Happenings: Symposium on Early Childhood Education

Lady Bird Johnson’s legacy with
the Head Start program

By Audrey Webb

Lady Bird Johnson devoted herself to the Head Start program. Photo by Robert Knudsen, LBJ Library. http://www.lbjlibrary.org

Think “Lady Bird Johnson” and a field of wildflowers is likely to spring to mind. But did you know that in addition to her involvement with bluebonnets and yellow bells, Lady Bird also devoted her energy to helping children blossom?

On January 4, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson (class of 1930) delivered a State of the Union address in which he proposed to begin “a program in education to ensure every American child the fullest development of his mind and skills.” Later that month, in her January 14 diary entry, Lady Bird wrote: “The Head Start idea has such hope and challenge. Maybe I could help focus public attention in a favorable way on some aspects of Lyndon’s poverty program.”

As the first honorary chair of Head Start, Lady Bird devoted immeasurable time and energy to the cause. Head Start, a national organization, is still going strong: In Texas, it currently assists more than 90,000 children, providing them access to services that enhance education, health, nutrition and parent involvement.

On November 8, 2012, in celebration of Lady Bird Johnson’s centennial and her contributions to Head Start, Texas State University will host a symposium in San Marcos on early childhood education. The symposium will allow practitioners, policymakers and scholars a rare opportunity to engage in face-to-face dialogue about how best to establish an environment of success for young Texans.

Although President Johnson first declared war on poverty 47 years ago, the battle is far from over. According to 2010 statistics from the KIDS COUNT Data Center, more than 1.75 million Texas children are living in poverty. Families with limited resources have little or no access to full-time quality care for their preschool-aged children.

“What we want most is for the cry for equity and access to be heard,” says Dr. Timothy Kinard, assistant professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction and a member of the symposium organizing committee. “We really feel that access to success, access to power and access to knowledge are all tied to equity.”

Symposium panelists will include keynote speaker Vivian Gussin Paley, recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship “genius grant” and author of 13 books about early childhood education; Dr. Libby Doggett from the Pew Center on the States; Audrey Abed, program operations director of Child, Inc.; and Dr. Rosana G. Rodriguez, director of development at the Intercultural Development Research Association.

Kinard says the symposium will begin a discussion that must continue, and he hopes it will result in “somebody on the floor at the State Capitol talking seriously about funding universal pre-K — at least that to begin with — universal access to full-day pre-K is really on the frontline for us right now.”

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