I have been closely involved with our nation's Head Start program since the 1960s. I was on the project's planning committee, served for 2 years as the federal official responsible for administering it, and have since advised every presidential administration – both Democrat and Republican – on Head Start issues. I have been witness to the advances and retreats, the positives and negatives, in how early intervention has been perceived by decision makers, scientists, and the public over the years. Certain facts in the history of early intervention have been lost in the mist of time, and you know what they say about those who do not know history being destined to repeat it. The primary purpose of this brief paper is to remind readers of these facts so they can recognize the patterns before they again bedevil our efforts on behalf of young children.
Shortly after the birth of Head Start, both Bettye Caldwell and I feared that the program was being oversold and could not possibly fulfill the expectations that policy makers such as President Johnson and his War on Poverty czar, Sargent Shriver, had raised. The president confidently promised Americans that Head Start would soon put an end to poverty and enable the preschool graduates to avoid welfare dependency, crime, and imprisonment when they grew up.