Celebrating Black History Month: Edmund Gordon

This month, we’re celebrating influential Black leaders who have improved social emotional learning opportunities for all students. 

“If I go back to the beginning, I’m arguing that school is important, but it is not the end of education, nor is it the beginning.“

– Edmund Gordon

Many of us believe that education is the best way to grow and achieve our dreams. The lessons we learn in the classroom as kids are supposed to set us up for success later in life.

But not all students have equal, equitable opportunities to get a high-quality education. Historically, not everyone in America had access to education. As policies changed and educational opportunities opened up for more people, schools have continuously tried to adjust and adapt to meet the needs of all learners. But it’s taken Upstanders to speak up, advocate, and create the changes needed to provide equitable learning opportunities for all. One of those Upstanders is Dr. Edmund Gordon.

Who is Edmund Gordon? 

Born June 13, 1921, in Goldsboro, NC, Edmund W. Gordon is one of America’s foremost scholars on divergent learning and an early champion of using supplemental education to help improve the quality of academic outcomes for historically marginalized communities. A contemporary and mentee of W.E.B. Du Bois, he has published 18 books and over 200 articles across his storied career, held positions at numerous prestigious colleges – including professor emeritus status at both Yale and Columbia University – and has been called the leading Black psychologist of his time.

As a professor at Stanford University, Gordon was tasked with helping to design the government’s Head Start program, created under then-President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society campaign to ameliorate poverty and racial injustice in the United States.

Head Start provides educational support as well as a range of community services and outreach initiatives to low-income families and young children. Gordon and his colleagues envisioned Head Start not just as an educational organization, but also as a program that could address societal factors that impede educational achievement and development in low-income and minority students, a phenomenon he would come to identify as the “achievement gap.”

His research has “had a tremendous influence on contemporary thinking in psychology, education and social policy and the implications of his work for the schooling of lower status youth and children of color in America,” according to Carol Camp Yeakey in her book, Edmund Gordon: Producing Knowledge, Pursuing Understanding.

And while many people with Dr. Gordon’s resume may have retired quietly after such a long and successful career, the 100-year-old is still offering his insight on what can be done to address the challenges facing students in the wake of the pandemic.

“We built Head Start to compensate for those things that were not happening at home,” Dr. Gordon told the Washington Post in 2021. “I would greatly enrich the school’s capacity to compensate for what should have been happening at home.”

Edmund Gordon’s Lasting Impact on SEL

The research, scholarship, and trailblazing work that Edmund Gordon has contributed throughout his career has laid the foundation for the way we provide social emotional learning today, particularly with an emphasis on using innovative educational techniques and principles to advance equity and foster stronger community connections.

“Dr. Gordon’s legacy and contributions to the field of educational psychology and even how we define education attainment cannot be overstated,” says Shaleiah Fox, Director of External Relations for Black Studies at the University of Texas. 

Today, Head Start serves nearly 1 million students and their families, providing access to high-quality early childhood education.

As we celebrate the impact of influential Black leaders in education this month, we give gratitude to Dr. Edmund Gordon. Join our friend Bilaal for a deep breath of gratitude for his work, impact, and ever-growing legacy.


How are you celebrating Black History Month? Share this article on social media to celebrate Edmund Gordon, and let us know who else you are learning about this month! 


Learn more about Edmund Gordon

Edmund gordon honored with CASEL’s 2021 SELLY award

At 100 years old, Edmund Gordon thinks the key to schooling starts at home [Washington Post, 2021]

Psychologist Edmund W. Gordon speaks about academic achievement gap [Daily Texan, 2020]

Dr. Edmund W. Gordon Battles to Eradicate Achievement Gap [Diverse Education, 2012]

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