As a parent with children at Paly, I wanted to share with the community some thoughts I hope will be helpful to other parents and ultimately to as many Paly youth as possible. The limited time I have to devote to this requires that this post be much shorter than I'd like it to be.
Stanford football has had a bunch of great seasons, and the 49ers are fighting their way through the playoffs yet again. Tied so closely as we are here in Palo Alto to those two teams, we're enjoying their success and our youth are increasingly in admiration - confirmed by us parents - of these local heroes.
Paly students becoming great athletes and achieving success in organized sports such as football, soccer, baseball, basketball, volleyball, water polo and swimming appears to most as a worthy goal and a great way to instill character and strong work habits in our kids, and the benefits they'll accrue in college admissions seem worth fighting for and attaining to give our kids their best change for a bright future.
Yet, the private leagues, private coaches, paid camps, tournaments and parental oversight many parents give their children has resulted in a situation where a small percentage of kids have such a tremendous and unnatural advantage (though perfectly legal and ethical) that the majority of Paly students are effectively boxed out of the opportunity to participate in and benefit from high school sports.
Further, those Paly students who form the 'jock' core through no fault of their own end up forming friendships and coalescing into social groups that the majority are excluded from despite attempts to integrate.
As a result, many, many good kids in their freshman and sophomore years are socially stranded, so to speak. Desperate to fit in, innately needing to be seen by their peers as people with worth, friends worth having and held in the warm embrace of friendship, that majority frenetically searches for social boats to take a seat in.
But which boats are available? Unfortunately, many of the lifeboats with open seats are captained by unsupervised children, children whose parents have neither the time nor conscience necessary to keep them on the straight and narrow.
Those boats are full of good kids, great kids, every one of them, but nonetheless petty theft, drugs and empty popular thug culture are what those kids and their weak leaders start to engage in, ever hopeful that they too will find a way to fit in, be cool and be accepted despite not being worthy of jock groups.
In my mind, at least, it's clear that there is a *direct* link between the *perhaps* well-intentioned - and certainly effective - efforts of some parents to actively manage, assist and bring more athletic success to their kids, and the monumental, incredibly disheartening damage inflicted on the majority of Paly youth who, for lack of those same advantages, find themselves in the wrong boats and sailing towards the wrong destinations.
I grew up identifying myself with my athletic success, but now know that who I really am has nothing to do with that success and never did. What's good in me is the love, care for and opportunity I bring to my family, and what's bad in me is where I fall short of that.
I humbly but earnestly submit that our adulation of our college and pro sports teams are no different than the false gods and idolatry so many religions cite, and that until we realize that, change our ways and push that knowledge forcefully throughout Palo Alto and down to our youth & school administration, we will be guilty of the tremendous amount of needless, permanent damage we'll have inflicted on our children.
I hope this resonates with some kindred parents, but what I really hope is that, should my ideas have merit, this becomes a discussion that grows, broadens, gathers other perspectives, takes on a life of its own and attracts many, many well-intentioned parents, students, faculty, college and pro athletes in our community so that we can be a city that wills its way into a better, brighter future for *all* of our children.
Thanks again for the opportunity to post here, thanks for reading, and a last word for any & all Paly students who read this:
- don't ever think you've any less worth than someone who's either innately or through parental involvement achieved more success than you in sports.
- if you feel any of the above-mentioned pain as you enter Paly, take comfort knowing that it's not you who's messed up. It's we parents, we administrators, we parents, we coaches and we college & pro athletes who have lost our way.