Emily Kaplan is an elementary school teacher living in Boston. In this post she writes about her experiences working at a no-excuses charter school and raises the question about whether a relentless focus on academic achievement for even the youngest students is counterproductive. This first appeared on the Edushyster blog of Jennifer Berkshire. Kaplan can be reached at emilykaplan@post.harvard.edu.


By Emily Kaplan

The very youngest children at the no-excuses charter school at which I taught all start their nine-hour school day in the same way: by reciting the school “creed.”

“I am a … scholar!” the 200 children chant. The principal weaves among the tables, making sure that the children “track” her by turning their heads in accordance with her movement. One child lets out a giggle. He is immediately sent to the Silent Area.

“I have the power to determine who I am, who I will become, and what I do in life.”  They point their thumbs to their chests, extend their arms, and stack their fists in unison. “I will stay focused on achieving excellence.”

I notice that one of my second-grade students is wearing one neon green sock, in stark defiance of the dress code. I am contractually obligated to order him to take it off or to send him to the dean. I smile and look away.

“I will make smart choices because I care about myself, my teammates and my community.”

I turn my attention to the table of kindergartners next to me. They’re my favorite to watch, these tiny children who haven’t yet learned to be predictable.

Most mouth the words obediently: “Today is a step on my path toward success!” On cue, their little fists shoot into the air.

The principal smiles and returns to the front of the cafeteria. Ignoring the group of children sitting stone-faced in the Silent Area, she announces that we’re about to sing a catchy song about self-determination.

But I am giggling. The kindergartner next to me didn’t say “path to success.” He said “path to recess.”