Presentation Title: Psychologists and Johnson’s Great Society: Poverty, Housing, and Head Start

Abstract: In the mid-1960s the Presidential Administration of Lyndon Johnson enlisted social scientists as allies to plan and implement the Great Society, including finding solutions to the interlocking problems of poverty, urban housing, and early childhood education. The foundation for the analysis of the resulting Great Society policies and their effects will be psychologist Kenneth B. Clark’s Dark Ghetto (1965). The book was a meditation on the failure of the “good intentions” of well-meaning white liberals and policy makers in regard to race and inner city life. Clark’s analysis provides an entrée to understanding the problematic relationship of social science and public policy that continues to the present. While Clark’s book highlights the linked problems of poverty, housing, and child development, material will also be drawn from specific applications of social scientific work on urban renewal and housing, as well as the problematic beginnings of Head Start as a tool to redress deficits in school readiness. The historical analysis will provide a framework for understanding the difficulty of generating useful social policy from academic social science research.


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