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Protests rock Paly over 're-enactment' plays

Original post made on Nov 4, 2007

Students at Palo Alto High School are rallying to the defense of historical re-enactment plays in a controversy over whether the future of the 17-year-old program is threatened.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Sunday, November 4, 2007, 2:23 PM

Comments (178)

Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Community Center
on Nov 4, 2007 at 2:59 pm

Wow, what a shocking report.

Both my kids were students of McGovern, my daughter particpated in the re-enactments, and last year and this is a director of one of them. I have seen all of them except Hannibal at least once.

My opinion is that this is one of the most powerful teaching tools at PALY, dare I say any high school?

It is difficult to understand from the article what concerns the new PALY principal actually has. If it is a question of safety, let's get the FD and PD and others with expertise to provide an updated objective opinion and recommendation on anything that may be needed to assure the safety of those involved in this program.

If, as the article suggests, there are issues she has with the content of the re-enactments, this could get very difficult. I do not pretend to have full recollection of all the content (but I sure as hell remember that Grim Reaper character!!), and what I hear or notice could be taken differently by others in this complex little community. But, these productions have a great deal of "edginess" and that is what makes them such a strong learning experience.

If Gunn can put on A Chorus Line, and Caberet, both rife with mature content, there clearly are gray areas around what our high school age children are exposed to in the formal venue of their schools. This program has been around for so many years, with numerous accolades and significant financial support from the families of the students participating, and to my knowledge no criticism that has proven to have merit.

Taken at face value, this news report suggests to me that the principal does not have a full understanding or appreciation of this aspect of PALY life. I will give her the benefit of the doubt, and not make any hasty judgments about just what she is attempting to do around this program, but I would think there are much more important matters than this on which she should be focused. This seems like a good time to invoke the aphorism "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Posted by Paly alum parent, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 4, 2007 at 3:08 pm

Is there any way Mr. McGovern can set up a fund to help support the re-enactments? One of my kids took part in one of them when she was a freshman, then took a leadership role in managing that particular re-enactment during the rest of her time at Paly.

I know it was a key part of her Paly experience and would be happy to provide financial support to keep the program going.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 4, 2007 at 3:30 pm

We are talking about high school students here. We are talking about a subject which is rife with political views, religious views, morality and the like. We should embrace anything that makes our students question for themselves rather than have dogma thrown down their throats. We need to let them use the past to help them with the decisions of today and tomorrow.

If we protect them from anything that could possibly (?) have religious overtones and spend time discussing literature and classes rife with other social issues being discussed, eg. racism, abortion, euthanasia, etc. then we are giving them a very slanted education.
If someone were to read this as religion, which I can't comment on as I have never seen it, then (a) they don't know much about religion and (b) the idea that religion should never be discussed in the classroom is denying a major part of historical relevance.

The idea that the grim reaper is anything but a pagan concept and the fact that Mike McGovern is a professing born again Christian means that there is absolutely no sign of Mr. McGovern using the classroom to put forward his own religious views, only his views on what he considers the curse of today's society, drugs and alcohol.
The grim reaper has no religious connection as far as I can see.

Posted by Paly alum parent, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 4, 2007 at 3:46 pm

I saw this re-enactment when my daughter was in McGovern's class. There were no religious overtones as far as I could see in the Grim Reaper's message. I thought it was very powerful though.

I am not particularly religious, and would have been very quick to protest if I'd thought anyone's religious views were being pushed at public school. In fact, until this article came out, I was completely unaware of Mr. McGovern's personal views, which tells me that he is a good, even-handed teacher.

I know kids who have become history majors because of the way Mr. McGovern brings the subject alive. He is a local treasure who has proven his worth for years and years. Paly's new principal should do some research before jumping in and trying to destroy a program that has worked so well.

Posted by Sean, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 4, 2007 at 3:46 pm

McGovern is probably one of the best teachers in the state. His reenactments are superb.

Get rid of McEvoy, keep him! What is she thinking?!!!

Posted by julie, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 4, 2007 at 4:07 pm

Given the involvement of ex Palo Alto High Students as the alleged perpetrator of a violent sexual assault, attempted murder and kidnapping

and as a victim in a horrible DUI Homicide in Santa Barbara last month

I believe PAHS students need MORE exposure to the concepts of good and evil and morality. Not LESS.

Posted by Frances Davies, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Nov 4, 2007 at 4:56 pm

I had a front row seat to how the students dealt with this situation. At 8 pm Thursday we got the news. The kids used Facebook to vent until about 9:30 floating "We'll show them" ideas. They then realized themselves that they were dealing with a very serious subject and needed to be adults. From then on it was shear business. At that point there were about 200 signed up on the Facebook group. They decided to get a petition organized which were printed by 11 pm. In the next two days they got over 700 signatures in support of the reenactments.

These kids used every lesson that they had learned from the reenactments, you have to challenge authority when necessary in a constructive manner, you have to stay organized and you have to work hard. All I can say is in the future I'd rather be behind them rather than in front of them.

Posted by Parent of former Paly student, a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 4, 2007 at 5:22 pm

I would like to echo the above poster's comment about Facebook. I have just spoken to my daughter (Paly 06) away at college. I told her what I thought was news that would interest her about this situation, but it was all old news to her. She had been involved through Facebook from Thursday and was doing her bit with the Paly alums getting the word about.

Scary isn't it!!

Posted by The-Grim-Reaper, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 4, 2007 at 6:51 pm

From the article --
The Grim Reaper points to students who have been
drinking heavily at a party and speaks of his delight in
killing them off through drunk driving, drugs or AIDS,
McGovern said.

McEvoy said in the meeting that the ominous figure
could be interpreted at Satan gleefully punishing
teenagers who have sinned, he said.

McGovern said McEvoy also disagreed McGovern's
comparison of the Medieval and modern epidemics.

"She said, 'I don't see any connection between the
black death and HIV and drugs and alcohol,'"
McGovern recalled

This "problem" seems to be another one of those non-problems that "plagues" too many Palo Altans with too much time on their hands.

If McEvoy really believes that the "ominous figure" could be interpreted as "Satan", she would probably be one of the few in Palo Alto who might. Satan has shown up in the Bible as a snake, and an angel, and in a lot of Buffy TV shows as one ugly dude (red with a lot of horns and drool)--but never as the "Grim Reaper".

While technically HIV/Drugs/Alcohol are not connected to the Black Death, one could easily recognize a metaphor in a claim that HIV/Drugs/Alcohol are the "Plague Of Our Times".

As Roseanne Roseannadanna used to say .. "if it's not one dang thing it's another".

Posted by not impressed, a resident of Professorville
on Nov 4, 2007 at 7:10 pm

a teacher blurts out an angry mischaracterization of a meeting - which he regrets - but seems to have done nothing to stop students from whipping themselves up over a situation whre they don't have all the facts, and he doesn't seem like he's trying to mend any fences here either with the principal. Such a great teacher maybe should be a role model for how to deal with problems that were private until he dragged it out and got it wrong. It would help if he told kids to put the brakes on and let the grownups deal. nothing mentioned in the article sounds ilke "trying to kill the program" but here we are - paly and palo altans getting all hot under the collar for a tempest in a teapot. and by the way, what does an infectious disease have to do with bad teenagers drunk driving? that's history teaching?

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 4, 2007 at 7:14 pm

The Grim Reaper is supposedly the personification of death, not of Satan.

Death comes to us all, those good as well as those bad. Ideally, we should live to an old age with a long life before death visits us. In medieval times, death visited the young with plagues and other interruptions to a long life. The analogy between this and drugs, alcohol and AIDS as a modern day interruption to a long life is fairly obvious.

Satan is supposedly a figure to fear regardless of age. The Grim Reaper is not necessarily sinister, just unwanted - particularly to the young.

To me this is definitely a fair analogy.

Posted by nope, don't believe it,, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 4, 2007 at 7:17 pm

Surely this is a huge misunderstanding??? I can't believe that the principal would actually REALLY be concerned about the Grim Reaper having some sort of satanic symbolism in a Play? If she is really concerned about this as a metaphor, what else is she going to try to shut down in the area of learning?

No, there must be a huge misunderstanding. This sounds like the flip side of the schools I, frankly, laughed at which censored Harry Potter because it has witches/warlocks and magic in it, and is therefore "satanic". The same reaction, different corners of the trying to enforce a certain religious interpretation and fearful of anything outside of its views, the other trying to eradicate even a slight chance that there may be someone who interprets a metaphor in a religious way.

For goodness sake, what other ancient myths and icons is she going to try to eradicate from the history curriculum?

No, I don't believe it. Not here. I am going to wait for the rest of the story to come out.

Posted by Paly parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 4, 2007 at 7:22 pm

What I'm more concerned about is that neither of my kids had McGovern as a teacher and they/I am sad about that!

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 4, 2007 at 7:29 pm


Who knows what Mr McGovern is doing about this situation now. All we know is the article and we have no idea how one sided that is. To me it has been written to sensationalise the story, a ploy often used by journalists making a non-story bigger.

Yes, the kids are enjoying supporting a teacher they like. I would rather this than supporting someone or something we as parents find questionable, the t shirts for the prankster and the one supporting "the weed" a couple of years ago come to mind.

Posted by ROCKED?, a resident of Greater Miranda
on Nov 4, 2007 at 7:41 pm


This is news???? Bleh....

Posted by not impressed, a resident of Professorville
on Nov 4, 2007 at 7:48 pm

Parent - fair enough, I don't really know what's happening now at this minute as far as trying to smooth things over. we can agree the story is pretty slanted and sensational too, inflating the issue. the kids are welcome to support a teacher but forgive me if I can't get too proud of them for copying the grown ups. why wait for facts before cranking out a petition and tshirts and slandering the principal without having the facts - I like the activism, not the headlong ingnorant plunge. they're young, maybe they have time to learn what too many grown ups around here haven't....

Posted by Andy and Liz Coe, a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 4, 2007 at 8:16 pm

Mike McGovern is a hero in our book. We need more teachers who chose to engage, value and empower students the way he has. We have seen first hand the value that Mike brings to the educational environment and to kids. He needs to be supported and applauded, not undercut and questioned. Does he push the envelope? Absolutely, but we need more teachers willing to do so, who care about our kids the way he does.

Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 4, 2007 at 9:29 pm

My son is a sophmore at Paly. Last year his freshman English class went to a Anne Frank reenactment. Afterward, they had to fill out a questionare about it. How did it make them feel, etc. His response was that it made him angry. An actor in the reenactment dressed as a Nazi shoved him up against the wall painfully, stretched out his shirt and screamed at him. My son said he wanted to punch him. He was really mad. I guess that was the point. To make them feel that way. But it's disturbing to have older kids be actually physical with the younger ones. So he wrote that in his questionaire response. I don't think it's unreasonable for activities to be monitored for safety.

Posted by mcgovern suporter, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Nov 4, 2007 at 10:07 pm

The reenacments are monitored for safety by Mr. McGovern. Who is one of the nicest people I have ever met and would never let any physical harm come to anyone that participates or watches a reenactment.

Posted by huh?, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 5, 2007 at 6:16 am

HOLD ON A MINUTE!! Haven't you guys read the article? The Principal clearly states she isn't asking for any content changes...and the Teacher regrets his outburst...

Can anyone see that this is a non-issue?

There is no attempt to stop the re-enactments or change the content, what the heck does the teacher's religion have to do with anything, and why is everyone jumping on this?

Posted by Susan, a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 5, 2007 at 6:45 am

"I haven't dealt with content yet," she said.

Sounds like she just hasn't done it yet.

Posted by Bob Harrington, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 5, 2007 at 7:28 am

As grandparents of a Paly freshman who was involved in the Ann Frank and French Revolution reinactments last year, we were privledged to attend both and personally experience the powerful lessons learned. My takeaway was, "exemplory programs like this can only be created in a very supportive Palo Alto educational environment, one I am grateful my children and grandchilren have participated in and benefited from."

I am confident the outpouring of support for the reinactments will lead to even more postive support by the administration and the recognition Mr. McGovern and this series so richly deserve.

Posted by student, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 5, 2007 at 7:43 am

ok, so this whole thing about how the party scene isn't connected to the black death at all isn't true.
for the past couple of days in class we were watching a movie that specifically connected the two. the same gene mutation called delta 32 is present in the high risk HIV canidates and in the living family of the known black death survivors.
you just have to watch the movie to figure it out...

Posted by A Parent of Two (2) PAUSD Students, a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 5, 2007 at 9:03 am

We Palo Altans all benefit, I believe, from the strong pool of talented teachers in the Palo Alto Unified School District; I hope my children benefit from Mr. McGovern's class -- or another just like it.

It's difficult to administer a diverse high school like Paly; I hope Ms. McEvoy soaks in much in her first year; I would advise careful consideration of any contemplated actions; it's just best to move slow when new.

A historical review of the plague may be seen by some as an indictment of the adherance to certain religious tenents in the absence of rigorous, independent scientific examination.

For a brief, well-reasoned review of the mutated form of the CCR5 gene -- aka Delta 32 -- and its relation to HIV and the bubonic plague, see the following Public Broadcast System web page:

Web Link

Posted by board watcher, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 5, 2007 at 12:46 pm

Everyone, we don't actually know the principal's point of view. She has not gone out with press releases and interviews discussing the situation in detail. For all we know, she was having a discussion about some concerns and it got blown out of proportion. As some have pointed out, it doesn't look like the teacher did anything to try to stop the kids from taking his overreaction and running with it. It also really doesn't seem cool of the history teacher to call her a liar in print, though, when professional restraint will (one would hope) prevent her from fighting the whole thing out in the press. He sounds, for all his passion, like a bit of a hothead who is used to running his own show, or at least a bit of a prima donna. I've had lots of great teachers who made subjects come alive for me and they never attacked the administration or lost control like that. Sheesh, people, this principal was loved in her old district. How likely is it that she has completely changed into an ogre in a few months? Can everyone just settle down and wait for all the facts? Oh, and give her a chance?

Posted by julie, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 5, 2007 at 1:19 pm

What is the problem at Paly ?

I think it is time to talk of root causes.

My son tells me there are gangs active in the school, it is not as bad as Menlo Atherton yet! how is this problem being addressed

Why exactly does Paly rate so poorly in the NewsWeeks rating of our nations high schools ?

What are the accurate statistics regarding graduates who go straight to 4 year Universities from Paly. The rate appears to be declining.

This Kertuffle about Re-Enactment plays and the massive reaction may well be the symptom of some much more profound problems.

Is something rotten in the state of Paly ?

Posted by Ariel, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 5, 2007 at 1:49 pm

Mr. McGovern is one of the most inspirational teachers at Paly. He deserves the highest respect from all, as that is how he treats the people in his life. Jumping to the conclusion of calling him a prima donna or a hothead is obviously coming from someone who has never met him.
I participated in numerous reenactments and was amazed how his enthusiasm has kept students motivated year after year. He is truly an incredible teacher; it would be nice if more teachers showed such passion for their subjects.
And as for McEvoy not wanting to change the content of the reenactments, the last part of the article raises a few concerns:

"...But she does have a policy of screening original scripts written by school staff or students before performances, she said."

Sounds like content-control to me...

Posted by anonymous, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 5, 2007 at 1:53 pm

Julie does NOT sound like someone familiar with Paly. Talk about going overboard.

Posted by Ariel, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 5, 2007 at 1:56 pm

I think your son needs to clarify with you about his meaning of "gangs" at Paly. Comparing Paly to M-A is traveling down a mighty slippery slope.
Not to discredit your son, but you should check this out:
Web Link

Posted by alumni, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 5, 2007 at 2:16 pm

my brother was in anne frank and then i myself participated and then went on to direct it till i graduated last year. I myself am not religious and throughout my highschool career i never saw any religious projections in the reenactments.
working with mcgovern for four years i can tell you that he is not a hothead in any way and takes everything in calm stride. if there is something that upsets him he doesn't even share it with students...until now. This meeting must have been more than mcevoy says for mcgovern to become so upset. I think the students have a right to show the principle that they support these reenactments, and whose to say she didn't change her mind with the script changes or cancelation after there was such a public uproar? I have to say i agree 100% with the first comment "IF IT AIN'T BROKE DON'T FIX IT" this new principle (as i have heard from the students i directed for the anne frank reenactment) is trying to change things at paly that have worked fine for many years.
if the students want to support something- let them
not to mention although mcgovern isn't saying "stop" (which i don't think he should because changes affect the students just as much as it does him) he also isn't spurring them on.

Posted by alumni, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 5, 2007 at 2:18 pm

Oh one last thing- i was director when we had to cancel practice for the fire department inspection- it ALL checked out.

Posted by Realist, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 5, 2007 at 2:24 pm

I agree with Board Watcher, and I HAVE met Mike McGovern and helped with the reenactments several years ago (as a parent). I've also attended performances of each play. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] Yes, he's enthusiastic and puts a lot of time into his class, but it's all about stirring up emotion, frankly. There's not a lot of substance or analysis. And let's get back to the principal's concern for safety: The black box is a firetrap, and McGovern has ignored parents' and the fire marshall's concerns about that for years. McEvoy is absolutely right to make changes for safety's sake. The content is another matter, one that I do think she should keep an eye on.

Posted by class of '95, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 5, 2007 at 2:40 pm

Mike McGovern is a fabulous teacher. He's one of the best things Paly has going for it. I loved his class and the plays.

Posted by dorothy rivette, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 5, 2007 at 4:00 pm

My family has known Mike McGovern for years through his teaching and our involvement in the re-enactment program. He is not only one of the finest teachers at Palo Alto High School, he is among the most inspiring teachers I have ever had the pleasure to meet.
Several years ago I had a front row seat at an elite private school as a new head arrived, all smiles and charm, always saying and emoting just the right thing. I watched with shock and sadness as she systematically disempowered and undercut the best faculty. Outstanding faculty have multiple options and are the first to leave. Over time, only the incompetent and inexperienced remain. First rate administrators thrive on competency, inspire faculty, and incur loyalty by elevating standards. Second rate administrators consolidate power through dishonesty and by discrediting and removing teachers whose very excellence and innovative practices stand as a threat to their authority. First rate people want to be judged by their abilities. Second raters play political games.
If Jackie McEvoy simply expressed concerns for fire safety to Mike McGovern, I am certain he would have responded by diligently working to ensure safety. If he says this is actually about something else, I believe him. The Mike McGovern I have known for many years is straight forward in his actions and honesty.
Ms. McEvoy used a blunt instrument this time. Next time she will use a sharper instrument. Those with the most options undoubtedly already see the writing on the wall. A sad day for Paly.

Posted by A Real Gem, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 5, 2007 at 4:07 pm

My daughter graduated from high school last year and my son two years before. Both of my children had their issues academically and emotionally. Mr. McGovern lighted a fire in both of them. He was kind, inspirational, sensitive to their emotional needs, and a great teacher. Both of my children knew he cared about their success. He knows how to talk to and reach our students. In fact, my daughter wants to be a history teacher like Mr. McGovern some day because of her experiences in his classroom and in the reenactments. I don't know the new principal and I'll give her the benefit of the doubt, but she could learn how to address her concerns to her staff. It sounds like this manager needs some coaching.

Posted by Ariel, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 5, 2007 at 4:24 pm

If the black box were a firetrap then it obviously wouldn't pass the fire department's inspection. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by board watcher, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 5, 2007 at 6:45 pm

Clearly there is a larger problem in Palo Alto. It's called the TRUST ISSUE and it taints people's perceptions of everyone's motives. For years we have had to make do with skirting around the administrative system to get things done, and it will take some time for anyone in this district to trust that an administrator, including the new principals and Skelly, is being straightforward, responsive and professional. It's sad that we have gone without for so long that we no longer trust anyone and that we immediately distruct motives.

Tomorrow is election day and then the new and old Board members will settle into the business of running the district. Let's hope this is the beginning of a new era for the schools and PAUSD.

Posted by Paly parent, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 5, 2007 at 7:44 pm

I find the tone of these posts surprising. Two adults at Paly are involved: one adult (Ms. McEvoy) who expressed concern for the safety of those attending re-enactments (that's her job, folks!), and one adult who publicly and immaturely lashed out at at the school principal, childishly overturned a podium and lost control in the presence of students, and ultimately created a student furor over nothing. And I should want my high school student in his classroom?

Posted by NotPalyParent, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Nov 5, 2007 at 9:02 pm

Paly parent, maybe you wouldn't be sooo surprised if you talked to your Paly kid. As I understand, it is not something out of blue - there were many incidents of miscommunication between principal and students.
Web Link
For me it looks like Paly kids were really patient all this time; probably they hoped that principal would not only expect everybody to adjust to her style, but also try to understand better the spirit of Palo Alto, which is a little bit different from her previous closed-campus school.

Posted by Hope my kids aren't this spoiled, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 6, 2007 at 4:33 am

I'm sorry, but an article in the Paly Voice criticizing the new principal for not meeting with the student council for the first 8 days of school? Assertions that the principal needs to adjust to meets the studens' needs and desires and has to fit into the way we do things here? What in the heck is going on here? Could it be that Paly has been without meaningful leadership for years, and now someone is actually doing her job and some teachers and the students want to continue on their independent path? The Voice article (no byline by the way -- who wrote it anyway?) sounds petulant and spoiled (she only met wih us on the 8th day of school, she sent out a video message but not everyone heard it so she has to try harder, she changed our attendance policy and dance policy without considering what WE wanted). Boo. Hoo. In any changeover it takes time for everyone to adjust. Seems that Paly just wants to continue as it always did and make the new principal do all the adjusting, because Paly is sooooooo not San Mateo. This is just weird. The really unwelcoming, cliquish tone shown from almost the beginning toward the principal is disgusting. I hope these kids realize at some point that in the real world, this is not how it works.

Posted by NotPalyParent, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Nov 6, 2007 at 7:25 am

maybe principal just overreacted, because she had to deal with "satanism problem" before..
Web Link

Posted by Robin Snyder, a resident of Gunn High School
on Nov 6, 2007 at 9:13 am

I have known Mike McGovern most of his life.

He is a scholar, a gentleman, a teacher, and a gifted, creative artist.

In the 40+ years I have known him, he has never forced his personal beliefs on anyone, in any way, shape, or form.

If egress is the issue, ask the Fire Department to do checks of the staging area on a regular basis to insure the safety of the students involved in the productions.

If content is the issue, turn on the nightly news. Mr. McGovern's productions are tame by comparison.

Posted by Mother, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 6, 2007 at 9:33 am

From the article:

>>McEvoy said in the meeting that the ominous figure could be interpreted at Satan gleefully punishing teenagers who have sinned, he said.<<

How does McEvoy know this to be a fact? Is she personally acquainted with Satan? If so, perhaps her qualifications need to be reviewed by the Palo Alto School Board.

With all the problems re: drugs, alcohol, AIDS, and other social ills, I am grateful for a teacher who takes enough interest in teaching to warn my children of the real world awaiting them once they leave the hallowed halls of Palo Alto High School.

The purpose of teaching is to inspire students to learn, otherwise, all you get is asses laden with books.

Keep teaching, Mr. McGovern. You are doing a great job.

Posted by Alice, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 6, 2007 at 11:36 am

Firstly, Hope my kids aren't this spoiled, as a Paly Alumni, thank you calling me spoiled. Any Parent who thinks that their child, while growing up in PALO ALTO, is not spoiled is fooling his or her self. All of us are spoiled, we are spoiled that we are in the top 5% of househld income in the US, and that we have the amazing opportunity to live in an area with one of the best school districts in the nation. When Newsweek released their list of the top high schools in the US, Gunn and Paly were both in the top 200. We are also spoiled in the sense that we have FANTASTIC teachers like Mr. McGovern that care so much about your child learning history, he spends 800 hours VOLUNTEERING (that means without pay, just so you know) his time to create these reenactments.
Also we are spoiled to have had absolutely superb and influential principals like Sandra Pearson and Scott Pearson. Not to mention one of the greatest men I have met, Asst Principal Doug Walker. He influenced my life, and undoubtedly many others. I am happy to say that I am spoiled enough to have the opportunity to learn and spend my educational career with the PAUSD. That I was given the opportunity to learn from the amazing people who call Paly and Gunn their home. Maybe there is some room at M-A if there is some real worry about spoiling your kids.
However, we are not spoiled because we can stand up for ourselves against someone who has just entered our way of life and tries to dictate and impose their views on us. We are standing up for a man who made an impact in our lives and passed on his passion for teaching onto us. I do not think children who are not scared of authority and conformity should be insulted, however praised for not being sheep.

Posted by Alice, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 6, 2007 at 12:11 pm

I would also like to mention, after looking at her previous record, coming from a school with just less than HALF her students proficient in History, she would be happy that someone is taking so much interest in teaching kids. The cliche "if it isn't broke, don't fix it" comes to mind.

Web Link

Posted by gotta be more to the story, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 6, 2007 at 12:22 pm

Again, there must be a big misunderstanding..A Principal who defended students in a Satanist Club in San Mateo for the reason that they are really interested in the philosophical teachings of alternative religions could not possibly fear as too "religous" having the Grim Reaper in a play point to kids and tell them the truth of the possible consequences of poor choices... Honestly, shouldn't SOMEBODY make it clear that there are consequences?
From the link above

"But McEvoy apparently wouldn't ban the group ( my parentheses...the Satanist Club) even if she was legally allowed to. In an e-mail sent to the parents, she said, "These young men are really interested in the philosophical teachings of alternative religions."

Posted by There's gotta be more to the story, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 6, 2007 at 12:24 pm

I also can't believe that anyone who is a principal of one of our High Schools can't see the relevant metaphor for the plague, as one of the posters above said.

I believe the 3rd person of this story, who said that there has been a massive misunderstanding..this stuff happens with new people and will get ironed out, I am sure.

Posted by John, a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 6, 2007 at 12:39 pm

I would like to stand up for the principal, at least to a degree.

First, let me say that McGovern is a great teacher. His reenactments stir interest in history, and it lasts. My kids, who participated, can still understand the essential sketch of the French Revolution.

The new principal comes in and thinks she sees a problem. McGovern goes off on her in class. The students, always ready to proclaim their wisdom, put up a fit. McGovern made a big mistake by doing this. He is now backing down, as he should. It sounds like the head of the history dept. and the principal are keeping their cool.

Last year, students and some parents went to the barricades (just to use a French Rev. image)to protect "Tom". Completely ridiculous, but sypmtomatic of spoilt kids and adults. This new principal is coming from a school that is more in touch with day-to-day reality. Perhaps she sees something amiss here...ya think?

Posted by janette, a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 6, 2007 at 1:35 pm

I would prefer to see a teacher behave in an adult manner, which I think it is clear Mr. McGovern did not. "He said he returned to his classroom infuriated, slammed his fist on the desk [in front of the students] and blurted out, "She's trying to kill the program."

Mr. McGovern is not someone I'd want teaching my children. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by PALY STUDENT, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 6, 2007 at 2:12 pm

First off, to Julie - you/your son are grossly misinformed. there are no gangs at paly, and we no longer submit our info to the HS ranking services which is why we aren't ranked there.

and to whoever made the comment about the byline on the voice story - its a campanile story for starters, and its an editorial supported by the entire staff, which is why the byline says "The Campanile".

Speaking from the perspective of a Paly student, this is only part of a much larger issue with McEvoy. In the first two months of school she has managed to (whether warranted or not) alienate a large majority of the student body. If one were to take an approval rating poll at Paly right now, I could not see her getting higher than a 3.

The main issue that Paly students have is that she has come into Paly and implemented a number of policies and made a number of statements that seem to reflect a complete and utter lack of respect for the overall maturity level and responsibility of the student body here.

I was present at the news conference she had with voice, and in her comments about the dance policy (Web Link), she essentially said that she changed the policy based on "several" conversations with a few parents who she "believed were speaking for a larger group". For McEvoy to change a policy that has never sparked complaint from any students, based on the objections by a few parents who were concerned that their kids were being exposed to sexually explicit behavior or whatever it was, is ridiculous. its dancing, and the message McEvoy essentially sent to the student body is that we are not able to make the decisions for ourselves about what we feel comfortable doing with our bodies, which, frankly, is insulting.

that, combined with the bike policy and cut policy (neither of which are necessarily bad, but increase the perception that she does not trust us), the reenactment issue, and the rumors of a closed campus (at least for freshman) in the future has made many of the students here feel that she already decided that does not respect us, without even getting to know us.

Part of what makes Paly such a great school is the freedom and responsibility that we are given. we get to learn how to make decisions for ourselves, and work out our problems without being babied every step of the way. we grow as people, not just as students.

Paly is not San Mateo and that is the reality. now I'm not implying that McEvoy should just come in and shut up and do nothing because we're perfect already, but what makes an administration successful, and a school as a whole successful, is trust and communication between parents, teachers, and students. What McEvoy has accomplished so far is destroying the trust of the students. It is a 2-way street, and we as a student body need to learn to be more receptive to change, but McEvoy also needs to adjust to the environment here, and at least try to make an effort to get to understand Paly before making wholesale changes.


Posted by John, a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 6, 2007 at 2:57 pm


While I think you have some points about freedom, it has to be backed up by responsibility. The "Tom" incdident, last year, hurts your credibility.

PALY kids are, on average, smart and resonably well behaved. However, it has been my experience (through my own kids being there) that they are full of themselves. Instead of knee-jerk questioning of authority, they should first question themselves. The adults and taxpayers (through the Board) are in charge of the school, not the students. I hated being told this when I was a HS student, but it is true. Get over it.

I have gained some respect for this principal, as well as the head of the history dept. They kept their cool, and are probably wise enough to see the bigger picture. McGovern and the students who went off to defend him, have some maturing to do, even if the principal was off kilter on the reenactment issue.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 6, 2007 at 3:14 pm

One piece of information which seems to be misinterpreted, Mr. McGovern returned to his classroom while there was no class going on and the students who were there were just a few who were there outside class hours.

At least this is the way I read it.

Some make it sound like he returned to his teaching in the manner described. I think you will find that he returned to his classroom to let off steam expecting his classroom to be empty.

Posted by Alice, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 6, 2007 at 3:26 pm

To those who are misjudging Mr. McGovern and stating that they don't want their child having the chance to be taught by Mr. McGovern, I'm sorry you live in such a close- off world. Do you think everyone in the world is composed?? Mr. McGovern doesn't even let kids say the word 'suck' because of what it implies. He asks students to say 'sponges' instead. Don't be so quick to judge a man you haven't had the opportunity to meet.
Also, maybe you haven't had a passion for anything before, but these re-enactments are Mr. McGoverns LIFE. So I think it would be mature of you to understand that in hurt and anger he had a moment, but now he is apologizing. Forgive him. Aren't you guys supposed to be 'adults' and teaching your precious children life, or are you too high and mighty to forgive. No wonder people think Palo Alto kids are spoiled. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.....

Posted by PALY STUDENT, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 6, 2007 at 3:34 pm

John -

Just because we are kids we should blindly accept the decisions made by those in power? Regardless of whether or not we are "in charge of the school", we have a right to have an opinion about how the place where we spend the majority of our lives is run. There is a reason why we have a student council and student body representatives.

I'm not saying that the administration should just do whatever we say, only that our opinion should be heard and considered. The "Tom" incident notwithstanding, when the student body has had concerns with decisions made that affected us (the dance issue and the reenactment issue), we have responded maturely and respectfully. Students organized themselves, wrote their own petitions, gathered signatures, and voiced their concern to the administration through the student council. We did not vandalize, we did not attack the principal (all the chants were in support of mcgovern, rather than against the principal), we were not out of control. All we have done is communicate our concerns to those in power, and asked for a reasonable explanation for the decisions that have been made. in the case of the dance policy, the administration could not provide one, and reversed the policy.

Posted by John, a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 6, 2007 at 3:40 pm


May I suggest that you back off a bit? The new principal had some issues. Such issues should be handled in a professional manner, which she did. McGovern had a "moment", yet you attack her. Why?

McGovern is a big boy, and he can defend himself in a private meeting, without blowing out of there. I hope he has another meeting next week. He produces a great learning experience via the he has to learn some of the lessons he teaches. He will be better for it, and so will the students. I wish him well.

Posted by John, a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 6, 2007 at 4:01 pm


High School students usually have a problem with authority. I sure did. Goes with the territory. That is not, particularly, a Palo Alto thing. The PA thing is that you actually think you, as students, should have an equal voice with authority. You don't.

If PALY students had held a meeting and discussed the issue, with various parameters and possible outcomes, I would have been very impressed. Instead, they did the typical puerile thing ... "two-four-six eight...". Have any of you had a face-to-face with McGovern to express your concerns that he was unprofessional? Or are you all still manning the barricades?

The Campanile should have a hard hitting interview with McGovern. No fluff piece. THAT would show some real fortitude, as well as some maturation possibilities. It could be a very positive growth experience for all involved. You game, PALY STUDENT?

Posted by Alice, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 6, 2007 at 4:01 pm

I attack her because she comes to Paly and starts trying to reform the school immediately off the bat. The only thing she has is power, not respect, not a connection with the student body. And in my personal opinion, I think there may be some power issues with the Principal. I do not attack Mr. McGovern because I would trust my life with Mr. McGovern. I know that he ALWAYS has the best in mind for his students. ALWAYS. I cannot say the same for a principal that comes in, shows no respect for students or staff, and tries to force respect through power. The past Principals, namely the ones I experiences, like Sandra Pearson and Scott Lawrence gained a tremendous amount of respect and trust from the students before doing anything, and Paly was harmonious from it. Look at what this Principal has caused from being on a power trip.

Posted by Alice, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 6, 2007 at 4:05 pm

John, when have you always been professional. And, from looking at the articles after the public statement that Mr. McGovern gave, he realized his mistake, and asked student to not to anything. What has the principal done other than back into a wall?
So he apologized for the outburst, and asked his kids to let him handle the situation, please tell me what the article should be 'hard hitting' about?

Posted by John, a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 6, 2007 at 4:19 pm


This can be a real learning experience for McGovern and the student body. A "hard hitting" piece is simply an honest piece, without favortism. This could be a shining moment for the Campanile (and for PALY, across the board). Let the sun would be a good thing.

The principal is constrained by potential legal liabilities. I doubt that she "back(ed) into a wall". She should not submit to an interview, without an agreement from all sides that it would not result in legal issues (especially from the teachers' union). However, McGovern is free to express himself and his actions. Think of it as reality theatre.

Posted by paly alum mom, a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 6, 2007 at 4:26 pm

Thanks for being so articulate, Alice. For those who would attack mike mcgovern for one outburst in a twenty year career (followed quickly by an apology) I wonder what glass houses they must live in. An emotional response is normal. He may be one of Paly's greatest teachers, but Mike is HUMAN for heaven's sake. A quick and heartfelt apology is a great model for kids to see. Especially from someone they respect.

Posted by andrew, a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 6, 2007 at 4:36 pm

I'm not sure it's so important for a teacher to be respectful when a higher-up is throwing power around. What lesson does that teach? That you obey the person with power and play the political game and not have any real feelings?

What we have here is a teacher who is excellent, and passionate about finding outside-the-box methods to help his students learn something.

The fact that he was so riled up after his meeting with the principal probably means the principal did something to rile him up.

Only thing is, she's playing it cool politically and not saying anything. Typical management strategy. . .

What do we want from our teachers in Palo Alto? Passionate, intelligent and inspiring ones that actually care about their jobs, or submissive, rank-and-file, by-the-book types that play the political game?

Posted by Theodore, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 6, 2007 at 4:47 pm

If ANYTHING, Mr McGovern's reenactments make us all a bit less spoiled... we could all learn from the last scene which I watched.

The Campanile is by no means spoiled. Students on it write editorials (the reason it is unsigned) to make sure our school is doing everything it can to maximize student's educational experience. That is what it is down to. A nationally recognized student newspaper certainly has valid points when it says the Principal must connect with students in a positive manner. She hasn't and that is fact. Ask anyone at Paly.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by John, a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 6, 2007 at 5:30 pm

There is real potential here! McGovern can write a reenactment about this whole drama. I suspect he has already thought about it. It could have some Greek overtones. He might apply the the general rule that the protagonist only be as strong as the antagonist, but he is free to identify and assign emphasis. I suggest that it be titled "Hubris", but he could either name it himself, or leave it up to a vote of the student body (always to be overriden by the administration, of course).

Posted by Alice, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 6, 2007 at 5:53 pm


Why are you resorting to pettiness and sarcasm? But to correct you, hubris would be a wrong term. McEvoy is not the victim, and Mr. McGovern is one of the humble people I have yet to meet.
The school does not need reforming, Mr McGovern does not need reforming. "First, let me say that McGovern is a great teacher." One of the best.

Posted by Paly Junior, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 6, 2007 at 6:17 pm

I find it disgusting after how much work, time, and effort McGovern puts into these reenactments that McEvoy thinks she has any right to threaten the even one small part of the remarkable program. McGovern takes on these projects in addition to the already difficult job of teaching. McEvoy has been at PALY for barely a quarter and is clearly overstepping her power. She has no right to come in and, right off the bat, start to make absurd changes. She does not connect with the PALY community and does not communicate with the students. She simply makes hasty decisions that benefit no one. She has no respect for the students and little for the staff.

Posted by Alice, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 6, 2007 at 6:19 pm

One thing that I don't believe has been given much attention. I am SO proud of these kids that rallied around Mr. McGovern. Theses kid immediately stepped up to support a TEACHER. the supposed 'enemy'. It doesn't only testify to Mr. McGoverns impact, but the morals of these kids. Their parents should be really really proud.

Posted by John, a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 6, 2007 at 6:37 pm


Yes, "hubris". It arrives when one thinks that he/she is on top of their game. The PALY students, who demonstrated or did their Facebook thing, are shallow, not deep (like many rebels). They have an amazing opportunity to become deep, within this current situation. Will they end up with something to be proud of, or will they just express puerile feelings that demonstrate how spoilt they are (e.g. "Tom").

Posted by anonymous parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 6, 2007 at 7:08 pm

Bringing up Mr. McGovern reminds me of how things are not always equal around here, how he is thought of as one of Paly's famous teachers - I have seen that written in past, and parents "always" want their kid to have him for 9th grade. Mine didn't get him as a teacher, though in fact one of my kids WAS scheduled to have him as a teacher -- it was right on my student's schedule at freshman orientation just before school started and my child knew this was desirable, then my student,oddly, received an updated schedule on the first day: to my student's disappointment, my student no longer had McGovern however my student still had History (exact same class)that period with another teacher...! Thinking about it, I concluded some parent had muscled in on my student's spot, rather than their child being placed where there was an existing open spot in a class this child took my child's spot. What else can you conclude? I am sorry that happened and feel dismay that things are done like this, it brings to mind the need to have more grade-level consistency in teaching/standards/grading so there are not "favorite" teachers demanded by some parents. Mr. McGovern seems to be very creative - legendary - and perhaps he should be emulated. We, however, will never be privileged to know in our family.

Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 6, 2007 at 7:47 pm

My child had Mr. McGovern for Social Studies in 9th grade. The class may have been interesting and entertaining, but did not meet the curriculum requirements of the Social Studies department. There was negligible homework, no writing assignments, and more extra credit on multiple choice tests than regular work. Students don't appear to be expected to improve their analytical or writing skills in his class. Some students love his class because it requires no work to get an A. The curriculum of his course is driven by his reenactment program - a program that is not open to other 9th graders. If the reenactment program is so valuable, why is it not offered to all 9th grade students? And why is Mr. McGovern's class held to a lower academic standard than the other 9th grade social studies classes?

Posted by paly alum mom, a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 6, 2007 at 7:55 pm

Paly Parent - your kid will remember the Black Death, French Revolution and Anne Frank long after the other kids have forgotten all the material offered by the standard curriculum. The kids pretty much get out of it what they put into a class like this. Some kids may need to be told what to learn but most love learning by doing. The reason not everyone gets this opportunity is because they don't have McGovern and other teachers are not willing to put in 800 unpaid hours per year.

Posted by curious, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 6, 2007 at 7:59 pm

Since I don't have kids at Paly, I'm curious about something. Do the kids use class time for rehearsals, playwriting etc.? And does it have to be either a fun class in which kids remember the content of the plays and little else OR a "boring" class that teaches them all the curricuum requirements?

Posted by Alice, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 6, 2007 at 8:28 pm

If you are calling these kids spoilt, then so are yours, since we are all a product of our society and you brought yours up in the same society I was raised in. And stop bringing up the Prank, those involved graduated, not to mention that the price of the damage was first claimed to be almost 5000, but in actuality was around 500, so the kids DID have something to fight about.
But that is not this group. These kids are fighting for their teacher. Not a high school prank. They are writing articles, getting petitions signed, and not lashing out. They are doing work to try and get their point across. I think you should stop setting tests out so that you can justify naming them spoilt, and recognize them for what they HAVE done. Its barely even been a week. Maybe your spoilt children have become 'deep' to you in their years, but I am SO proud of these kids for standing up for their teacher. They dont think that they are at the top of their game, they are just doing their best to save what they feel passionate about.
Just for curiosities sake, what in your opinion would theses kids have to do so that your condesending opinion of them is changed?
Paly Parent, ask your child to draw a minute map. See what they do. Ask them about the song Mr. McGovern taught them, i can still remember the majority of it. I know the order of Rome's leaders by heart, or i can still sing the song about how the ostrogoths, the visigoths, the vandals and the huns, they sacked the ol' city of rome and having so much fun...and it goes on. You are being critical of a class your child obviously didn't really participate in, otherwise you would not have the false idea of how he runs his class that you do. His classes are not at all centered around his reenactments, his quizzes are designed to know, and maybe his class doesn't have lower standards, but has a higher success rate. But you chose how you be judgemental.
And curious, The kids are asked to volunteer their after school time to participate. Speaking as a French Rev director, we start rehearsal at 3:30, run until about 4:30 where the kids have homework time and eat food, and then keep going until about 6. Mr.McG runs 4 re-enactments a year. The first one is about Hannibal Barca, which is only upperclassmen, and as a director and actor of that, we spend about 5 weeks in the beginning of the year preparing and rehearsing. Sometimes we rewrite the scripts a little to freshen it up, but the main idea of the scripts remain constant from year to year. That is the first re-enactment, and introduces the children into the reenactments. His reenactments are during his class time, and don't infringe on others, the one except is French Rev, which is at night for affect. And Mr. McGoverns class can never be boring, he is too enthusiastic about what he teaches.

Posted by paly student, a resident of Community Center
on Nov 6, 2007 at 8:37 pm

Alice has everything right. McGovern is truly a life-changing teacher, something anyone who knows him would understand. Those who are calling him hot-headed, immature, or unprofessional clearly have been misinformed by this article's slant. McGovern did NOT have an 'outburst' while class was in session, and he was not throwing anything out of proportion. Anyone who has seen or participated in these reenactments can see just how much blood, sweat, and tears McGovern puts into these performances. He assembles an amateur cast of drama geeks and misfits, and within a few months has them turning out a heart-wrenching, haunting masterpiece that stays with his students for years. To have a new administrator walk right onto campus and challenge one of the greatest passions of Mr. McGovern's life would rightfully upset him, and it's unfair to call his reaction 'unprofessional'.

As for the depth or puerility of Paly students, I think many posters (namely, John) are being unnecessarily condescending, without talking about the facts. The 'Free Tom' movement of last year was incredibly mature for a group of angry second-semester seniors with not much to lose. Instead of vandalizing, the students created an online coalition for justice and created t-shirts to undisruptively voice their opinions. So they didn't hold a meeting with the administration. They got their point across in a nonviolent, nondestructive manner. The same goes for our response to the reenactment issue. We created an online group to get support. We created petitions within hours. We HELD meetings to discuss this with the principal (which doesn't mean she listened...). We implored the student body to act maturely and not attack the principal in any way. We are trying our hardest to get McEvoy to listen to us by behaving like responsible adults. This is not just an issue of the principal taking away stuff we know and like. We're looking at the deeper problem of corruption and authoritarianism in our school.

And to anonymous parent--I'm sorry you came to the conclusion that someone 'muscled in on' your kid's spot in McGovern's class, when teacher changes like this are common at Paly. They're often a result of overcrowding, especially in freshman classes, which have a limit of something like 22 kids per class. It is unfortunate that you didn't get the chance to get to know him, though.

Posted by Reasonable, a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 6, 2007 at 8:39 pm

Mr. McGovern has tunnels with no lights. Students in the reenactments push people. There are lit candles in dark rooms with no exits. The Black Death environment is completely unsafe.

This is not an acting class or a reenactment class. It is a social studies class. How does Mr. McGovern's curriculum compare to what our students should be learning? Should Mr. McGovern teach drama instead?

I want a department that works together so that students have some level of consistency in terms of what they learn.

Good for Dr. McEvoy asking hard questions of a teacher. What does it say when a teacher can't defend their activities without having his students fight his battles.

I hope they can work it out so that Mr. McGovern works with his colleagues.

Further, where is the leadership from the department chair? Shouldn't he help bring Mr. McGovern into the department?

Posted by another paly student, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 6, 2007 at 8:42 pm

As a Campanile staff writer, and a high school student, I can't help feeling that some of the comments here are irrationally critical of high school, rather, Paly students and our opinions. I go to school with bright, motivated classmates who I don't consider "full of themselves" or "spoiled."

John: you argue that schools are run by adults and voters - but the point of any school, especially schools in PAUSD, as emphasized repeatedly by the Board itself this year, is the education it offers kids. How do we expect to create responsible voters who DO care about the way education is run if in high school, students are not allowed to express their opinions? High school students are that close to being adults; some indeed, are already voters and considered adults by law - are their opinions any less valid because they may be more liberal and more critical of an administration that they've had first hand experience with? I don't think that you can find many students, or even many adults, who feel that strictly enforcing a no biking on campus policy, or that strictly enforcing an attendance policy on a student body that is known to be motivated is the best use of administrative time or money. If those are the concentrations of the Paly administration - then I beg to ask, where are they mentioned in the Paly Site Improvement Plan? Instead of criticizing a student body which is unafraid of voicing its opinions and taking action, we should be encouraging them to take initiatives, as Paly teachers repeat over and over again.

For everyone's clarification - McGovern has not "backed down." He maintains, as you can read in the article, that McEvoy's statement about only being concerned with safety is a lie- and students, rightly, or wrongly, are more inclined to believe a teacher who has shown repeated faith in student ability and interest through his own inspirational teaching, than a principal who failed to consult even student body leaders on a new dance policy, and who has consistently shown her lack of respect for students through her harshly enacted policies. Need I mention that at the first dance, McEvoy specifically asked students to "get your sex of the dance floor," or that the attendance policy now limits calls in by parents for no reason - why should a parent have the ability to call in 1 day after an absence but not 3 months later? Is that an implication that parents are likely to excuse students for cutting for no reason - and if so, then why are parents allowed to excuse students at first? The student body, now erupting over the latest issue, is not simply siding with a McGovern because he ranted in front of a class, but because it would not be the first action McEvoy took a harsh line on.

The student culture at Paly, while perhaps opinionated, is, if I may point out, one reason so many students go on to prove that PAUSD is a district to be proud of. The freedom and responsibility allowed at Paly is one reason so many students find it so rewarding - sometimes that comes with "immature" actions, but surely that's why its called a school.

Posted by paly student, a resident of Community Center
on Nov 6, 2007 at 8:55 pm


No, the reenactments don't have padded walls, fake candles, and a no-touching-the-audience-members rule. They are set up to make the students feel like they are really in Carthage, Medieval Europe, 18th century Paris, or the Franks' attic. There ARE multiple and marked exits. Yes, the rooms are dark. So are movie theaters. Yes, there are real, lit candles. Crowded restaurants have candles too.

Mr. McGovern's World History class is not an acting class, nor a reenactment class, I agree with you. However, he does teach what the students should be learning, but in a more exciting and memorable way. I know I won't forget exactly where Alexander the Great wanted to conquer, or the date of the founding of the republic of Rome, or precisely how World War I began. This is what we're supposed to learn as freshmen, and I remember it better than any of my friends from other classes. If the Social Studies Department is to conform, it should be towards McGovern's style of teaching. Already, TEAM has created their own reenactments and in-class dramatic historic accounts to keep up with McGovern. He is the the teacher to emulate, not the one who is too radical for the less experienced of the department.

Posted by Alice, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 6, 2007 at 9:14 pm

Just to add to the above. There are 3 exits out of the black box, the exit from the room where most the of performance goes on has a lighted "EXIT" sign above the door, hopefully you know what that sign means. In Fact, all of the exits, as required by law, have red lighted "EXIT" signs, signaling that they are real exits.

Mr. McGovern covers ALL the curriculum required by the school, and more. Mr. McGoverns is by no means an acting class, believe it or not he teaches history in his history class. But drills the history he teaches through notes, song, dance, quizzes, and re-enactments.

Maybe its just me, but I cannot for the life of me understand why PARENTS are knocking a teacher who passionately cares about your children learning. He is willing to spend more time working on getting your child INVOLVED with their learning process then most teachers. Learning requires participation, and Mr. McGovern has figured out a way to make your kids WANT to participate in what they learn. HOW IS THAT BAD??? THESE ARE YOUR KIDS. Be good parents!! CARE that your children want to learn!!!! I am getting so frustrated that you seem to think that someone volunteering more hours a year into making your kids enjoy history then you is bad. He makes your job easy, if you even do it.

Posted by Alice, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 6, 2007 at 9:15 pm

I still sing "Europe Africa Asia ALEX!" and you better believe I accompany it with the dance everytime someone mentions him.

Posted by Alice, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 6, 2007 at 9:23 pm

one more thing. Mr. McGovern IS defending himself. These kids are rallying to his side because feel compelled to support and defend a man who has touched their lives. You have this completely the wrong way round. Mr. McGovern is completely capable of standing his ground.
This isn't the kids fighting his battle, but a testament to the impact he has on his students, and the deep, deep respect these kids have for him.

Posted by Derek Proudian, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 6, 2007 at 9:52 pm

My son was a student at Paly for four years, and helped out with the re-enactments every year. They were extremely meaningful to him, and the best after school program I have ever seen. Mr. McGovern is a wonderful dedicated teacher, perhaps the best teacher of my experience, and Paly should be thanking him every single day for what he does, every single day. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Not-John, a resident of Gunn High School
on Nov 6, 2007 at 10:13 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Former Mcgovern Student, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 6, 2007 at 11:05 pm

I had Mr. Mcgovern in 9th grade and my study skills regressed from taking his class. I would argue that 9th grade social studies is not so much about content as it is preparing analytical and study skills for future classes. I am currently in AP US history and Mcgovern's class in no way prepared me for the amount of work and writing i have this year. OK maybe ill remember how to draw a mini-map of europe, but how will that help me write a research paper for college? The whole curriculum is based on the re-enactments and there are only four of them over the whole year. I even complained to Mr. Mcgovern about the lack of writing in his class because I expected to be tested academically my freshman year of high school, and his response was that he did not have time because of the re-enactments. His class skims the surface of topics that should be analyzed deeply and thoughtfully.

Posted by GunnParent, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Nov 7, 2007 at 12:08 am

to former...
I'm not sure how it works at Paly (my kid is at Gunn), but it should be similar, I guess. There is opportunity to change your class/teacher at the first few days of semester-no question asked (if there is space in the class you are interested in); after that you have to talk to counselor and Instr.Sup. to make changes, but it is still possible. From what I've read here, it would be much more difficult to transfer TO Mcgovern class than OUT. There is no need to complain, from my experience, teachers and counselors are there to help.

Posted by Alice, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 7, 2007 at 4:36 am

Mr. McGovern was your 9th grade teacher, how many history classes did you have before that. You didn't have AP US HIstory sophomore year, if i remember correctly It then goes Contempory World and Government.
Don't blame Mr. McGovern for your faults. And I'm sorry you need a scapegoat.

And Mr. McGoverns class is NOT centered around his reenactments. Do you remember how much time you spent on Joan of Arc?? How much time you spent preparing for that?? Well, if you weren't lazy to begin with, you would have prepared a lot like most people. He thoroughly teaches his notes, inforces them with quizzes, and reteaches it the next day.
There is no "skimming", but maybe if you had the idea that there was, it was because you were learning almost 3000 years of history in a year.

Posted by Brodell-Lake, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 7, 2007 at 7:30 am

What next parents and faculty? Are you going to shield your children from the truth by protesting outside of the next summer blockbuster? Will it be too bloody? too exposing for you? Well guess what....Mcgovern is showing your otherwise sheltered ( I grew up sheltered in Palo Alto as well) kiddies that life can throw you a smack in the face if you aren't careful. THE BLACK DEATH IS JUST LIKE AIDS/ALCOHOL/DRUGS THATS WHAT MOST TEENAGERS FRIENDS DIE FROM RIGHT?? Sooner or later real life is going to tell you like it is so why not a teacher do the same thing?

And truthfully, Mcgovern has been doing the same skit for years ( I was in the french revolution re-enactment) and it is a fun way of learning which more staunchy type teachers should take into consideration since it actually sticks out in your mind like a good education should.

And to the stuffy professor commenting above. You don't know Mcgovern at all, you're at Stanford so you are obviously very proud(smug) of yourself. This quote below is for you.

“...colleges being nothing but grooming schools for the middleclass non-identity which usually finds its perfect expression on the outskirts of the campus in rows of well-to-do houses with lawns and television sets in each living room with everybody looking at the same thing and thinking the same thing at the same time while the Japhies of the world go prowling in the wilderness..."

- Jack Kerouac

Mr Mcgovern is a Japhie.......a hero to all......

Posted by Brodell-Lake, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 7, 2007 at 7:38 am


I promise you your children are learning way more unruly ways of life with their friends on the weekends. Maybe you should home school them and not let them outside until they are 18.

Posted by John, a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 7, 2007 at 7:47 am

My own kids, who loved the McGovern classes becasue they were a breeze and an automatic A and because they loved the reenactment, would probably be part of the current brigade of teenagers with an imagined cause. Yes, they are as spolit as the rest of you who are complaining about actually having to follow rules.

McGovern thinks he is above mere authority, and many PALY students think the new principal has no right to actually enforce rules (bike riding, dance etiquette, etc.).

Instead of an emotional response, including a demonstration, the students would have been wise to let some time pass (a week or so). McGovern can fight his own fights. He knows you support him. I support him...but that doesn't mean that I think he is Mr. Perfect on a pedestal. He runs a fluff piece history class that the students love, incluing my own kids. I give him credit for engendering enthusiasm with my kids, but his classes need some more rigor, IMO.

The new principal has every right to be constructively critical of all her teachers, even the seemingly untouchable ones like McGovern. She also has the right and responsibility to enforce the rules. The fact that spoilt teenagers don't like to follow rules should not phase her.

Posted by anonymous parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 7, 2007 at 7:51 am

to paly student/community center- you didn't "get" my student was moved to another teacher for that same class period! We did not request any change in schedule; my student was clearly moved to accommodate someone else's wishes. I cannot understand why this would ever be done (the classes are the same: 9th grade history) unless some parent was demanding Mr. McGovern for their student! All this dramatic support for Mr. McGovern is just convincing me that my kids missed out on an educational experience (with Mr. McGOvern) that I KNOW they would have greatly appreciated and learned from.

Posted by Fan of Paly, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 7, 2007 at 8:09 am

I hope that we can take these early controversies as a reason to open a real dialogue with the new principal. The Paly principal position seems to be a more-or-less revolving door (small wonder with so many vocal and often disparate interest groups bombarding him or her). I can't think of a principal in recent memory that has served in that position much more than a couple of years.

In my limited experience with her, I think Ms. McElvoy needs to listen more and make pronouncements a bit less. On the other hand, I think that parents, students and faculty also have to listen to her point of view and together try to identify a common and inclusive vision of what Paly is and can be.

I do believe that the McGovern controversy just happens to be the first in a string of many problems if everyone continues to take the confrontational attitudes they are now taking. However, it would take a fair amount of humility on the part of ALL to sit down, take a deep breath, and start to listen thoughtfully to each other as to how to keep Paly the wonderful school it is, yet carefully examine it to see if problems exist that can be corrected. I don't know how many of us have that degree of humility, but it's worth a try.

We have a new school board and have conveniently given them an opportunity to open a dialogue--let's see if they can be outstanding school board members and bring about some healing and rebuilding of trust here!

Posted by former Paly parent, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 7, 2007 at 9:06 am

While clearly Mr McGovern has his fans, I am one of MANY who have been dismayed at his poor use of class time, open favoritism, and hurtfully rash decisions about student particpation in his re-enactments. Immature outbursts cannot be tolerated from a teacher! Who could truly say that kids wouldn't learn more from thoughtful and informed presentations of historical material and a significantly higher "content to dress-up" ratio? Wake up Paly, and focus on quality education! You failed our family, and it looks like it is only getting worse.

Posted by Brodell-Lake, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 7, 2007 at 9:25 am

Poor use of time??? Give me a break, do you think kids actually learn in that form? The same old tired crappy way that you were educated? We are in the ADD generation age where ideas need to be entertaining in order for them to get across to our cellphone MTV induced kids. PALY failed your family???? hahhhahahahhahha, whatever. PALY is one of the best high schools around and I know that from my college chums experiences of how horrible their schools were.

Take your kid to an innercity school then tell me how bad of a school paly is

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 7, 2007 at 9:36 am

I think kids nowadays learn things in different ways than we did just a generation ago. I remember memorising poetry, Shakespeare, lists of dates, theorems, scientific data and formulae, the works. Can I remember them now? No. What I can remember is word for word, school plays, songs, etc. that I had fun doing in school and signature songs and advertising jingles from the things I enjoyed. Sesame Street got it right for preschoolers, and I think McGovern has it right for high schoolers. If you ask yourself what is more important, really understanding how history works and why it affects the events that followed, or reading dull textbooks to repeat cliched comments to write in papers. Keep that for the AP and higher classes. Let the freshmen enjoy their new experiences at high school and learn that learning can be fun. That is the life lesson.

Posted by k, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 7, 2007 at 9:49 am

Parent, you make some good points but not entirely...some of us remember things we learned by rote. 'The charge of the light brigade' etc.There is something to be gained from memorising poetry - some people enjoy it - even when my father was elderly he delighted in reciting special things. Maybe it was sort of a challenge to see what you can remember years later! For some of us, reciting helps with our recall of facts and details.
It may relate to how we have differences in how we best learn. I like to hear lectures. That usually doesn't bore me. I like to read books and write down notes (and I did in high school, too). I'm not sure if doing a re-enactment would have matched my learning style, though clearly it is good for some students!

Posted by Realist, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 7, 2007 at 9:54 am

Hey, not all kids are part of the ADD/MTV generation. My own kid is miserable in McGovern's class right now. He finds it insulting. I wish I'd encouraged him to switch out the first week of school.

Posted by A Paly Parent, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 7, 2007 at 10:23 am

To John in College Terrace,

I honestly don't think that this is an issue of kids being spoiled. This is about high school age children finding their voices, learning how to stand up for what they believe in and organizing themselves into a cohesive group. Don't you remember what that was like growing up? If you've spent any time over at Paly lately, you'd know what I mean. The vast majority of these kids are respectful, bright, funny and hard working. They just had a great time during spirit week last week -- enjoying themselves and blowing off a little steam after working very hard during their first quarter of studies. I don't find this behavior to be at all disrespectful. They are asking the right questions and raising appropriate concerns. To admonish them by telling them they're all spoiled because they don't want to follow rules shows how little you know them.

Posted by Alice, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 7, 2007 at 10:27 am

Realist, i find it sad that your child is insulted by someone making learning relatable to all students. One thing thats always bugged me about PALY is that they set high standards for the kids, and if you dont make them, the administration has a 'that sucks for you' attitude. I think you need to talk to you child about them thinking they are above the other students and Mr. McGovern. But I do have to respect that not all students like Mr. McGovern and how he teaches, but those that don't come rare and far between. I'm sorry your child isn't influenced by his love of teaching them.

And John, if you actually knew Mr. McGovern as a person and not as a teacher your kids had a while ago, you would know that your statement is extremely wrong. Mr. McGovern is humble and respectful, truthful beyond belief, and ALWAYS has everyones best interest in mind. He ALWAYS puts others before him, If spending 800 hours to work on reenactments isn't testimate to that, then I dont know what.

And do you honestly expect kids to wait a week? A really good friend of mine from paly died in a car crash last month, Burpee, who was loved by PALY is going to jail for a horrendous crime, and the rest of the world is falling apart at the seams. Theses kids NEED to hang on to whatever goodness there is, so of COURSE they are emotional about Mr. McGovern. Stop seeing it as them being immature, and start seeing it for how it is, the amount they care about Mr. McGovern and them teaching him.

His classes are not fluff. They have real content. He just has a better way of getting it across. Yes, he still lectures, but he THEN makes them act out the lecture. Best way to learn, is to do it, right? Those who get involved in the lessons learn the most, those who sit in the back of the class and see it as a joke, learn the least. Its the same with every class. His quizzes are designed to help the kids who arent good at testing. Whats the phrase, 'you are only as good as your weakest link' He doesn't leave any child behind, thats why his class is so successful. Maybe our amazing president should take a lesson from Mr McGovern as well.

Will people please stop judging this man before they even know him. What kind of lesson is that teaching your kids??

Posted by Realist, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 7, 2007 at 10:36 am

I never said my kid thinks he's above the other kids in the class--his learning style is more traditional, and that is not respected by McGovern. If he were truly a great teacher, he'd recognize that there are many styles of learning and try to accommodate all of them. He makes the assumption that all kids will be bored by the study of history, that they all hate reading and writing. My other kid loved McG's class and gets very upset to hear any kind of criticism of him. It's a bit cultish, if you ask me.

Posted by Alice, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 7, 2007 at 10:42 am

if your other child loved Mr. McGovern, why did you attack him then?
And Mr. McGovern does try, he spends a good amount of time lecturing. But he always wants them to get involved.
But if you think about it, how many other teachers are purely traditional? How many of them bend to the students who can't sit there and take a lecture?

Posted by Realist, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 7, 2007 at 11:12 am

Who's attacking? I'm merely criticizing, and I was critical when my first kid was in the class. Just because students love something doesn't mean it's the best it could be. Look at the vehemence of your defense: What's going on here? Look how emotional McGovern and his defenders are. This is part of the problem I see in his teaching . . . he stirs up emotions but does not analyze the issues. He loves to be popular with his students; should that be a teacher's main goal?

Posted by John, a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 7, 2007 at 11:23 am

Can someone please tell me what the new principal did wrong here? It's her job to reveiew courses and approaches. It is also her job to enforce the rules. Some seem to think that she needs to get cozy with the current situation and just go along to get along. I don't think that is the role of a principal.

McGovern is now "taking the high road", something he should have done from the beginning. Students will not "find their voice" by immediately reacting to every perceived slight. Part of maturation, btw, is understanding that if one breaks the rules of society, there will be a price to pay. Spoilt students often say things like, "I don't like the rule, so I should not have to obey it". I see some of this going on here.

Posted by A Mom, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 7, 2007 at 11:58 am

I believe the students demonstrating to support McGovern are showing remarkable restraint.

Chanting something benign like, "Two, four, six, eight...", submitting petitions, actively involving themselves in the process of critical thinking, and questioning decisions made without input from the masses (remember where taxation without representation got us?), all show incredible amounts of maturity for young adults. (Note to John: they aren't spoiled kids, they are almost taxpayers.)

I shudder to think of the potential for negative response if PALY was located someplace other than Palo Alto; such as Littleton, CO, Pearl, MS, or, as of this morning, Finland.

Count your blessings. These young people have learned to work the system by going through channels. How fortunate we are they have been so carefully taught by great teachers like McGovern.

May we all continue to be blessed by the efforts of gifted educators. They never receive the kudos they deserve, nor are they paid adequately for the time, effort and dedication they demonstrate each and every day.

Posted by Wow, a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 7, 2007 at 11:59 am

Why does this matter so much to everybody. this is a Tiny trivial thing in a town that obviously has nothing going on. In response to the guy who said kids say "I don't like the rule, so I should not have to obey it" that is not the attitude these kids have their attitude is "I don't like the rule how can we change it" that is a very good attitude in my opinion.

Posted by John, a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 7, 2007 at 12:16 pm

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Let me posit a hypothetical. Suppose PAUSD decided, at the Board level, to have a school uniform policy? Assume that representive students went before the Board and aruged against it. So what? The Board is in charge, not the students. It would be up to the principals to enforce the rule. Students who rebel will get suspended or expelled, and life will go on. Big deal.

Posted by Alice, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 7, 2007 at 12:23 pm

John, that may be part of her job, but the majority of her job involved connecting with the student body and the staff. Instead of trying to understand how Paly works and functions, and THEN helping to change its faults, she has stepped in and immediately started pointing her finger, demanding change where she wanted. No body is arguing that she should be administrative, but the way she is going about it is what has upset everybody. How would you like a new boss to come in and change the core of your office without really getting to know anyone or to see how you and your colleagues work together to produce greatness? It's not that she is reviewing teachers and the way they teach, but more the way she is choosing to relate to the staff and student body (or not relate), and making alterations that are vaguely explained or aren't understandable.

And Realist, I apologize for lashing out. I feel as though i have been making the same arguments repeatedly, and made a frustrated remark. I'm sorry.

Posted by Alice, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 7, 2007 at 12:28 pm

John, I think you need to realized that PALY is a second home to many of these kids. It isn't JUST a school. I know a teacher at paly who will be in her classroom 2 periods before she even has a class, and will stay afterwards, sometimes even until 6 or 7 just so that these kids have a safe place to be. Most of the staff and adminstration are welcoming, know the students names, and make the students feel wanted.

Its hard for someone cold to step in and not give two cares to the Paly Community, and by Paly Community, I mean the students and staff. Not the parents, not the members of the Palo Alto Community, but exclusively Paly. It is a strong community that will stand up for their own because they are a family.

Posted by suppose, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 7, 2007 at 12:41 pm

Just suppose this principal has learned a valuable lesson from this first rough quarter. Will people allow her to get more on track? Or will she have to accept the status quo comepletely and permanently to get the support of students and staff? Will her willingness to try a slower approach help or will everyone just see it as proof that they have cowed her into submission? And Alice, just because she came and and started changing things (not so politic of her), does that mean she doesn't give "two cares" for Paly? Maybe she is trying to make it better, even if her first attempts might have been premature, misguided, etc. Also, ahem, the parents ARE part of the Paly community. They are the ones who pay taxes to support it, make the decision to send their children there, etc. So maybe you could stand to be a little less high-handed about who gets to be part of the community.

Posted by Alice, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 7, 2007 at 12:57 pm

I'm sure if she did truly realize her mistake in her politics, the student and staff will work with her. And I hope that if she does make an effort people see it as just that, her making an effort to build a better Paly, and not that they 'have won'.

And I did not mean to so that Parents don't pay a role in the community, but they don't go there day to day. So when I said Paly Community, I mean those who spend a good portion of their life there. I wasn't trying to be high-handed, but just wanted to make a point that I was talking exclusively about the students and staff. I do not disagree that the parents play a large role. There is no denying however, that the Parents role in the Paly Community is secondary, not one of the primary factors.

Posted by John, a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 7, 2007 at 12:59 pm

"...PALY is a second home to many of these kids. It isn't JUST a school."

Alice, could you please explain where that is the policy of PAUSD?

Posted by Alice, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 7, 2007 at 1:11 pm

I'm sorry that you seem the live by the rule book, and any real connection is oblivious to you. And I'm sorry that since these teachers aren't required by PAUSD Policy to give a d*mn about theses kids lives and education, you think they shouldn't. These teachers are humans too, they care about these kids. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] Are you seriously arguing to me that because it isn't asked of them by the PAUSD Policy, the administrators and staff shouldn't allow Paly to feel like a second home??? [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by John, a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 7, 2007 at 1:31 pm


[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] I spent hundreds of hours volunteering for both school and non-school youth events.[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] I have seen that teachers who deliver the curriculum in an efficient way can be more 'humane' than ones who "care" and run loosy-goosy classrooms. In fact, the complexity of expression that is allowed in our current schools can cause emotional turmoil. Maybe this new principal recognizes that fact, and is trying to rein in the excesses (e.g. "sex on the dance floor"). If so, good for her.

Posted by JAMES BROWN, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 7, 2007 at 1:32 pm




Posted by wow, a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 7, 2007 at 1:32 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Alice, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 7, 2007 at 1:56 pm


I am not a parent. I am a graduate of the 2006 Class, I'm 18 years old.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] You are implying that the only way to teach kids is in a strict and controlled setting. You live in Palo Alto, a common reason why new families move here is for PAUSD.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
Most of the teachers at Paly are in fact caring AND humane, not to mention that they do ut effort into knowing your kids. I believe that if your kids went to Paly, there is very little chance they had a teacher who didn't. The only one I had that didn't, well he had a heart attack in the middle of class and we never saw him again. Karma. There are staff like MacNulty, Bloom, Launer, Hanmer, Shultz, Hori, Kolb, Mueller, Geller, and MANY MANY more that are fantastic, REALLY care about your kids, their lives and who they are as individuals. I doubt that all of these teachers are beyond your time, so I'm hoping you know from experience that these teachers are just the teachers I had just described. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] I'm standing up for what works, for what has been working. YOU are the one standing up for the change, and getting upset because people aren't automatically submitting to what the new principal has dictated. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by A Mom, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 7, 2007 at 2:09 pm


[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

>Ah ,yes, now the implied threats are surfacing. Either the schools give into the whims of the students, or there will be a Finland.<

There was no implied threat. Only an expression of gratitude students in Palo Alto appear to be more sophisticated than other places. Apparently, you also never took Mr. McGovern's class, or you would be aware of the fact there already is a place called Finland. Check your globe or world atlas.

>"... they are almost taxpayers.". They will become much less spoilt, once they actually have to start writing those checks to Santa Clara County.<

If any of them have jobs, they may already be taxpayers. Quit treating these young adults as lesser human beings. It isn't fair, it isn't right, and quite frankly, beneath you.

>Let me posit a hypothetical. Suppose PAUSD decided, at the Board level, to have a school uniform policy? Assume that representive students went before the Board and aruged against it. So what? The Board is in charge, not the students. It would be up to the principals to enforce the rule. Students who rebel will get suspended or expelled, and life will go on. Big deal.<

Students play a dramatic role in keeping the school district in business. Yes, taxpayers do their part, but the district NEEDS the students to attend school in order to be get money from the State. Attendance drops, reimbursement stops, and the district will suffer accordingly.

The Board, Teachers, Parents and Students need to work together for the system to work. There is no need for your hypothetical references or potential assumptions. Follow the money, and you will find the district will do what is economically and politically advantageous to the DISTRICT.

While we're on the subject of math and politics, would anyone care to educate John and McEvoy about General Custer, Little Big Horn, and the numerous locals who didn't want George and his subordinates to remain in the neighborhood? We all must learn from history, as we may be doomed to repeat it.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Paly Parent Too, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 7, 2007 at 2:58 pm

Although I have seen and understand the power of Facebok, I was a little surpised by how many kids jumped on the bandwagon, without any facts. My child included. He came home the other day outraged and showed me the Facebook effort to "stop" Dr. McEvoy from "cancelling" the Re-enactments "for no reason." I asked what she had said, to whom, and why - and he couldn't answer any of those questions. But he assumed that if "its on Facebook, it must be true." Perhaps this is an opportunity to teach our high schoolers lessons in how to speak up effectively, and also about how to get one's facts straight before going along with the crowd.

Posted by John, a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 7, 2007 at 3:02 pm

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

I have a good realtionship with the kids I have mentored and coached and taught. They understood, from the beginning that I am the adult and I am in charge, so we never have to waste time with puerile arguments. I get cards and notes and phone calls on a regular basis from those kids, who are now adults (some with kids of their own). [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Alice, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 7, 2007 at 3:18 pm

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

The issue is not that there is a new principal. It is her lack of any effort to interact with the Paly Community. It is her readiness to jump the gun and make alterations before even really seeing how things work. She hasn't gained any respect from the Staff and Students and is resorting to her power as principal to force things done.
[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
And these kids understand and respect adults. They understand that there is authority. They just want respect as people of a community, not someone dictating to them orders.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by John, a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 7, 2007 at 3:48 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Alice, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 7, 2007 at 4:06 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Suzie, a resident of Community Center
on Nov 7, 2007 at 5:33 pm

Just another example of b.s. bureaucracy killing anything that is unique and seemingly out of their control. Everyone remembers the reenactments as the best program and most powerful at Paly. I wasn't even in team, and I'm still infuriated by this. McGovern influenced many kids to become teachers themselves through his dedication, candidness and voice.

It's especially maddening to see his frustration at the hands of someone who won't even clarify or admit to her true motivations. This principal should be jumping for joy that she has a teacher who gets a response like this from his students. Teachers get so few rewards, and their job is so difficult, the last thing they need is to be discouraged by people who should be supporting them.

It really saddens me that she could be so far removed from the minds of her students. Teenagers can handle this stuff, and understand it, and any misunderstandings can be discussed and fleshed out in the classroom. That's the whole point of school, to learn and participate, and to discover. Teenagers do not need to be babied and believe me, if they suspect that is going on, the response will not be pretty.

Losing the reenactments or Mr. McGovern would be a true tragedy for Paly.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 7, 2007 at 5:57 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by It's unethical to remove only portions of posts, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 7, 2007 at 6:36 pm

I'm amazed at some of the content being removed from this forum. Removing portions of posts is completely unethical.

Posted by Friend Of The Thread, a resident of another community
on Nov 7, 2007 at 6:53 pm

To the blue pencils of the Palo Alto Online staff:

Please don't delete me! I'm a nice little message. :)

Lighten up people! It's a discussion, not a FEMA News Conference.


Posted by David Cohen, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 7, 2007 at 11:13 pm

As a Paly teacher and P.A. resident, may I humbly request that my neighbors stop the anonymous public criticisms and borderline attacks on my colleagues? I have great respect for the career-long efforts of both these educators. Neither of them would be in the positions they're in without a longstanding commitment to youth and education. They're both doing the best they can, and they both of proven themselves effective for many students over many years. I don't want to speak for either of them, but I assume that they could do better work on behalf of all Paly students if people here would relax a bit and treat others with the same respect they would want in this situation. Please, if you need information, ask the people involved. If you have something constructive to suggest, walk up to the people involved, and say it, nicely. Give people a chance to move forward in a less charged atmosphere.

Posted by another paly student (again), a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 7, 2007 at 11:26 pm

"Maybe this new principal recognizes that fact, and is trying to rein in the excesses (e.g. "sex on the dance floor")." - John

About the above quote - what I wanted to point out is not that the dance policy McEvoy tried to enforce was wrong (I've heard enough arguments either way about the dance policy) but that the phrase "get your sex off the dance floor" (which, by the way, was an exaggeration) shows a disrespect that I don't think should be allowed in any high school. And say what you will about "spoiled,' I think it sounds more like students being affronted in a situation they once felt comfortable in. School is somewhere you're supposed to feel safe. It certainly isn't safe when a teacher, or a principal can walk up to you and say things like that.

I don't know how else to say it, because I feel that I made the point really clear in my last post. The Board clearly endorses the exploration of different types of teaching. In fact, the HSTF is currently researching how to make high school more accessible to all types of students. McGovern's reenactments are clearly rewarding for some students - perhaps more reenactments is something that should be researched by the HSTF? Furthermore, the Board also endorses the excellence in achievement by high school students. I don't think its a coincidence that Paly students happen to also be very opinionated - when students are intellectually engaged with their environment, they end up questioning what goes on in the world around them and coming up with what they feel are solutions. It is a sign of maturity that they feel comfortable supporting what they believe.

I want to point people away from assuming this is a trivial, moot point, because at Paly - which does happen to be one of two very good high schools in the district - the discussion about McEvoy, whether or not it pertains to McGovern, is still very lively. A school is bound to discuss its administrators, especially new ones, and if the school hopes to overcome current misunderstandings with the new administration, its important that there are ever more discussions.

Posted by John, a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 8, 2007 at 5:10 am

"For McEvoy to change a policy that has never sparked complaint from any students, based on the objections by a few parents who were concerned that their kids were being exposed to sexually explicit behavior or whatever it was, is ridiculous. its dancing, and the message McEvoy essentially sent to the student body is that we are not able to make the decisions for ourselves about what we feel comfortable doing with our bodies, which, frankly, is insulting."

This quote is from one of the posts above.

McEvoy takes the adult position that you do NOT have the right to do whatever you feel comforatable doing with your bodies on the dance floor. Sounds reasonable to me. If the students take such an immature attitude, then the principal has to do her job.

Posted by Liana Elliott, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 8, 2007 at 7:34 am

As Charlotte Corday from both 1999 and 2000 French Revolution re-enactments, I to this day am best friends with my fellow cast members, and as the "new kid" to Paly at the time, these are the friends that have stuck with me even as a college grad. Removing these programs would be an abomination to Paly and its future students. Mr. McGovern does not just teach world history, he teaches that learning is fun and interactive and that lessons are learned and applied beyond the boundaries of classroom time (and space!). History SHOULD be brought to life, how and why should that EVER be threatened???

I was so excited about World History after Mr. McGovern's class that I ended up taking a 2 month journey through Europe with my mom to further experience everything he taught me. In college, I went on to major in Religion and Classics, and I can safely say that is entire owed to Mr. McGovern's ability to make history come alive. Hands down the best teacher I have ever had, he should have free reign as far as I'm concerned!

(Europe, Europe, Balkans, Italy, Sicily, Spain!)

Posted by Jaime Josephson, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 8, 2007 at 9:37 am

After coming home from Iraq I didnt think anything would ignite extream anger in me again. Yet reading this just makes my blood boil. This new principal needs to have their head examined. The re-enactments are something the students look forward to every single year because they are fun and are a great teaching tool. I dont think I would have done as well at Paly had I not been in Mr McGovern's history class. I hope the community continues to rally to Mr McGovern's side to continue this tradition for the students. That is what this has always been about for Mr McGovern, the students, first and full most. I should know because not only was I in his freshman history class but I was a Teacher-Assistant for 3 years after that.
[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Kara Prentice, a resident of Ohlone School
on Nov 8, 2007 at 5:06 pm

Having graduated from Paly over 10 years ago and now coaching there, I would hate to see such a positive staple of the education process there disappear. I still remember what I learned in those reenactments both as a spectator and a participant and I don't remember much of anything when it comes to history. I think it can often be a boring subject for kids especially when you're so far removed from it. Being a part of it really helps it resonate for them. I loved Mr. McGovern's class and would hope whenever I was sick that there wasn't anything super cool going on that day. If this is allowed to happen it will put a huge damper on the morale at the school. This is something that the students can actually look forward to during their time at Paly, and silly me I thought administrators are supposed to keep the students interested in learning. How many kids get to reenact a chariot race to see what that would be like? When I visit Paly as a former student, not as a coach, Mr. McGovern is one of a few teachers that I am always determined to see. His reenactments play a pretty big role in that desire. Let's try to keep kids in school with motivating classes, not get rid of the one thing they might enjoy.

Posted by Kara, a resident of Ohlone School
on Nov 8, 2007 at 5:34 pm

in a very delayed response to "curious"... all preparation for the reenactments is done after school. no class time is spent on it, except for the one day in which the students attend.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Someone commented about Mr. McGovern needing the students to fight his battles for him, and you are totally off base. Mr. McGovern doesn't NEED the students to do anything for him, they all WANT to because he has had such an impact on their lives. I didn't enjoy the class because it was easy, I enjoyed it because I understood it. Someone in AP US History said his class didn't prepare him/her for that class, I have news for you, it's not supposed to. There is no class that you could have taken that would have prepared you for AP US History, that class is on a completely different level. Even if you had taken regular US History first, you STILL wouldn't have been prepared for AP US History. That class is preparing you for college, World History is preparing you to get out of high school. I took US History and frankly I think Mr. McGovern's class did prepare me for that one because I was required to create posters for each decade and be CREATIVE while I did it. It's important for people not to forget how to be creative, because if you're not creative you're boring. Anyone can write a paper, but how many people can write a paper that a teacher will actually ENJOY reading?

Posted by John, a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 8, 2007 at 5:49 pm

Can anyone tell me where the new principal has stated that she is going to cancel the reenactments? My understanding is that McGovern blurted out this myth in front of some of his students. Then his students blindly went to Facebook to spread the myth.

If McGovern has such hubris that he cannot stand constructive criticism, that is his problem. I have suggested that he write a reenactment about it (could be very interesting, if he is honest to his craft). Where is Campanile in this...some real news in your own backyard, yet the heat is too hot, so you abandon the kitchen?

In fact, McGovern has backed off a bit, and he is now taking a higher ground. So should all those who uncritically support him. He is, as I have stated, a great teacher for many students (including a couple of my own kids). But he is not god, and he shouldn't be treated as such. He knows do the true believers come to terms with reality?

Posted by paly student, a resident of Community Center
on Nov 8, 2007 at 6:45 pm


Campanile IS on this, however the publication only comes out once every 3 weeks. If you're looking for a Paly article on the issue, i suggest heading to, where i promise you will find one.

Posted by Big Mama, a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 8, 2007 at 7:03 pm


From your most recent post:
"He is, as I have stated, a great teacher for many students (including a couple of my own kids). But he is not god, and he shouldn't be treated as such."

After having read all of your posts, it appears your feelings about Mr. McGovern have varied from supportive to non-supportive several times. I feel I know what part of the problem is, and I have a serious rhetorical question for you. . .

Could it be that all this outpouring of support for Mr. McGovern, including your own kids, has caused you to feel a little neglected, and (dare I say it?) jealous? Look deep inside yourself. No need to supply an answer here on the message board.

No one has stated he is a god, nor that he be treated as one. All we have seen is parents and students supporting him and his fabulous teaching methods. As I am probably a contemporary of his, I was never fortunate enough to take his class.

I do not remember anything taught to me in History classes from freshman year or any of the rest of high school. I have a completed education, but it is only because I was self-motivated to learn on my own. The PAUSD failed me miserably.

To see a teacher appreciated and praised is a genuine treat for former students like me. If the teachers from my 'education experience' had been even half as competent as McGovern, I would have felt blessed.

Show some gratitude where it is due. Please?

Thank you for your anticipated courtesy and cooperation with regard to this matter.

Posted by John, a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 8, 2007 at 7:17 pm


I have been consistent about McGovern. He is a great teacher in certain contexts (not all) and he has a problem with constructive criticism. That is a very human condition. He has now stepped to a higher ground. His true believer should do the same.

Neglected/jealous? Not that I am aware of. Just challenging the othodoxy, becasue it is, IMO, misplaced.

Posted by McGovern Student, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 8, 2007 at 7:18 pm

Mr. McGovern has been my teacher for the last 3 months and my sister's teacher before that. I was there at the black death reenactment, and never once, not one, did I ever think that the Grim Reaper was Satan. I did not even know Mr McGov was Christan until this artical.

I did trip on the stairs but Mr. McGov said that he would fix it, anything where more than 1 or 2 people complained about he would fix it.

When Mr. McGovern told us that he lost control when he got into the classroom. He appologized to us and was truly sorry. I, and everyone in my class have never seen him lose control, even when someone is misbehaving. He is a wonderful teacher that got my sister through her first year of high school. She is now in APUSH.

As for all of you people who have not ever met him and are saying that you would not want your kids to have Mr. McGov, that is awful. You know just as well as I that the press change and slant views. It is awful that you would asume that he is a bad teacher when he really is a great teacher.

One last thing. He told us what happened and he also told us not to do anything on his part. If we really wanted the reenactment program for ourselves and eachother we should fight for what we believe. He also told us to be respectful and to show what we want, but DONT put mcevoy on the spot and not to corner her.

McGov is a great teacher, and if his programs get canceled and he leaves, I will be so upset and I will not be able to participate in next years reenactment. It will ruin my Paly years.

Posted by John, a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 8, 2007 at 7:25 pm

paly student,

Thanks for the heads up on the upcoming Campanile report. I will watch for it. I hope it will be a critical analysis, from various angles.

Posted by Sparky, a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 8, 2007 at 7:40 pm

Boy, that principal sounds like a piece of work. "I haven't dealt with that ... yet." Give some people a little power and there you go.

Posted by Paly mom, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 9, 2007 at 12:53 am

My daughter's now in tenth grade at Paly. While she was disappointed not to have Mr. McGovern last year, she liked her somewhat more traditional teacher and learned a lot. She also looked forward to discussions since it was the only class she had where there were occasionally lively discussions, and it ended up being her favorite class.
One thing that was mentioned in a couple of emails that I totally agree with is that there needs to be more consistency at Paly in teaching, covering standards and grading in courses, not only in social studies, but English, Chemistry, Biology, Algebra 1, etc. There seems to be way too much variation. I'm not advocating that teachers be expected to follow a course guide "lock-step," but there is so little consistency. Two Chemistry 1A classes, for example, should cover pretty much the same material and have tests/quizzes with about the same difficulty level. (They don't.) It should not be easy to make an A in one Critical Thinking class, where students do hardly any writing, and very difficult in another, in which students write often and are expected to read twice as much. Getting more consistency in teaching, standards and grading requires an administration and faculty that see the importance, are committed and are willing to spend a lot of staff development time for this purpose.
As a high school teacher in another district, I read with interest the many emails from people who have been involved over the years with the re-enactments. It's obvious that this teacher has touched a lot of students' lives. While many would prefer Mr. McGovern's way of learning about history, there are others, probably my daughter included, who would prefer more rigorous social studies courses with a lot of reading and stimulating writing assignments. Students in A.P. U.S. History should not feel totally unprepared, and would not, if there were freshman and sophomore s.s. classes with a higher set of expectations and academic rigor that they could request. High schools need to allow for the variety of learning styles of their students, and no one should criticize others for having different learning styles/preferences. Academically rigorous courses need not be boring, and classes taught via games, songs and re-enactments can be very engaging and effective for some students.
I wish the new principal the best. I find Paly students and faculty to be very set in their ways and not very open to change. It should be interesting...

Posted by andrew, a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 9, 2007 at 8:10 am

Show me one student who prefers "more rigorous social studies courses with a lot of reading" and I'll show you a district insider trying to spin this forum their own way.

Thanks Paly mom, but no thanks.

Posted by Palo alto mom, a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 9, 2007 at 8:19 am

Andrew- I can think of one student (who came from a private middle school) that wishes their English class was much more rigorous, required more reading and writing, loves their history class (not Mr. McGovern). so they are certainly out there.

My kids would both have benefited from the hands-on experiential approach of Mr. McGovern - students learn in different ways.

Paly mom has a good point about consistency - and its true at all levels thru the whole district. There is a huge variance at certain schools in certain grades and subjects (math at Jordan for example - a few wonderful teachers and some who can not even control the class, much less teach the students) But its hard to tell a fabulous, but different teacher, that they need to follow a set path more closely.

Posted by older Paly parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 9, 2007 at 8:39 am

Paly mom is correct about grade-level standards being an issue. It takes more (points and/or effort) to earn an A from certain teachers, even those teaching the same course. This affects the students' GPA's and these are crucial for college applications. It's GOOD to set high standards; rather what annoys us is the kid you hear who touts getting an A which was an easier A (much less reading, fewer essays, whatever)! Considering it's often just chance as to which teacher a student gets, you'd think the administration might wish to review the lesson plans/grade schemes for grade-level consistency of teaching and grading. This refers to the main courses rather than exotic elective courses which may be unusual in scope, work requirements or grading. I recall Paly student journalists addressing this issue a few years back!

Posted by andrew, a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 9, 2007 at 9:30 am

Let's not confuse "consistency" with a lack of creativity of some teachers.

And let's not punish the creative ones.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 9, 2007 at 9:32 am

Interesting what is being said about the grades from different teachers. My daughter, now at college, had a certain teacher who was notorious for not giving As for his subject, English. She found the class difficult, but enjoyed the challenge. During the year, the teacher got sick and was replaced with a long term sub who graded completely differently. For the last quarter, her grades improved dramatically and in subsequent years she found that what she had learned from this teacher was really standing by her. She has no regrets for being in his class, but was pleased that she was able to improve her grade nonetheless. The point is, she is now majoring in English and probably would not have done so if she had not had this teacher. To me the whole thing is swings and roundabouts.

Posted by Katelyn Young, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Nov 9, 2007 at 9:35 am

I was one of the lucky few to be in the 2nd period history class which wasn't part of the core program. I feel very honored to have had that experience. I was an actress in the French Revolution re-enactment, and my father (on the family and friends night) was picked to go up before the tribunal and then was picked to be be-headed. For my father (the history buff) it was one of the best nights of his life. I am now a senior attending UC Davis majoring in History. Mr. McGovern's re-enactments had a lot to do with that. I plan to become a teacher and I wish that I can have the same positive effect on my students that he has had on me. As for the religious undertones, that's crap. I think it's time for someone to try to teach these kids something positive. Drinking and drugs happens way to much in High School, and if you can open their eyes in a creative way so they don't tune out then more power to you. Mr. McGovern is a wonderful teacher, and deserves to receive some financial support. I think that we should start a fund so that he doesn't have to so this alone!

Thank you Mr. McGovern, and know that we support you!

Posted by Consistency-Is-Good, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 9, 2007 at 11:10 am

> Let's not confuse "consistency" with a
> lack of creativity of some teachers.

And let's not confuse "creativity" with "quality". Kids (and parents) have a right to expect that equal levels of effort result in more-or-less equal grades from different teachers.

Standards are a good thing.

Posted by Observer, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 9, 2007 at 11:16 am

A question for those in the know -- if someone is hurt during one of these enactments, who assumes liability for the damages?

Posted by community member, a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 9, 2007 at 12:02 pm

The City or the school district.

Posted by andrew, a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 9, 2007 at 4:47 pm

This myth of "consistency" from teacher-to-teacher in education needs to be dismissed. We're not talking about a conveyor belt educational system any more. Those days are gone. Enroll your kid in a cookie-cutter school designed to teach to the test if that's what you want.

I guess I'm just an idealist, still under the misconception that learning is the important thing here. . . not wrote memorization and copious amounts of accompanying busywork. Forgive me.

We're not really supposed to be enriched by our learning institutions, just prepared to pass a series of meaningless tests so we can get into the "right" schools, climb the corporate ladder, have huge mid-life crises, and all end up wearing matching outfits on the country club golf course at the end of it all wondering where the heck we went wrong.

Now I must go. . . my tee time is at 5 p.m.!

Posted by Paly mom, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 9, 2007 at 5:49 pm

I don't believe anyone is suggesting "rote memorization and copious amounts of busy work." These have nothing to do with rigor and high expectations. Interesting that you say that the conveyor belt model for education is a thing of the past. With all the over-emphasis on standardized testing scores, many teachers believe the contrary, and I think you can see the effects at Paly. Instead of adding more opportunities in the curriculum for critical thinking and reading to expand students' vocabularies, some teachers spend way too much time on standardized test prep.--memorization of definitions of words students have no idea how to use, for example.
I find it sad that you can't imagine that some students would prefer to have social studies courses with more reading in which more is expected of them. Many schools like the one I teach in have such courses, and they have no trouble convincing students to sign up for them. It seems like Paly does offer challenging courses at every level in math and science, so why not English and social studies? (I'm not referring to A.P. classes, which I would assume are challenging.)

Posted by Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 9, 2007 at 6:09 pm

Interesting what you are saying about not teaching to the test. I think it is a pretty sad state of affairs when we have to pay for an outside body to teach our kids the skills needed for the SATs. I am one of those people who believe that education is to teach in two veins. Firstly, teach to educate and secondly teach to succeed. The former is what real education is all about. The second, is what gets the kids into college by way of teaching the necessary skills to pass the grade and therefore the SATs or whatever criteria is used by the colleges. Anything else is failing.

Posted by John, a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 9, 2007 at 8:16 pm

What is wrong with embedding the standards within a given pedagogical model? Can it possibly be true that our current teachers are incapable of teaching their students in a way that interests them, and also instills the basic standrads that we demand as a society?

This is pretty basic stuff, folks. No rocket science involved, unless the class is about rocketry.

Posted by History-Student, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 9, 2007 at 10:54 pm

US students have been tested in history and civics for a number of years now by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute with discouraging results:
Web Link

College students fail civics test

By Chrissie Thompson
September 27, 2006

Fewer than half of college seniors tested in a study knew that the Declaration of Independence contained the phrase "all men are created equal."
Intercollegiate Studies Institute released results yesterday of a history and institutions test given last year to seniors and freshman, stating both groups failed the exam.
On average, seniors scored 1.5 percent higher than freshmen did on the test, which included questions about American history, government and international relations. The survey, administered by the University of Connecticut's Department of Public Policy, tested 14,000 randomly selected freshmen and seniors at 50 colleges and universities in the United States.
Seniors averaged a score of 53.2 percent, while freshmen averaged 51.7 percent. Seniors at 16 institutions, including Cornell, Brown, Yale and Georgetown, scored lower than freshmen did at their school.

History is both important, and not very difficult to understand. So, why are US students failing to learn their own history and basics of their own governmental system? Can the teachers really be the problem?

Posted by Yes, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Nov 10, 2007 at 3:04 pm

Yes the teachers are responsible, they don't get paid to sit there.

Posted by Scorekeeper, a resident of Escondido School
on Nov 10, 2007 at 7:26 pm


Please don't stop posting! I've enjoyed your comments over the past few days, though from this view, it's looked too easy. And yes, I have been keeping score.

Posted by The Mongol, a resident of Duveneck School
on Nov 10, 2007 at 10:10 pm

Hmm, I don't know why Ms. McEvoy is attempting to mold the school to her somewhat strange standards. Shouldn't it be the other way around?

I was in the Black Death play...a year or two ago, acting as the Mongol. Even though this may make me biased toward the re-enactments, I think that there was no religious bias.
In Mr. McGovern's class, he never forced, or even talked about his religion to us. In fact, i never knew he was religious till the middle of the year, when one of his former students told me. From the beginning, I thought he was a passionate teacher who loved Hannibal and Alexander the Great. He loved teaching, and I hope other kids have him as a teacher too. Religion? Bah. Everything can be religious one way or another. But the Re-enactments gave a more powerful message, and I think changing them in any strange way would be most likely bad. From now on, after i took that class and sat through the re-enactments, I know the date of the founding of the Republic of Rome (509 B.C.e!!!!), and I know who Hannibal and Ghandi and Adolf Hitler are. I know what Sparta and Athens were all about, and I know that squiggly coasts lead to trade.
Look, even when introducing dates, Mr. McGovern doesn't say "Before Christ (B.C.)", but "Before Common Era".
This doesn't look like...religion.

Posted by History-Student, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 11, 2007 at 9:48 am

> From now on, after i took that class and sat through
> the re-enactments, I know the date of the founding of
> the Republic of Rome (509 B.C.e!!!!), and I know who
> Hannibal and Ghandi and Adolf Hitler are.

And you couldn't have learned these facts from reading a history text?

Posted by a student, a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 11, 2007 at 1:29 pm

why dont we ask the students what they think of the various teachers and there ideas i know i would rather have a teacher that touht me something with out using the trditional methods than the usual busy work and notes strategy. But i thiink the most important thing is to let kids play a role in the choices that are made about their education. its kind of sad to see an entire wall filled with parents telling us their ideas about education.

Posted by John, a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 11, 2007 at 5:35 pm


If there was a serious and rigorous high school exam to pass in order to graduate, I might agree with you. I mean, who really cares how you get there, right? Only recently, an exam was instituted, but it is not rigorous. Such an exam would also add value to the HS diploma (currently it is pretty much just an attendance certificate).

In the meantime, the adults must be in charge to make sure that you students all learn a wider and deeper curriculum than what you might choose to learn on your own. It would be interesting to give a test to those students who have McGovern for a year, compared to students of other history/social studies teachers who use a more traditional approach.

Posted by Elroy, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 12, 2007 at 9:38 am

Not to change the subject here, but has anyone wondered why, of all the pressing issues at Paly, the new principal chose to jump on this one after only a few months on the job?

I'd like to put forth a theory, but first a few questions.

Have you ever witnessed or been a part of workplace politics?
Have you ever seen a new boss come in from the outside with a fresh perspective and very little historical knowledge of the workplace power structure?

For those of you who have seen both, you have probably also seen the scramble to get an audience with that new boss ASAP in a mad dash for a better spot in the workplace pecking order.

Folks, it's quite possible that Ms. McEvoy was set up. If so, it could be that the person or persons who did the setting are those who are tired of living in the shadow of a world class, one-in-a-million teacher, which McGovern is by any metric you can name.

The rest is left as an exercise for the reader.

Posted by Paly parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 12, 2007 at 10:55 am

Students do take those STAR tests, in some grade years I think this include History (maybe it's 10th grade...?) - I don't recall because STAR testing means little to the individual and there never is followup. We just receive a printout and forget about it.

STAR is important to the school and district because they are given a rating/ranking on that level.

I don't know if it would be possible to compare how students from one teacher did vs. another teacher in the same course using different teaching methods. I think some years History is included. I would be interested to hear the results of a comparison.

Posted by John, a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 12, 2007 at 11:32 am

Paly parent,

It is a little better than that. California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE) is now required for graduation. It is not very rigorous, but it is a step in the right direction. At this point, it only measures math and English skills. If other subjects were added (e.g. history), and it was made more rigorous, I could then see allowing many different teaching the end they will need to pass the test, or no diploma.

Posted by testing advocate, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 12, 2007 at 12:00 pm

> I don't know if it would be possible to compare how
> students from one teacher did vs. another teacher in
> the same course using different teaching methods.

The way that the STAR scores are delivered to the public makes it impossible to compare scores between teachers. A school district could review the internal test scores of students within the district to see how uniform the subject delivery is, or if grade inflation is a problem at a given school, or within the district as a whole. School districts are free to release the results of such studies to the public.

Posted by Midotwn scientist, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 13, 2007 at 10:31 am

Pity. New admins are like dogs, always wanting to make their mark.

My high school lost thier best science teacher and the advanced biology program when a new principal "relandscaped an overgrown area" that he had been studying with his students for years.

It was a great program. My older brother took it, and I was looking forward to the class, but we came back from summer vacation to find a steril new lawn where "the habitat" had been for years...

He cleaned out his desk and retired that day.

The first rule of being a new manager is to not rock the boat! Ask questions and listen!

Posted by Alice, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 13, 2007 at 10:49 am

31 percent of HS students drop out each year in the largest districts in the US.
Web Link

Mr. McGovern should be praised for having kids be enthusiastic about going to school,
and McEvoy should rethink how she approaches the community she plans to be a part of. Bottom Line.

Posted by common sense needed, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 13, 2007 at 12:29 pm

> Mr. McGovern should be praised for having kids be
> enthusiastic about going to school

And the other teachers at the PAUSD do not generate similar enthusiasm?

What about the parents? How much student enthusiasm can be attributed to the parents?

Posted by John, a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 13, 2007 at 12:44 pm

"Mr. McGovern should be praised for having kids be enthusiastic about going to school"


Why do teachers need to be cheerleaders? If kids don't want to get an education, why should we force them? It is an amazing opportunity that is offered them, but many could care less. They may come around, if they actually have to work to feed themselves.

Many immigrants come here, eager for the oppotunity that native-born kids reject. All that tells me is that the native-borns will be reporting to the immigrants down the road. I support the immigrants...I don't like spoilt children.

Posted by Paly parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 13, 2007 at 1:02 pm

John, you mentioned CAHSEE: I had one child already take that, it's totally easy and no way to measure anything except the lowest possible baseline.

Posted by John, a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 13, 2007 at 1:50 pm

Paly parent,

Yes, I agree. CAHSEE is just a beginning, but at least it is that. Currently, it IS mickey mouse, but it can, and should, be made more rigorous. Remember, we had nothing, before this point.

Posted by History-Student, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 13, 2007 at 2:21 pm

Someone wrote--

** 31 percent of HS students drop out each year
** in the largest districts in the US.

The ABC article claims that the dropout rate in the US has become "epidemic". Actually, this dropout rate has been in place for about 35 years. Even though the US has more than quadrupled its education spending, the graduation rate (about 70%) has been static since the mid-late 1960s. The graduation rate was about 6% in 1900, and was about 50% around 1950. The ABC article does not put this issue in historical perspective.

Posted by Alice, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 13, 2007 at 3:12 pm

Where did you pull cheerleaders out off? I didn't say that Mr. McGovern is rooting kids on, I merely said that kids enjoy his class and WANT to be there.
And I don't know if common sense noticed, but this article is about Mr. McGovern. A large amount of teachers at PALY do have classes that students enjoy, and I stated that earlier in the thread. I wasn't saying that McGovern was the only one.
A lot of kids don't think about consequences. As a parent, I would think that you would care whether or not your kids dropped out of high school. Some kids do need encouragement. It is getting harder for students, especially for seniors going to college. It is becoming increasingly more difficult to get into college nowadays. Some kids give up, and those who feed their hunger for education should be treasured.

And here is an article that does reference past dropout rates.
Web Link

Posted by John, a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 13, 2007 at 4:00 pm


I was the first in my extended family to go to college. I am aware of the challenges. I worked my way through, took loans (and eventually paid them off). My motivation for studying in high school was simple: Fear of having to work like my parents did, all of their lives. I saw the value of studying late into the night, while in HS. PA kids, I think, seem to expect an easy road. If a teacher does not 'inspire' them, then they blame the system. Shame on them.

Posted by History-Student, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 13, 2007 at 5:18 pm

> My motivation for studying in high school was
> simple: Fear of having to work like my parents
> did, all of their lives.


Kids driving around in BMWs is not exactly what life is like for the most people. Far too many Palo Altans are living in a bubble and their kids probably don't fully appreciate how well off they are.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 13, 2007 at 5:35 pm

This is just it.

Our kids have no idea. I would like to instill values in them, but it is difficult. They have to work it out for themselves. If I make them do chores for their allowance, they see it as not fair. If I say no they can't have the latest ...., they see it as not fair. I want them to value their possessions, but when they compare with what their peers have, they just feel hard done by and poor. Unfortunately, they have no idea what being poor is really like and it is difficult to teach them otherwise. If I take them to see what real poverty is, they think that it is unreal, people are not really living like this. So, what can we do???

Posted by Paly parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 13, 2007 at 6:25 pm

I can assure you that there are Paly students who drive cars to school that are far nicer than isn't real worlds at all.

Posted by Ariel, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 13, 2007 at 7:29 pm

I think that is a gross generalization to make of all Paly students. Certainly not everyone that goes to Paly is filthy rich. While yes, I agree that it is quite ridiculous to give a 16 year old a BMW, there are many students who do not have those luxuries. Don't blame the kids, blame their parents for giving them such things. It's your job to set boundaries. Then again, I also find it ridiculous to see 60 year old men driving ferraris (can you say compensation?), but maybe that's just me...
However wealthy certain Palo Altans and their children may be, I think what makes students in the Paly community special is their dedication to learning and their high value of a good education. John, good for you for working hard and making something of yourself. However, I do not understand why you have such a condescending and judgmental attitude toward Paly. Who are you to judge the work ethic of Paly students? Paly is an incredible learning institution and there are many bright individuals who put their lives into the school (I'm talking about teachers, students and staff) every day. I know plenty a student who stays up late finishing homework and projects - I also know stress is and has been one of the biggest concerns in the environment at Paly. To say that Palo Alto students expect the easy road is not giving them the credit they deserve.
And who's saying they blame the system? Now you're just brining up arguments that lack any support whatsoever.

I was just curious to see if the debates on this thread are has lost its purpose now. People, stop arguing and do something more productive with your time.
Alice, props to you. You're very articulate in your arguments =)

Posted by Alice, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 13, 2007 at 8:46 pm


[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
You refuse to believe these kids are anything but rich spoilt kids. I know how hard my parents worked to allow me to live in Palo Alto and go to Paly. I remember how poor my family used to be up until my dad the job of his dreams. I remember not having my mum around because she had to work in San Francisco for 6 years so that she could get a good job at Stanford. I remember living in a hotel for 5 months because after my dad died we couldn't afford a house. So I have been through a lot, and am EXTREMELY grateful for what I've been given. However, after having a good friend commit suicide my freshmen year, and another classmate do the same my sophomore year, high school was not a good place.

I either had to take the shuttle in, carpool with a friend, get dropped off, or walk in because my family couldn't, and still can't afford a second car. Our first being a 93 volvo.

So don't you dare be stereotypical and call me ungrateful, spoilt, or undetermined. Maybe I'm generalizing based on the kids I went to school with, but I know they dealt with a lot, and was always surprised with what they had to deal with. They are living in different houses because YOUR generation gives up on their marriages. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

These kids deal with more then you care to think, but all you can think is the money. What about the money these kids raised for Darfur 2 years ago. Have any of you worldly, breadwinning adults donated to help the genocide??

So yes, having a motivation to go to school is important. With parents like a lot of those kids have, who wouldn't give up on life?

Posted by Alice, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 13, 2007 at 8:49 pm

And a note,

How dare any parent blame the spoilt kids for being spoilt. It is the PARENTS job to raise their kids. It is the PARENTS choice to put them in this society. It is the PARENTS choice to buy the kids things and give them money. Don't you dare blame these kids, its your fault.

Posted by edthecoolness, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 22, 2007 at 12:03 pm

i am a former paly student and former actor/director/writer for these re-enactments of mr McGs. i was unable to return these year and would have given anything to be back to show people that mr mcgovern has never once mentioned his religion in the classroom. a majority of the scripts are written by the students or at least worked on by the students. anyone in his classes who enjoys theater has the opportunity to support his program the way that they can. mr mcgovern you are the best history teacher i have ever had and you taught me a lot about life. wether people get anything morally out of the productions is their own choice, i did not. but the fact that they can hear it in a blunt fashion is something i would want to have happen in schools EVERYWHERE. you know you will always have my support. good job ali for doing what was best!

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