The Crisis of the “Disadvantaged Child”: Poverty Research, IQ, and Muppet Diplomacy in the 1960s



In the early 1960s, the US federal government deemed poverty to be a national crisis, and actively intervened to solve this problem. My question for this article is how did preschool education become a key site to remedy this crisis? Government interventions were a combination of poverty research, racialized politics, and child development. I show how the discipline of early childhood education cohered around the term “disadvantaged child”, in turn influencing the War on Poverty policies, including the basis of Head Start preschool education. During this same decade proponents of Sesame Street—with private funding, along with extensive testing mechanisms by consultants—argued that the television could reach more children, therefore be more cost effective. This paper investigates how surplus populations became determined and demarcated, as early as three years old. I question how televised preschool taught “affective skills” and proper social relations during times of political crisis.