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Guest Opinion: The nettlesome path to helping our teens

 

At the opening of a bracing but humane short story by Anton Chekhov -- a story I love, set in the boondocks of tsarist Russia, titled "Ward 6" -- the author depicts a rundown outbuilding at a rural hospital, points out the overgrown path that leads to its door, and invites us to come with him "unless you are afraid of the nettle stings."

To you, now, I say the same. I wish this were old business, but now it's sadly new.

Four and five years ago, when several of our teenagers took their own lives, our pained, communal cry was, "Why is this happening?" But as things turned out, we undertook one thing only to try to learn what caused those deaths, and that was the psychological autopsies agreed to by this school district, Project Safety Net and the Stanford School of Medicine. That study is now forgotten, unfinished, unavailing.

Four years have passed, enough time for an entire high school career, and we've learned nothing about how those six teenagers' frailties met the upheavals of adolescence and the stresses of their world. Four years have passed since a contagion that took more lives in this town than Ebola ever will, and we have no epidemiological study. From its inception, the study was underfunded, understaffed and without the resources to fully question classmates, teachers, counselors and coaches.

I can only imagine how this reflects on us as a city that likes to think of itself as in the vanguard. I think it reflects a community that has forgotten part of its soul -- a community frightened of the nettles.

People will say, well, we've taken many steps to save kids' lives. But the measures we've taken have been directed at fixing our kids rather than fixing our schools and have mainly added to our teenagers' burdens. Hoping to make our kids more resilient, we've piled onto them more curriculum, lectures, requirements, trainings, surveys -- and assemblies where they furtively scribble homework and catch up on texting. We've squeezed out more of their time, having them sit still and listen to the Wise Adults -- and why should they think us so wise? -- when already in their world every second counts and there is no room for error.

Whether or not there is something in our Palo Alto culture that makes self-harm more likely -- and I think that's quite possible -- we'd be complacent to not even ask ourselves the question. Certainly to write the issue off by blaming our schools or blaming individual illness will take us nowhere. People have both inner and outer worlds, and the two interact. Contagions of suicide have occurred among financiers during crashes, farmers during droughts and military commanders faced with certain defeat. But in each of these instances, though outside forces play a role, so does intra-personal confusion -- and not everyone falls victim. The issue is complex and all we can do is try hard to understand, without fear or mockery.

Whether or not, back in those years, my school lacked a certain "immune system" that would have prevented those deaths, I know that our response to them was often wanting. Although teachers too numerous to mention rose magnificently to the challenge of working daily with grieving students, many things at school were unhealthy -- from a coach who told the teammates of one of the deceased that suicide is dishonorable, to the showing of a violent war movie to students already grieving, to a girl I saw as she sat in a busy office one day, weeping and ignored, to the failure to substantially decrease homework or adjust grading scales. (Our kids were on an un-level playing field, obliged to compete nationally under circumstances that applied to no other high school.) The public made things harder by sending scores of accusatory emails to a principal and superintendent who were already losing sleep.

But our schools are just a mirror of our local culture; they are us.

I think nothing will change for our teenagers until we cease trying to change them and instead change their schools. Nothing will change until we extricate our kids from the academic fraud that is so demoralizing to everyone. Nothing will change until there are fewer kids per class, so they feel individually valued. Nothing will change until our schools stop signing off on backbreaking course schedules without impressing on parents and kids the degree of possible damage. Nothing will change until our kids no longer come to their classes sleep-deprived or in the emotional thrall of the social media that we give them access to all day. Nothing will change with homework per night until we have a confidential website where teachers and kids can compare notes on minutes assigned and minutes worked.

Most importantly, nothing will change until we give up the damaging, soul-destroying hallucination -- a myth as crazy as the denial of global warming -- that a teenager's entire future happiness and fate somehow rests on the results of this Friday's math test or science quiz or English essay. Nothing will change for us until we stop equating our kids with their grades and resumes, their SAT and athletic statistics, and instead see them for their strengths and weaknesses of compassion, pluck, insight, friendship, humor, patience, imagination -- all the things that really make a life.

I've heard proposals, now, to add wellness centers to our campuses. But our teenagers are way too overwhelmed and busy to visit such places, and too proud and self-conscious to be caught dead walking through such doors.

So instead, let's infuse sanity and health into the everyday life of our schools so that Paly and Gunn, in and of themselves, become centers of wellness.

Marc Vincenti taught English at Gunn from 1995 to 2010.

Related content:

In the wake: teens respond with messages of hope, change

Comments

4 people like this
Posted by Gunn Alum parent
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 15, 2014 at 9:11 am

Well stated Mr. Vincenti!

My kids were close friends with 2 of the students who died by suicide in 2009 and our family is still recovering from the painful experience.

We are so very concerned about the youth in our town and how our local culture has become hyper focused on monetary success at the expense of all other values.

We must embrace all talents and not limit our focus on science, math, engineering and technology.

We also need to better support those who are struggling. Comparing our school district with similarly situated districts show that our top students are doing very well but our special ed., ESL, and socioeconomically disadvantaged students are doing much worse that in other areas.

We can do better Palo Alto, and we must!!!


2 people like this
Posted by Wondering
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 15, 2014 at 12:13 pm

"or in the emotional thrall of the social media that we give them access to all day. Nothing will change with homework per night until we have a confidential website where teachers and kids can compare notes on minutes assigned and minutes worked."

Thank you Mr Vicenti - online time and "device" time is a question I asked the experts on a related thread, no answers yet. This is a cultural issue which is not easily changed because there is the push to let kids figure everything out on their own. At this stage of hormonal development to let kids figure out something as hyper fueling of every life event as social media is, seems risky. Maybe some kids do have a hard time figuring it out, how to help them?

The other point is about measurable data about homework and time spent on it. The estimates by teachers, students, and parents are way off because everyone is different. What is too much for some, may be nothing to another, and there is no way to evaluate. Better data and realistic numbers and estimates about homework could help the conversation.


Like this comment
Posted by Mac Clayton
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 16, 2014 at 8:50 am

Nicely put.


4 people like this
Posted by EndTheGulag
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 16, 2014 at 9:33 am

Mr Vincenti,

All good points, but no action. There is only so much pressure a kid can endure before the stress of their surrounding starts to cause anxiety depression and feelings of failure.

Throughout our time in PAUSD, we have seen a never ending one-way ratchet of pressure on our kids.

- we have gotten some very disorganized teachers(wouldn't write down homework, they would lose homework, would create a new process for every assignment, inconsistent due dates, wouldn't tell us due dates, wouldn't use Schoology, and double jeopardy-turn in hw for a grade, then gather it into a binder for another grade - so you lose twice)
Teacher 's comment 'I don't care about your kid - it's only going to get worse next year" meaning get used to it.

Our response to get our kid help organizing we got a tutor to survive

- homework in middle school was taking until midnight.
Teachers comment "if they don't learn to do all the homework, they'll fail High School' there was a lot of moralizing judgment about this as well "the kids have to learn responsibility"


Our response was to drop all extracurricular activities - no scouts, art classes, play time, social time ... And help catch up. All work no play.

Middle school teachers so vicious that they spent an entire year berating and intimidating kids about homework. Long-term this causes disengagement and burnout.

Throughout high school we have discouraged APs, dropped lanes, dropped classes, yet every step we take to lower pressure on our kids is countered by the teachers ratcheting up the pressure, workload and stress. And all along is the intimidation, snarky comments and judgment if 'you can't hack it'

Bad teaching just compounds this - a math teacher with such a bad accent as to be incomprehensible, a chem teacher who would fly into a rage when students didn't understand her, an English teacher who would not tell students due dates (on purpose for some unknown principle)...all add to stress in an environment where there is little hope to succeed and no hope to thrive.

So there you have it - most teachers ratcheting up workload and pressure, while the worst create environments of desperation.

Parents offload all social, family and fun time possible. It's survival mode triage.

It is a one way flow of pressure and stress: teachers create it, parents try to offload it and bring some relief.

When I read your article and hear the message that we all need to work together I feel cheated - we parents have already done our part for years.

The teachers haven't done a thing. They are the source of the stress and have not accepted this.

Your guest opinion would carry a lot more weight if you acknowledged this and recommend immediate adoption of the homework policy. Start today - don't wait for some tool; we are in [portion removed] triage mode here with a broken system harming our children.

Lay off.

Right now!


9 people like this
Posted by For what it's worth
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 16, 2014 at 9:39 am

On the very day we read this excellent article from Mr. Vincenti, we see a front-page article in the NY Times about seniors applying to more and more colleges, sometimes as many as 20 or 30.

Web Link

The driving factor cited in this trend? Fear. Students are afraid. They are afraid because their parents are afraid. Even if they don't talk about it to their kids, the fear is palpable. "If they don't get into a good school, their future is cloudy at best, if not deeply imperiled." This is the thought floating around in the parents' heads, and it is in the ether of the home and the school, and the kids pick up on it.

Simply put: this is nonsense.

Recently we have come to see more clearly that college pedigree does not necessarily guarantee one a job or a career. What our students need is assurance that they are loved and cared for, that they are valued, and that we value and believe in the choices they make that enable them to learn and to become who they most authentically are in a healthy and happy and passionately engaged way, whether that leads them to a career in restaurant management, investment banking, auto repair, real estate, law, plumbing, teaching, cooking, film production, administrative management, child care, circus acrobatics, software engineering, window cleaning, medicine, retail management, poetry, solar power research, dance, or dentistry. We need to make sure they know we will support and love them to become the best they can be at what they are the best at doing, and not force them onto a path that is alien and actively harmful to them. We need to say to them "I am here for you to help you find out who you are, and to support you on that path." Not, "I am here for you to help you get into Stanford."

A great way to start down that path is to encourage them to create: to make some art. That can be a channel to find the authentic self, which is what you are looking for. Kurt Vonnegut's advice to a bunch of high school students comes to mind: "Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what's inside you, to make your soul grow."

We need to help them make their souls grow. They won't get there by doing 5 hours of homework every night.


2 people like this
Posted by Wondering
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 16, 2014 at 11:53 am

For what it's worth,

Applying to more schools has become a numbers game, and as the NYT article says the Common App also makes it easier. The real question is not how many schools a student is applying to, but the mix of schools they are applying to. If a student is exclusively applying to elite impossible schools, you could say the parents only care about that, and are driving the fear. But many kids have plenty non-elite schools on their list, and parents would be happy for them to get in any of those schools. Some kids just want to get in somewhere

The fear of not being accepted is real. Parents probably fear the rejection too, but not because their kid is not going to Harvard, but because they hate to see their kid feel rejected. In PAUSD we have many experiences of how that feels - don't make the team, don't make the play, don't make the higher Math lane, it's constant competition.

To reflect on the competition to get into college, we should be first looking at the culture of competition in our schools. One can't call the kettle black as far as colleges demanding too much, it's done everyday in school. We have a culture of over doing everything.


4 people like this
Posted by Bill Kelly
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 16, 2014 at 6:59 pm

The schools have not changed in the last 20 years, our expectations as parents have changed. How many of us as parents pre-program our high school students life? Why do our kids obsess over which college they will get into? This starts with the parents, not the school. We could fix the homework issue in a minute by limiting AP classes to 1 a semester, however, the screams of parents would be heard for miles......


2 people like this
Posted by EndTheGulag
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 16, 2014 at 7:22 pm

@Bill writes a number of things I disagree with:

"How many of us as parents pre-program our high school students life? ". - nope. Our kids choose their classes and any (or none) of their extracurriculars.


"Why do our kids obsess over which college they will get into?" - we didn't. We chose easy schools to get in.


" This starts with the parents, not the school." Nope. We have done everything to lower stress; the schools have done everything to ratchet up the stress and pressure.


" We could fix the homework issue in a minute by limiting AP classes to 1 a semester, " Nope. The homework stress starts in middle school and ratchets up from there.

Your narrative is wrong, and typical of the parent-blaming perspective advanced by the teachers trying to avoid accountability for their actions. It doesn't add up, doesn't match our story, or that of anyone I know. It also doesn't match the experience of students...


1 person likes this
Posted by Wondering
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 16, 2014 at 9:37 pm

Bill Kelly,
"The schools have not changed in the last 20 years"

The schools are bigger for one, and that alone can cause stress.

AP's are not all the same. Some AP's don't have that much homework, it all depends on the teacher. The homework issue cannot be fixed in a minute if nobody complies with your fix.

Limiting APs to some number wouldn't hurt though.



4 people like this
Posted by Bill Kelly
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 16, 2014 at 10:02 pm

[Portion removed.] I think it's inappropriate to try to assign blame, there is enough to go around. It starts with a long look in the mirror, each one of us has contributed to the stress. Ever ask a kid what college they are going to attend? Ever ask a 16 year old what they are going to do with their life? How the heck do they know! How about asking 'what are you passionate about?' instead. We all are using college choice as a yardstick of success; well my kid got into so-ans-so college. It needs to stop when everyone participates.

I sent 3 kids through Gunn. They each had different homework experiences. One of my kids could finish his homework in 20 minutes, one took hours. HOWEVER, the reason it took hours was work on the computer involved 2 minutes of work and 58 minutes of facebook. the level of distraction was off the charts. Again, these are parental issues. All the kids I met at Gunn that were seriously overloaded with homework were taking north of 5 AP classes in tandem; that's insane!


2 people like this
Posted by bill kelly
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 16, 2014 at 11:14 pm

Dear Moderator, Removing the point of the post is useless, if your going to do that just remove the whole post

Let me try again, our family had some personal experience with the tragedy at a local high school. Our family found the teachers and administrators to be very supportive, many of whom went way out of the way to support people who needed it. Many of the teachers who had releationships with some of the folks involved in the tragedy were so distraught they left teaching, they have not been unaffected.


4 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 16, 2014 at 11:33 pm

It's much less useful to talk about who is responsible for the problem than it is to talk about who is in a position to fix the problem so that is what I am going to do.

The situation we are currently in is that akin to an arms race. In the case of the real arms race, it doesn't matter, does it, whether the US or the USSR built the first weapon. What matters is that it was in the interest of neither to stop proliferating them so long as the other continued. Further more, there were arms manufacturers (Eisenhower's famous "military industrial complex" profiting off the race and that economic interest in continued arms development and deployment was a key reason for the race. Everyone would surely die unless these weapons were reduced, yet no one nation could accomplish it.

As with the actual arms race, the figurative academic arms race, the "Race to Nowhere," has many similar features. You have many individual families who are racing each other, and it is not in the perceived interest of any one family to unilaterally disarm and stop competing. As in the real arms race, what is needed is external control and verifiable limits on the extent of the race. And as with the real race, the College Board and the tutoring centers continue to make enormous profits on the backs of this dangerous race.

The people like Kelly above who want to spend their time pointing fingers at parents would be analogous to those who pointed fingers at the USSR, screaming about how the Soviets were responsible for the Cuban Missile Crisis and it was up to the Soviet to stop building arms.

So here is my response: So What? So what if it is the parents? Our kids will be just as harmed no matter if it is the parents or the teachers and it is up to us to figure out where the limits are best applied in order to protect the health and safety of students.

The school is the only place where limits can actually be imposed. So long as it is possible for students to take unlimited AP and honors classes, and so long as teachers are allowed to assign as much work as they please there will be students, many students, who will do it and there will be other students who feel that they have to compete. Telling those students and parents that they should simply refuse to compete is exactly the same as telling the US or the Soviet that they should not build any more weapons regardless of what the other did. Sure you can say it. Would it happen? No. Never.

Right now we have our kids as pawns in an arms race. I don't have any idea whether it is making them depressed. But I can well imagine that it is. It's sure not healthy for them. Do you want to keep the finger pointing going in order to avoid having to solve the problem BIll Kelly or do you want to solve the problem?

So I don't care who started the race. I care about who can end it. The only player here who can end it is the schools, and that is what should be under study. I don't know what the outcome should be, but the school district should be studying academic stress and how to reduce it. At minimum the board should either enforce its homework policy or repeal it and admit that it can't control the staff or what happens in the schools.

What kind of organization adopts a policy and then just never enforces it?


2 people like this
Posted by EndTheGulag
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 17, 2014 at 7:08 am

@parent - well said.


Today there exists no path for a kid that wants a low stress path through High School.

There are no options but the worst one.

Even the normal lanes are taught at a 'challenging ' level that involves crushing levels of homework. Worse, our middle schools have very little lane choice and they are viewed as prep school for the piles of work in High School.

In fact a previous Jordan Principal Milliken called Jordan "...a junior college to Paly's college" he wore his sadism like a badge.

If a kid has an interest outside of school, it is impossible to chart a course throu this district.

@Bill - this is not just a story about parents making bad choices with 5 AP's the real problem is that there are no good choices, even without AP's. As long as the narrative focuses on parent choices (which I'll grant some are poor) it obscures the fact that the schools have done little to make life bearable anywhere. There is simply no place for a normal kid to learn without overload, pressure and stress.

And the schools have been asked to change that; and have refused.

Sorry about the teachers who felt they had to leave the profession. There is going to be some real soul searching. But rather than leave - why not just ratchet down the workload and pressure on students? It was within their power. The teachers have a choice to do so.

The students do not.


3 people like this
Posted by Wondering
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 17, 2014 at 7:32 am

Bill Kelly,

Having "passion" for something is not any different than over doing things. Why would a 16 year old know what their passion is any more than what they will do with their life?

Passion is educational professional speak. Colleges are literally asking for "demonstrated" passion and they want proof that you poured your heart and soul into 1 thing (or many). Passion is actually pressure (and hard work), and not any more developmentally appropriate for kids to have than AP's. It's hidden messages like these that confuse kids - parents you should not talk about college to your kids but talk to them about "passion."

I think we need more practical ways to deal with the issues that worry us all, like limiting APs to some number, and Mr. Vicenti has brought up two other areas - what to do about the amount of social media that overwhelms adolescents, and what about data on homework. By having data on how much time homework really takes, students could make better decisions about what classes to take.


2 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 17, 2014 at 7:59 am

Please consider more than anything else some balance in the life of our teens. They need a life outside of school and other challenging extra curricula. They need time with family but they also need some time with friends for fun. In fact, they need more hang out time and more downtime.

Think about your own teen years. What do you remember most? Do you just remember night after night of homework? Or do you remember fun time with friends just hanging out? Do you remember hanging out at the mall? or the coffee shop? or some teen center?

Where are the hang out places for our teens? Where do they go that is safe for teens to spend some down time? Who are the mentors for our teens?

We desperately need some teen friendly safe places that welcome our teens and let them be, well just teens.


2 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 17, 2014 at 8:33 am

What do I remember most about my teen years? Race riots, Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy, the Vietnam draft, body counts on the nightly news, the smell of tear gas. My Palo Alto Times route, mowing lawns, and several odd jobs. Challenging classes at Cubberley were a welcome relief.


1 person likes this
Posted by Wondering
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 17, 2014 at 10:44 am

musical,

The paper route and mowing lawns has been replaced with solving water shortage problems in a small country or assisting in medical research at Stanford. Schools are really proud of that kind of student, not so much with the paper route guy. Colleges will say babysitting your sister is just as valuable, but guess who gets in?

Nightly news now by the way is 24/7 reporting on what the Kardashians are doing. I don't blame kids - I would rather follow the Kardashians after all the demands from over-doing everything. And it's not just the parents, the colleges and schools are big drivers of over achieving.


1 person likes this
Posted by Roxy
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 17, 2014 at 4:55 pm

"Most importantly, nothing will change until we give up the damaging,soul-destroying hallucination -- a myth as crazy as the denial of global warming -- that a teenager's entire future happiness and fate somehow rests on the results of this Friday's math test or science quiz or English essay."

So true, Mr. Vincenti.
Thank you.


3 people like this
Posted by Gunn high school mom
a resident of Green Acres
on Nov 17, 2014 at 9:07 pm

As an Asian mom I can tell you that there is too much focus on building a high school resume and grades and not about character, volunteering, life experience, social kindness, or simply being good compassionate humans.

I want my kids to be worldly, compassionate, kind, and make mistakes so they can handle life challenges.

As a mom my job is to stop and take a breath, examine what might be stressful to my kids, sit down at dinner table and talk and most off have down time so kids share their day and talk about their friends.


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Posted by Blame game
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 18, 2014 at 1:37 am

Mark,

[Portion removed.] Like you, I was there, too. On the one hand, you say don't blame the schools and individual students, and I agree with that, but then you give in to your core weakness of blaming everyone and everything else, from the so-called public which would have the audacity to contact school leaders in a time of crisis, to a number of staff members who have underperformed in your eyes. Your solution is that we reduce class sizes, stop assemblies, and basically ask less of our staff. I guess that is one way to look at it, but you've written the real solution already, and I don't think anyone will disagree with it: our schools are a mirror of us. [Portion removed.]


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Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 18, 2014 at 4:20 am

@Wondering -- just pointing out that work and stress were not unknown in the sixties. I'll add the memory of adults telling me first-hand stories about the depression and WW2, so I knew how fortunate I was, even with duck-and-cover drills in the cross-hairs of ICBMs.

Try as a I might, I actually don't remember anything that Paly Parent suggested. Malls? Coffee shops? Mentors? Hanging out? Not much recollection of homework either, though I must have had some. Guess it's all too long ago. The social problem was recognized however, and the city built a "teen center" of sorts at the site of the new Mitchell Park Library. It was so boring that nobody went there.

That was then and now is now. I re-read the original opinion piece. "People have both inner and outer worlds, and the two interact," I'll agree. But all the "nothing will change until," well, not so much.

As to one's entire future happiness and fate resting on the results of this Friday's math test, reminds me of the old proverb -- For want of a nail ... the kingdom was lost.


1 person likes this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 18, 2014 at 8:21 am

Musical

You may be a little older than me. Some of the examples may be dependent on decades or geography culture.

My point is that "back in our day" many of us as teenagers did have hangout time with our friends although hangout would never have been the term we used. I personally remember youth clubs, youth discos, coffee bars, youth leaders run by the community, and who they exactly were I am not sure. I also remember large groups of teens hanging out in malls as go to places after school, but that was more likely to be when I was a little older.

We used to have a bowling alley and my kids spent a lot of time there, sometimes bowling, sometimes not. Birthday parties, cheap bowling with low lights late into the evening, all geared for teens at reasonable prices.

Where can teens go nowadays in Palo Alto? The new Mitchell Park library appears to have two teen centres, both geared for homework support. Good idea but not really a hangout. They also have a tiny basketball area "Jeremy Lin played here". It will be interesting to see how these places are used. Saturday night at 8.00 pm. Where are Palo Alto teens?


1 person likes this
Posted by Wondering
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 18, 2014 at 10:43 am

musical,

Interesting quote about for want of a nail...and everything has become high stakes in school. Some of the threats you faced were also societal challenges. Like it or not, it gave you a sense of security that your parents were dealing with it too. The wild world of academic competition has replaced learning with doing, and absent the industry of tutors which has developed, kids are pretty much alone to handle the microscope that is placed on them. Pooh pooing grades is even more stressful in an educational system which has placed all emphasis on them.

They do not have the perspective that adults have, so the messages about the love of B's in a world of A's is nonsensical. I agree with the "nothing will change until" and it will be good to at least try.


2 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 18, 2014 at 11:07 am

One bottom line is that our state has not kept up with the demand for spaces in our universities. Relatives in other states do not have this kind of pressure. Our lesser universities should be moved up in quality.

Another one: private schools are marketing the hell out of themselves. Companies are complicit in this situation. Kids cannot imagine what will happen to them if they don't fit the mold. Stanford, Google, are you listening?

Thirdly: our students compete with the whole world for spots. Back in the day we competed with mostly US population and/or kids from our own state.


2 people like this
Posted by Our Poor Kids
a resident of Terman Middle School
on Nov 18, 2014 at 8:15 pm

Many good posts from parents here.

We do need to consider whether Palo Alto has a higher incidence of teen mental illness than other schools (and why)?

Other communities have plenty of train tracks as well?

Parents and educators have to look inward and recognize the culture they are really creating here for children. It starts early in a child's life in middle school and builds from there with these kids having no perspective of the importance (or lack of) what they are being forced to do really means in life. Starting at a young age it seems like its the only important thing.

Until we can recognize this problem, we will have to sadly keep the guards at our train tracks.


1 person likes this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 18, 2014 at 9:04 pm

The proverbial for-want-of-a-nail tale recounts a plausible chain of events ending in catastrophe, meant as an object lesson to pay attention to the smallest details. But it only works backwards, no more predictive than the butterfly's wings setting off a hurricane. Blow the math test or a hundred more things, and you still have an infinite number of paths to success and happiness.

@Paly Parent, yes what a difference ten years can make. Thanks for reminding me of many happy hours with teen friends at Palo Alto Bowl. And we did some late hanging out behind the old Drive-In off Amarillo. There were scouts and little league and church youth groups then, as I assume still exist today. Never my cup of tea, and probably still of narrow appeal to teens. The urbanization and regulation-creep has closed out much of the old freedom we had, like teaching ourselves to ride motorcycles at age 14 on the large expanse of open dirt near the end of Loma Verde.

@Wondering, that sense of security often was fragile to non-existent as many parents seemed headed for divorce or insolvency or worse. As now, deep family problems weren't discussed openly, and too private or painful even to mention to school counselors. I doubt that we'll ever see valid statistics on prevalence or severity and whether they've changed over the years, or any correlation done with student mental health.


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Posted by Wondering
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 18, 2014 at 11:35 pm

musical,

I can't imagine that marital problems have become easier (for kids or parents) now because of people being more open today than in the past, and Palo Alto is not immune to problems of insolvency. The fear of insolvency is probably more real for younger people today than in the past. To afford Palo Alto is near impossible, and most kids know that. Fortunately, most are also happy to consider other cities and many can't wait to get out of here. Sounds like your good memories involve free time though, that's something that could be helped by managing homework loads and having more places for kids to hang out instead of just online.


3 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 18, 2014 at 11:44 pm

There is a link between highly competitive high schools (specialized magnet schools), and rampant cheating, mental illness, and high numbers of suicides.

These schools have a high number of students from first generation immigrants.

In March 2014, it was reported that 10 students had committed suicide within a 2 month period in New York City public schools.

Stuyvesant high school in lower Manhattan.

Web Link

New York public school suicides:

Web Link

Life is hard enough for teenagers without parental pressure (guilt) to succeed.



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Posted by Peter
a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on Nov 19, 2014 at 7:42 am

"Most importantly, nothing will change until we give up the damaging, soul-destroying hallucination -- a myth as crazy as the denial of global warming -- that a teenager's entire future happiness and fate somehow rests on the results of this Friday's math test or science quiz or English essay."

Such a key statement.

The solution is "simple". Allow students to turn in homework and take tests at their own rate. There is even legal protection for this called the 504 plan.

If more than one test needs to be made up by teachers to accommodate this change then let it happen. Will it require more work from teachers. Yes absolutely. Should such work be identified in their contracts.Yes.

Will there be those who will say it will affect the reputation of the schools if there is less control over test/homework information? Yes. But
what about the reputation the schools are getting now? Its time to change the paradigm.





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Posted by parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 19, 2014 at 7:56 am

How many people are willing to spend money on extra-curricular activities and scrimp on mental health care? Lots.

How many people whose kids are in distress are too embarrassed to apply for a 504 plan or even an IEP plan? Is it really better to keep their record "clean"?


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