Edmund Gordon, the lead African-American psychologist of Head Start in the 1960s, now argues that programs are insufficient to meet the educational challenges we face.

In Supplementary Education, Gordon does not reject school reform, but nevertheless focuses on the need to develop families and communities ability to foster learning. Gordon and his fellow authors reject typical notions of school-family partnerships and instead call for “better enabling parents to function as competent adults who are capable of directing and supporting the optimal development of children. We argue that it takes a well developed adult to support the optimal development of a child” (p. 329).

While that sounds reasonable and unexceptional, it is in fact a radical approach that focuses on “well-developed adults” and must therefore consider strengthening parent’s ability to act as competent humans.  That this is radical in today’s climate shows how far school reform has drifted from the real sources of a successful learning culture: curious parents and homes rich with learning activities.

From Gordon’s perspective, competent adults deliberately orchestrate educative experiences for their children as well as mediate their children’s educative encounters. This “supplementary education” is necessary to develop the cultural skills and attitudes that are the necessary pre-conditions for academic success in schools.

Gordon rejects the concept of cultural deprivation, but nevertheless argues that certain sub-cultures and families do not emphasize the attitudes, behaviors, experiences, and values that are instrumental to academic success.

Will his approach stigmatize people who have already suffered from discrimination? Gordon takes this accusation on directly. Arguing that “meaningful participation in the social order requires high levels of intellective competence”  it then follows that it is “simply wrong” and a new kind of additional discrimination to ignore this functional reality (pg. 328).

Gordon lives and works in New York and has influenced the development of the well-known Harlem Children’s Zone.



Gordon, E. et. al (2005). Supplementary Education