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The Secret Sauce of a Simple #HeadStartWorks Button

We in Head Start definitely have evidence fatigue. I have nothing against evidence but evidence-based-this and evidence-based-that sometimes gets to be too much evidence. That is why what I have to share here is so galling, particularly because I have to concede that Bob, my husband, is right by making me aware of the evidence of just how valuable a single button can be.

Bob is passionate about Head Start and about all the great work and the community of people we are. When the badly interpreted Impact Study came out, Bob actually read the whole thing, annotated it, and even dared to argue with the inscrutable Principal Investigators. The bad press prevailed, and to this day many pundits cite that single piece of misinterpreted research as evidence that Head Start does not work.

Being a smart business guy, Bob understood that most people believe most of what they read. He realized that most people do not know much, if anything, about Head Start, so if they read something nasty – like Head Start has been proven not to work - they are likely to believe it. They have no reason not to.

To work on that, Bob bought and wore some of our “Head Start Works” T-shirts. He put “Head Start Works” stickers on the front and back of his car. Then, last October, the Massachusetts Head Start Association made “Head Start Works” buttons and I got one for Bob. He immediately pinned it to his business suit, and when he went to the gym he pinned it to his gym gear, and when the winds blew in Boston, he pinned it to his overcoat.  The button was a great conversation starter - every day he would call and report all the conversations, thumbs-up, and questions he had received.  

I told Bob’s button story at a Region 7 meeting earlier this year. The next day I had an email from someone at the meeting who had forgotten to take off her Head Start tag when she left. She made two stops on her drive home and experienced the engagement of a former Head Start baby and then someone else who saw the tag and asked about Head Start.

Well, that validated Bob’s daily evidence that even a simple button can be an agent of engagement. Now here is the brain science: Daniel Kahneman, psychologist and Nobel economist, in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, described research that confirmed that familiarity is not easily distinguished from truth. In one experiment, when asked to judge words with no particular known meaning, subjects considered nonsense words they encountered frequently much more positively than words they saw less frequently. In his words, “Familiarity breeds liking.”

Over the past month, almost a quarter million “Head Start Works” buttons have left NHSA’s office and come into your hands. If you want the world to know that Head Start works, you should wear one all the time, not just on Button Day, October 24th. Get your dear ones, and your Boards, and your colleagues, and your parents to wear them proudly and share that for 50 years Head Start has been a national commitment to give each child, regardless of circumstances at birth, an opportunity to succeed in life and school, and that you and your program are keeping the commitment! Then take a picture with the button and post it on social media with the hashtag #HeadStartWorks or email it to us at 50Years@nhsa.org.

Remember, parents see and hear the word “school” more often than they hear “Head Start.” They should be seeing Head Start buttons all the time. After all, evidence shows that this should help level the playing field.