Erika Christakis

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Erika Christakis (née Zuckerman) is an American educator and writer, specializing in early childhood education. She is author of The Importance of Being Little.

Education and early career[edit]

Christakis graduated from Harvard College with a degree in social anthropology in 1986.[1] She was one of the first undergraduate interns at Harvard’s Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations and studied in Kenya in 1985.[2] In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Christakis worked on public health projects in Bangladesh and Ghana and served as a case manager for indigent adults with mental illness and addiction in Boston.[3]

In 1990, Christakis obtained a Master of Public Health degree from Johns Hopkins University, with a concentration in international health. In 1993, she obtained a second master's degree from the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, with a focus on the role of education campaigns to prevent HIV infection and to improve maternal and child health. Christakis obtained her third master's degree in 2008, in early childhood education, from Lesley University and was then licensed in Massachusetts as an early childhood teacher and preschool director.


Since the 1990s, Christakis has worked as a preschool teacher, college administrator and instructor, and writer and journalist. She has also served on several school boards and as an educational consultant.

From 2009-2013, Christakis was appointed Co-Master, together with her husband, the scientist Nicholas Christakis, of Pforzheimer House at Harvard College.[4] While at Harvard, she helped shape university policies on topics ranging from substance use to the reception of students from diverse backgrounds.

In 2013, Christakis moved to Yale University, where she was appointed Lecturer in Early Childhood Education at the Zigler Center in Child Development and Social Policy at the Yale Child Study Center. At Yale, she has taught undergraduate courses in child policy, early childhood education, and child development. She was appointed Associate Master of Silliman College, one of Yale’s 12 residential colleges, in the spring of 2015, a post she held until June, 2016.[5]

Christakis has written on the developmental needs of children, young adults, and families, and on popular culture and other topics, for many venues, including The Atlantic,[6][7][8][9],[10][11][12][12] The Washington Post,[13][14] The Huffington Post,[15][16] the Financial Times,[17] and The Boston Globe.[18] She wrote a Ideas column for two years.[19][20] Her commentary often reflects center-left politics with an occasional libertarian streak, such as in her defense of the rights of minors and in her critique of the increasing bureaucratization of American schooling.[1] Her article in The Atlantic in early 2016, “The New Preschool Is Crushing Kids,”[6] was described in Slate as having an “explosive” effect on the education world.[21]

Her book, The Importance of Being Little: What Preschoolers Really Need From Grownups was published by Viking Penguin in February 2016,[22] and it debuted on the New York Times Hardcover Nonfiction Bestseller List of February 28, 2016 at number 19.[23] Science described the book as "superbly written" and "supported by a rich scientific literature."[24]

Christakis has spoken twice at the Aspen Institute Ideas Festival.[25]

Support of Free Expression[edit]

In October, 2015, in her capacity as Associate Master, Christakis wrote an e-mail to the undergraduates at Silliman College on the role of free expression in universities. This email was in response to a directive from the Intercultural Affairs Committee at Yale that provided guidelines regarding Halloween costumes.[26] In her email, she argued that, from a developmental perspective, students might wish to consider whether administrators should provide guidance to college students regarding Halloween attire or whether students should be allowed to "dress themselves."[27][28] According to The Atlantic, "Her message was a model of relevant, thoughtful, civil engagement."[28] But the message played a role in protests at Yale about several issues, and it received national attention.[29][30] This incident prompted a number of social critics to comment on possible generational changes.[31] Christakis eventually decided to no longer teach at Yale.[32] On the anniversary of the events, in October 2016, she described the difficult circumstances she had faced, and she expressed concern that a "culture of protection may ultimately harm those it purports to protect."[14]

While in a similar post at Harvard in 2012, Christakis was also involved in the defense of free expression (which she wrote about in a TIME Ideas column). She came to the defense of minority students who were using satire to criticize the final clubs at that institution, arguing that policing free expression on campus "denies students the opportunity to learn to think for themselves."[33] In another column that same year, she came to the defense of a high school student wearing a T-shirt supporting gay rights.[34]


  1. ^ a b "The Importance of Giving Children Independence". 2016-04-02. Retrieved 2016-04-03.
  2. ^ "Harvard Honors Bishop Desmond Tutui" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-01-14.
  3. ^ "The Importance of Being Little" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-01-14.
  4. ^ Lavoie, Amy. "Nicholas and Erika Christakis new master, co-master of Pforzheimer | Harvard Gazette". Retrieved 2016-01-14.
  5. ^ "Master & Associate Master | Silliman College". Retrieved 2016-01-14.
  6. ^ a b "The New Preschool Is Crushing Kids". The Atlantic. 2016-01-05. Retrieved 2016-01-14.
  7. ^ Christakis, Erika. "Americans Have Given Up on Public Schools. That's a Mistake". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2017-10-04.
  8. ^ Christakis, Erika (2018-06-16). "The Dangers of Distracted Parenting". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2018-06-20.
  9. ^ Christakis, Erika (2019-02-06). "Active-Shooter Drills Are Tragically Misguided". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2019-02-20.
  10. ^ "The call of the Dolphin Mother". Retrieved 2016-01-14.
  11. ^ "Want to get your kids into college? Let them play". Retrieved 2016-01-14.
  12. ^ a b Christakis, Erika (2012-02-03). "Women's health not just about breasts". Retrieved 2016-01-14.
  13. ^ Christakis, Erika L. (2013-09-19). "Navy Yard shootings: What role does social isolation play in mass killings?". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2016-01-14.
  14. ^ a b Christakis, Erika (2016-10-28). "My Halloween email led to a campus firestorm". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2016-10-29.
  15. ^ "Sex And The Soft Bigotry Of No Expectations | Erika Christakis". 2012-04-16. Retrieved 2016-01-14.
  16. ^ "The Hypocrisy of Breastfeeding Shamers | Erika Christakis". 2012-05-14. Retrieved 2016-01-14.
  17. ^ "Americans Need to Leave Deadbeats Behind". The Financial Times. 2012-03-28. Retrieved 2016-02-21.
  18. ^ "Fair-trade pornography". The Boston Globe. 2012-02-09. Retrieved 2016-01-14.
  19. ^ Christakis, Erika. "Erika Christakis |". Retrieved 2016-01-14.
  20. ^ Christakis, Erika. "Erika Christakis and Nicholas A. Christakis |". Retrieved 2016-01-14.
  21. ^ Moser, Laura (2015-12-21). "Erika Christakis says the American way of teaching young kids is flawed. What's the alternative?". Retrieved 2016-01-14.
  22. ^ León, Concepción De (2017-09-13). "3 Books on the Importance of Early Education". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-05-31.
  23. ^ Editors (February 28, 2016). "Hardcover Nonfiction Books - Best Sellers - The New York Times". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-05-31.
  24. ^ Hirsh-Pasek, Kathy; March, Roberta Michnick Golinkof 11; 2016 (2016-03-11). "The preschool paradox: It's time to rethink our approach to early education". Books, Et Al. Retrieved 2019-02-20.
  25. ^ "Erika Christakis | Aspen Ideas Speaker". Retrieved 2016-01-14.
  26. ^
  27. ^ "Dressing Yourselves". Retrieved 2016-01-14.
  28. ^ a b Friedersdorf, Conor. "The New Intolerance of Student Activism". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2016-01-14.
  29. ^ Stack, Liam (2015-11-08). "Yale's Halloween Advice Stokes a Racially Charged Debate". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-01-14.
  30. ^ Friedersdorf, Conor (26 May 2016). "The Perils of Writing a Provocative Email at Yale". The Atlantic. Retrieved 1 June 2016.
  31. ^ Fox, Claire (2016) "I find that offensive". Biteback.
  32. ^ Hartocollis, Anemona (2015-12-07). "Yale Lecturer Resigns After Email on Halloween Costumes". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-05-31.
  33. ^ "Whither Goes Free Speech at Harvard?;". Retrieved 2016-07-13.
  34. ^ Christakis, Erika. "The Lesson of the 'Jesus Is Not a Homophobe' T-Shirt". Time. ISSN 0040-781X. Retrieved 2019-02-20.