Selected Moments of the 20th Century

A work in progress edited by Daniel Schugurensky
Department of Adult Education, Community Development and Counselling Psychology,
The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT)


The Sixties and Head Start 

In the mid 1960s, with an increase in the gross national product, the government realized that there would be a surplus of several billion dollars. The Johnson Administration decided to use this surplus to end poverty through education and job training. The War on Poverty consisted of many different programs ranging from Legal Services to the Poor to Neighborhood Jobs Corps. One of the long lasting programs of the War on Poverty was Project Head Start.

Project Head Start was created to prepare low-income preschoolers for grade school. The program was created to primarily serve three and four year-old children and their families, who must be at or below federal poverty levels. Its intention was to teach children the skills they would need to succeed in school.

Thirty years after its inception, Head Start continues to be an important program. In some cities, the program has been expanded to include newborns to three year-olds and to serve students in kindergarten through the third grade. Further, the program helps non-English speaking children to begin to learn English, while improving their self-esteem.

The Head Start Program is important because it begins reaching out to children at a young age. It gives students, who may suffer educational setbacks because their socioeconomic status, a "head start" so they are able to succeed in school. It helps children learn to socialize and to develop their cognitive abilities.

Johnson was determined "to eliminate the paradox of poverty in the nation by opening to everyone to live in decency and dignity." His desire came at a time when different groups and different people were working to change life in the United States. The Head Start program was just one of those changes.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion or national origin. It gave the attorney general the power to guarantee voting rights and end school segregation. This Act was the culmination of a long struggle by Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, among others, to change the segregation and discrimination that existed in the United States.

During the same period, the free speech movement began at the University of California at Berkeley. The Movement was an attempt to change the power structure of the university. It resulted in many disruptions and protests that eventually spread to campuses throughout the nation.

The protests that were occurring in the United States were also against the war that was occurring in Vietnam. Antiwar protesters marched on the White House in the April of 1965 and in October of 1967, the March on the Pentagon was 100,000 people strong. The concerns about the war eventually turned the focus away from the nation, which caused the War on Poverty programs to never fully flourish.

The 1960s were also a time of violence and death. President Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963. In 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr and Robert Kenney were also assassinated. Riots erupted in Watts, Detroit, Tucson, New York, and many other cities across the United States between 1965 and 1968.

Changes were occurring in the United States from many different sides. Women, homosexuals, and ethnic minorities joined together in seeking to improve life for all in the United States. Some of the War on Poverty programs have left a legacy for that continues to affect the lives of Americans today. The Head Start program continues to provide a positive experience for thousands of students nationwide.


Fleck, K.M. (1995). Easing into Elementary School. Education Digest, 61, 42.

Fuentes-Salinas, J. (1995). 'Head Start' Es Aprender Antes de Ir a la Escuela. La Opinion, (1995) PG.

Marlow, J. (1996). Breaking the Cycle of Poverty. Long Island Business News, (1996) 26.

Norton, M.B., Katzman, D.M., Escott, P.D., Chudacoff, H.P., Paterson, T.G., & Tuttle Jr., W.M. (1986). A People and A Nation: A History of the United States. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Thompson, L.S. 1995. Head Start Program A 'Miracle Solution'. Washington Afro-American, (1995) PG.

Prepared by Analee Haro (UCLA)

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Last updated on May 26, 2002.


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