Parenting for success | May 17, 2019 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |
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Palo Alto Weekly

- May 17, 2019

Parenting for success

Esther Wojcicki shares her secrets to raising two tech CEOs and a college professor in 'How to Raise Successful People'

by Linda Taaffe

Esther Wojcicki, Palo Alto High School's award-winning journalism teacher who founded the Paly Media Arts program and gained international recognition in 2015 after releasing "Moonshots in Education: Launching Blended Learning in the Classroom" — an instruction manual for refocusing education to teach young people how to think — released a new "how to" book on May 7. This time around, the Palo Alto mother looks at how parents can impact children outside of the classroom.

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Associate Editor Linda Taaffe can be reached at


4 people like this
Posted by ss
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 17, 2019 at 3:24 pm

I hope Mrs Wojcicki can also discuss emotional intelligence issues, because having three kids in the sciences and tech disciplines doesn't really speak about someone who explores the depths of human existence. Unfortunately these are the parameters used to define "success" today, especially in Silicon Valley. If her kids had been three amazing artists, I don't think anyone would be asking about her parenting skills. Fortunately with the "techlash" that's already begun and the uncertain and possibly very dark potential of AI and tech, I see a future where we go back to humanism, poetry, literature as the metric for amazing human beings and those parents will write books then.

9 people like this
Posted by True support
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 17, 2019 at 4:36 pm

“trust, respect, independence, collaboration and kindness”

We have lots of that at home, but our child found the opposite from our schools. I think Wojkicki has many good things to say - loved her education book - but I also think she doesn't realize the insularity her family’s success has made for. The reason absolute power corrupts absolutely is that even well meaning people do not think it can happen to them. Wojcicki gets to live in a bubble and hasn't realized it for a really long time. Parents of the world don’t need more perfect parenting finger wagging, they need support for the problems they face, that Wojkicki no longer has any clue about.

Our schools are a big part of the problem, and being forced to remove our child from them in order to have trust, respect, independence, collaboration and kindness, without having the resources for a private education, was something Wojkicki could have done something about with her influence in our schools.

I hope Wojcicki someday also finds a way to help her mother forgive herself. In the system that killed her brother, speaking up and being forceful can just as often result in deadly retaliation, even today, because the reason her mother was treated that way wasn’t primarily her mother’s doing. Her mother found her determination in time, she didn't sit at home but drove him to hospitals, She was turned away from more than one hospital. If someone is going to turn a poor immigrant woman away from a hospital out of prejudice, insisting on staying is just as much a death risk as trying to go to another as fast as possible. And then her mother would have blamed herself for not taking him to another when her instincts tokd her the one she was at was going to treat her with deadly prejudice.

That kind of injustice in medicine happens to this day, through prejudice, especially against people of color or the poor, or because of lionized, degrading misogynistic Victorian-era ideas about women, especially middle-aged women, and especially poor immigrant women like her mother. Her mother still managed to apparently do a fine job raising Wojcicki, who was well-integrated enough, and beautiful enough, never to experience the powerlessness her mother experienced (which is highly doubtful that forcefulness could have overcome).

My grandfather returned to this country from a communist one, having to leave his family behind until he could, one by one, bring them over across more than a decade. McCarthyism ended up getting him blacklisted. This affected his ability to work at anything more than menial jobs the rest of his life. All the standing up for himself ever did was make it worse. He was picked up off the street and driven around for hours questioned by FBI agents, it’s in his file. Purely for having a wife of another race - they were just ordinary people. My grandfather tried to write the agency, tried to get help - he did as much as anyone could to make it stop - the degrading mocking that resulted from his attempts is still evident in the still heavily redacted FBI file (which appears to have been redacted purely to protect racists and bigots and small-minded coworkers who thought it was funny to ruin his life, not because my grandfather was anyone or because there was anything there).

People who are successful usually have no appreciation for how much luck plays into their success
Web Link
“The business world can often be gripped by the cult of the guru, whereby prominent thinkers proclaim to have found the secret to success in this or that field. They make their career out of informing the rest of us how to go about replicating such success”

The irony of course is that Wojcicki has the social power to make that “luck” for other people like her mother, but instead chose to add to the pile of finger wagging at parents she deems by default to be less good than she was - which, if they worked, are already so plentiful they would have fixed the problem. Well, schadenfreude and shaming others esp parents sells, if nothing else.


Like this comment
Posted by Extra Credit
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 17, 2019 at 6:16 pm

Should be a required seminar for all of the affluent parents busted in the college admissions scam.

3 people like this
Posted by Jim H
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 17, 2019 at 6:45 pm

Jim H is a registered user.

She blames her mother for the death of her brother? What a horrible daughter.

6 people like this
Posted by True Support
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 18, 2019 at 12:20 pm

I don't think she blames her mother, so much as she hasn't walked a mile in her mother's shoes, so to speak, and because of the insularity of her position for so long, and the way successful people believe their personal traits or behavior are entirely responsible for their success and discount the important role of luck, I'm not sure it's even possible if she even wanted to try.

I mean, while I'm not dismissing how helpful it can be for women to trust themselves more, and especially not discounting the importance of trust, respect, independence, collaboration and kindness, its just that based on this description of her brother's death, she seems to have a blindspot to how damaging institutional biases can be and really seems to think any institutional problem bias can be overcome by the victims changing themselves. Many just as terrible things have happened to many, many people over the decades, in medicine just like to her mother -- including very proactive people -- and continue to happen today despite how enlightened we all think we are. Given Wojcicki's reputation and position in SV, though, she is unlikely to ever have any experience of that.

If you look at just recent school district history, she clearly supported Kim Diorio, yet Diorio -- a competent administrator who is hardly a retiring person who doesn't trust herself -- thought it was enough to ask administrators above several times if she should do an investigation. She ultimately lost her job when those administrators told her the wrong thing, she believed them, and they let her take the fall. If Diorio, or Wojcicki, had not just towed the organizational line, probably acting in no small part on prejudices against parents that are part of the district culture (and thus failing to understand fully to do the right thing), things would be quite different today and not just for Diorio.

I can't speak for Wojcicki, but I'm guessing by her behavior that she blames parents (of the assaulted girl and those supporting her) for what happened to Diorio's job, even though the administrators who let Diorio take the fall were credibly said by many families over the years to be engaging in seriously bad behavior and even unlawful retaliatory behavior, yet they went on to high paying jobs in nearby districts, probably with a nice sendoff from here. (And even though high up district people I won't identify have really disturbing things to say about those administrators.) If Wojcicki had been willing to be an upstander, encouraging teachers to be upstanders, if she had been willing to engage in critical thinking about the facts in situations affecting families (including those who stood up and paid a heavy toll for it) before that situation, she could well have changed the culture and helped hold those very administrators to account. And Diorio would still be principal.

I expect most if not all of the people working at those hospitals that turned her mother away are probably what we would consider good people if we met them individually. But people do things in the moment all the time that they feel justified in doing (usually to avoid hassle or having to take responsibility to understand something bigger) that have huge life and death consequences to other people. But for a few CYA bureaucrats (or perhaps just one) Operation Valkyrie might have ended WWII earlier in Germany and saved many thousands of innocent lives.

Some people in our society unfortunately experience that institutional bias and even institutional abuse much more than others, through no fault of their own, even if they have the traits Wojcicki thinks would have changed her mother's fate (in fact sometimes much worse happens if they stand up). Wojcicki clearly is blind to that because she has been blind to it happening all around her in her own school institution and how she, as someone relatively powerful in that institution, could have changed things by being a better critical thinker herself (rather than blindly trusting what came from the administrative culture in the district).

The people who turned her mother away weren't thinking to themselves that they were condemning a toddler to death, just as teachers in our district would never believe they are causing irreparable emotional, future educational and economic damage to students when they fail to follow the procedures and laws designed to protect those students. Hospitals today do now engage in "failure analysis" but our district somehow never does (administrators just claim over and over that turnover solves everything and no one ever applies any critical thinking to such lunacy).

There are studies of group dynamics and how people in groups and organizations will do bad things that they would never do individually. There are ways for individuals to improve organizations, but it's hard -- and worth doing, especially if one is in a position to do so, and aspires to understand the value of critical thinking.

14 people like this
Posted by Citizen
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 19, 2019 at 11:35 am

True Support has the facts a bit muddled. Diorio isn't the one who asked, but she was the one responsible for not following the laws in response to the two sexual assault incidents at Paly.

Meanwhile, Ms. Wojcicki is a journalism adviser at one of Paly's tax payer financed student publications. This publication supported the Paly principal prior to Ms. Diorio, Phil Winston, through articles and editorials, even after it was clear he sexually harassed students and staff while in his position.

In the most recent Paly sexual assault incidents, this publication seemed to be attempting to save Ms. Diorio's job, through smearing a 14 year old student, while using unwitting student journalists to do it.

This is called abuse of power. And corruption. Hardly a person to listen to about anything.

6 people like this
Posted by Citizen
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 19, 2019 at 11:54 am

Btw - her daughter's company, 23andme, has been called out for false results:
Web Link

And the one at the head of YouTube, planned to change the algorithm for YouTube search results, which would have put Alex Jones and Infowars in the top results. The head of Google had to nix her plan. Web Link

4 people like this
Posted by Civic Duty
a resident of Barron Park
on May 19, 2019 at 12:27 pm

Reality check on the "Parenting for Success":

Ms. Wojcicki's daughter's company 23andme was recently in the NYTimes: "Don’t Count on 23andMe to Detect Most Breast Cancer Risks, Study Warns" Web Link

Here's an excerpt - which discusses the false hope 23andme gave to one of its customers, which may have impacted the medical care the patient pursued:

"In 2010, Dr. Pamela Munster mailed her saliva to 23andMe, a relatively new DNA testing company, and later opted in for a BRCA test. As an oncologist, she knew a mutation of this gene would put her at high risk for breast and ovarian cancer. She was relieved by the negative result.

Two years later, after she learned she had breast cancer, she took a more complete genetic test from a different lab. This time it was positive.

A study of 100,000 people released earlier this month suggested that this experience could be widespread. Nearly 90 percent of participants who carried a BRCA mutation would have been missed by 23andMe’s test, geneticists found."

Is 23andme's advertising about its tests deceptive? How many people have been impacted?

Again, an exerpt:
“The F.D.A. should not have permitted this out-of-date approach to be used for medical purposes,” Dr. King said. “Misleading, falsely reassuring results from their incomplete testing can cost women’s lives.”

8 people like this
Posted by Dishonest
a resident of Downtown North
on May 19, 2019 at 3:26 pm

What if Fox News attacked Christine Blasey Ford's account of her alleged encounter with Brett Kavanaugh, stating without any evidence that the incident was consensual --- except for one lone, unverified statement by Kavanaugh's lawyer and some info from someone trying to save their skin? And what if Fox News ignored evidence of Brett Kavanaugh's prior record of sexual misconduct and instead repeatedly reported that the incident between Blasey Ford and Kavanaugh was consensual, while failing to mention that Blasey Ford claimed sexual assault?

Well, isn't that what the student publication that Esther Wojcicki advises did to a 14 year old student while reporting on the Paly Oct. 2016 incident?

And so we should listen to her?

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