program. I am the only member of the planning committee that stayed with Head Start through its entire 45-year life. But perhaps the bigger impact over the long haul was the change in our thinking about preschool education.”
Zigler is Sterling Professor of Psychology Emeritus at Yale University. He is one of the founders of the field of applied developmental psychology and pioneered the discipline of developmental psychopathology. He conceptualized the School of the 21st Century, and has played a central role in generating the momentum toward establishing universal preschool education.
He has been a key adviser for policy development, has helped plan the Family and Medical Leave Act and is the author, coauthor or editor of more than 800 scholarly publications and more than 39 books.