Town Square

Former Stanford dean to Gunn students: 'find your own path'

Original post made on Nov 19, 2013

In a speech at Gunn High School, former Stanford dean of freshmen Julie Lythcott-Haims implored students to focus on setting their own paths and resisting the pressure of peers and parents to pursue certain colleges or certain careers.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Monday, November 18, 2013, 4:51 PM


Posted by Read SU Prof William Damon, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 19, 2013 at 7:58 am

Lots of interesting points in this piece. One point didn't resonate though: telling students to push back against parents' guidance.

While the article starts out saying that this message is just for "some" students and about parents' efforts to influence college majors and careers, the message was given at Gunn High School to 1,000 15 year olds years away from college. What was their take-away? Remember this for when you are 20? Or start pushing back now?

If push back now, Ms. Lythcott-Haims please compare notes with William Damon, Stanford Education Professor and director of the Stanford Center on Adolescence, a well-respected authority on character development and moral education.

What you refer to as teens' parent-crafted "check-listed childhoods" he calls a "Path to Purpose: Helping Our Children Find Their Calling In Life."

His research found teens left to figure it out on their own rudderless, at serious risk of never fulfilling their potential.

According to Damon, children's direction and purpose should be guided by the adults in their lives and not enough children are being engaged in that way.

From his book:

I "do not think that we are in general pushing youngsters too hard, as some have argued. Madeline Levine puts the blame for the aimlessness of young people [after high-school] on too-high expectations, parental pressure, and family affluence [during high school]. My own view is that young people thrive on high expectations (I wrote a book on this matter ten years ago), and that parents do well to engage attentively with their children."

Damon advises parents to focus on getting their children on a path and, when on it, help them find a purpose and context beyond the external rewards like grades. Being motivated by external rewards does not preclude finding a purpose in those activities too.

"I am unconvinced by the 'stress' explanation. Hard work and competition have never broken the spirits of young people, as long as they believe in what they are doing."

Posted by disappointed in you Dean Julie, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Nov 19, 2013 at 8:33 am

Enough with the parent blaming. If you are on stage at Gunn, why not ask them why they still lack advisory even though parents want it? Why not ask them why they assign an insane amount of homework? Why not ask them why they foster a hypercompetitive environment in school where kids feel that they are nothing because they aren't at the highest level of achievement? Why not ask them why they have a ludicrous number of lanes in math, such that it is deeply stigmatized for students to be in "regular" instead of "1A" and why the students who struggle are segregated by themselves into classes where they have been thrown away rather than in mixed ability groups? Why not ask them why so many of their students are in tutoring just to keep up?

Julie, you have never had a student at Gunn. When your kids get there it will be eye opening for you.

It is a real shame to see you joining in the parent-blaming/bashing of the Gunn administration. I think you lack any empirical data to support your hypothesis that the parents are to blame for the competition at Gunn. Parents are in most cases just trying to help their kids keep up in a high-stress environment.

Mr. J, your little snide remark about moms is unnecessary. Those kids are getting way more texts from their friends asking them if they want to get out of this dumb assembly and head to the path and smoke off the stress of the day than they are about a quiz in A period.

[Portion removed.]

Posted by Thank you Julie, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 19, 2013 at 9:02 am

Student need to hear what you are saying, that failure is okay, and good to experience. Because it happens to us all, and how we handle it defines us. For those who can't deal with high schoolers beginning to think for themselves, it's a mighty shame. It's exactly the parents you are trying to speak to. Let go and let live.

Posted by Stay-at-hone Mom, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 19, 2013 at 10:24 am

Parents need to realize their children aren't bonsai plants to be twisted into the shape they choose. The goal is to find what your child is good at and run with it, whether it be a sport, hobby, interest. Introduce your child to as many activities your wallet can afford. Even if the child picks something he is bad at, hard work and determination can overcome it and it's a good life lesson. Palo Alto is so centrally located that there's something for everyone nearby if not in Palo Alto. Don't force your child to fulfill your childhood dreams that you never fulfilled!

Posted by Just Say No, a resident of Menlo Park
on Nov 19, 2013 at 10:41 am

Disappointed, you should reflect a bit on your rant. You need to say NO yourself to the "insane" competition you let yourself become immeshed in at Gunn. My son went to an equally competitive private school. He was not in the "top lanes" of math, and in fact only took one AP class in high school. I learned to tune out the ravings of other parents at how "wonderful" their AP kids were, how many competitions they'd won, and how they were heading to Stanford. YOU need to know your own child and recognize that going to a "top" college is worthless if your child won't be happy there. (That was me as a college student, by the way.) There are so many paths to success in America. This isn't Asia or Europe where you HAVE to go the right school to get the right job. You need to pay attention to what Julie Lythcott-Haims is really saying and let your child find his or her own path to happiness. Look inside and you'll see it's YOU who are competitive about "math lanes" and class rankings. Children need guidance, but not a strait jacket.

Posted by Gunn Parent, a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 19, 2013 at 10:48 am

It's lovely that she gives this advice to students. However, the fact that Stanford admits many students who have been not only shaped by their parents, but whose resumes have been padded by things their parents did for them makes her comments disingenuous. The truth is, students should find their true path, but Stanford is not accepting these students. A genuine student will not have a resume full of parent generated achievements. Although Stanford representatives claim they can see through this, they are accepting the students with such resumes.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Nov 19, 2013 at 10:57 am

Gunn Parent: You are missing the point. Julie is suggesting that we shouldn't obsess with Stanford or other "top" schools. Stanford admissions is a crap shoot, and what they require achievement-wise breaks most kids. And that she left Stanford to write poetry after leaving corporate law suggests she is not disingenuous.

Posted by Stay-at-home Mom, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 19, 2013 at 11:04 am

"Just Say No" and "Gunn Parent", GREAT postings!

The Paly newspaper should really end the college list which states where students are attending college. This is a stress for students also. I know it's been a tradition since at least the 70s, but what people don't see is the acceptance list of the student. If a child choses a school of lesser reputation, people assume it was the best the child was accepted into, but perhaps that child turned down other prestigious universities for whatever reasons. The list is only really a gloating list for those top 10% students and parents (and of course, I would be in favor of it if it were my child).

Posted by imperfect parent, a resident of Community Center
on Nov 19, 2013 at 12:30 pm

It's hard as parents to remember that we were there once as high school seniors. It would have been good then as it is now to be able to allow developing people this process of self-discovery.

Can we parents forgive ourselves for feeling stressed, trying our best but falling short, making mistakes as parents, knowing other parents judge us, and still be loving to our children trying to thrive under the same condition amongst their peers?

It's tough being a parent. Tough being a kid. Tough being imperfect in what sometimes feels like a "perform or perish" environment.

Posted by Paul, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Nov 19, 2013 at 1:00 pm

Thank you, Dean Julie! Every Gunn parent needs to have been at your Gunn presentation, in particular the Tiger Moms & Dads.

Posted by Mom, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 19, 2013 at 2:18 pm

I see far more kids who are in trouble because of negligent parenting than kids who are suffering because of involved parents.

Posted by Gunn Parent, a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 19, 2013 at 3:14 pm

Parent, Am not. If this person had billed herself as a poet and shown up to Gunn, the lecture hall would have been empty. She was there because of her Stanford credentials, which is why I used the word disingenuous. This is also the case with William Damon, who also lectures about finding one's true path. The problem is, he also uses his Stanford credentials to gather the crowd, and tries to convince people to follow their true path, while using the same tales of suspiciously inflated student achievements to illustrate his point. After hearing him speak, parents go out and force their children to start a charity, climb a mountain, design a solar powered medical device. People in this community look to these people for help getting into elite universities. They are not at the lecture by a Stanford person to find out how to be happy at a community college.

Posted by disappointed in you Dean Julie, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Nov 19, 2013 at 3:26 pm

Here, here, Gunn parent. True dat.

I continue to believe that the larger problem with Julie's marvelous pearls of wisdom for Gunn students is that she literally knows nothing about Gunn. She doesn't have kids there and hasn't yet lived the dream of having her kids feel so stressed out and worthless not because of anything she did -- as I am sure that she will send the message that whatever they want to do is fine -- but because being a "regular" kid at Gunn means struggling in your classes and feeling hurt by the excessively competitive environment. It means 5 hours of homework per night in the lesser lanes. It means crying over Chem homework at 1:00am after sports practice. It means quitting sports because you can't keep up with homework. It means that once you decide you have to drop down a lane in a class because you cannot do all that homework and you are getting Cs on your tests anyway, you have to wait 2 weeks to find a counselor who you only find because your mother physically tracked her down and refused to leave her office until she switched you.

Your fundamental conception of Gunn is off. What you saw at Stanford was an aggregate of the top 5% of the most helicoptery Gunn parents. But at Gunn, that's only 5% of the parents. Everyone else is just feeling like "Oh my God what did I do by moving here, my kid is drowning and no teacher will email me back and I feel desperate." That's what most Gunn moms, who you felt totally fine ripping into without cause, feel like. They feel like "holy crap, if I had known that this was what Gunn was like I would have moved to Los Altos." [Portion removed.]

Posted by Gunn Parent, a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 19, 2013 at 3:43 pm

Dear disappointed, Great points from you. My hat is off to you for articulating the situation at Gunn for so many of the students and parents. The 5% are so very active and visible that they create a reputation for the rest of us who are struggling to raise our children to do their own work, be genuine, find their true path, and not arrive at adulthood with a fake resume manufactured by their parents. It is indeed insulting to be lectured to by someone who has not only contributed the problem, but is here to tell us how to do this in spite of it.

Posted by Chris Kenrick, Palo Alto Weekly Staff Writer, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 19, 2013 at 3:45 pm

To Disappointed,

Julie Lythcott-Haims has a child at Gunn who was, she said, "#mortified" that she was speaking there.

Posted by disappointed in you Dean Julie, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Nov 19, 2013 at 3:48 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Sigh, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Nov 19, 2013 at 4:14 pm

@disappointed yes first child is freshman. And she's on the PIE advisory board so that's better than site council. Has been big in PIE for years. And you are totally right gunn parent it is arrogance but also ignorance of Gunn. It's not mapping to her preconceptions so why not just go with the preconceptions?

Posted by alyssa, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Nov 19, 2013 at 4:24 pm

Anything , whether real or disingenuous that keeps telling our kids that its okay to follow their own path is a worthwhile message. Its a hard environment at Gunn. My kids hated it. And it seems to keep getting even more competitive and destructive. I think the better lecture would have been how do you follow your passions and find out who you are in such an environment ? How do you end up feeling good about yourself if you are not following the absolute perfect path in this environment? Who helps you? How do you accomplish this worthy goal would have been a much better lecture . Perhaps with some concrete tools, students and parents could be supportive of each other for the benefit of all.

Posted by Late to the game Lythcott-Haims, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 19, 2013 at 5:01 pm

Julie Lythcott-Haims,

Apparently you failed to notice that your colleagues at Stanford have been at this game for a long time now. It's called Challenge Success, google it.

Parents are going out of their way to find different pathways for their kids, and you go in to speak to 15 year olds - do you even know what that means?

and you say "it's a myth that our parents always know what's best for us."

Takes the cake that you speak about the "other" 3000 schools when you are Stanford and Harvard.

This is SO annoying.

Posted by Late to the game Lythcott-Haims, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 19, 2013 at 5:05 pm

I guess Haims has a child at Gunn, all the more reason to know better.

Posted by Concerned about Too Much Homework, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 19, 2013 at 5:26 pm

It's gratifying to hear that other parents have the same concerns about the intensity and college-focus at Gunn. As a freshman parent from out of district, most of what I've heard so far at back-to-school nights and other orientation sessions have to do with college preparation and applications, not about learning for learning's sake and using the time at Gunn to discover your interests and go deep.

The homework load itself is so massive that it prevents students from exploring other interests at all. With 2-3 hours per night, when would a student have time to discover their passions? The system at Gunn is not designed to produce lifelong learners; rather, it's designed to to have students learn for the next test. Teachers, sadly, do not seem to try to coordinate their schedules at all, and students are forced to study for multiple exams per week. How can anyone learn deeply when they are forced to learn such quantity?

It's disingenuous of the Gunn counseling staff to bring the Stanford dean to school and talk to the kids about making these choices, while the hours of homework preclude students from exploring anything at all beyond school. If anything, telling students to explore their passions and then preventing them from doing so seems likely to cause yet additional stress on students.

I hope that the Gunn counseling staff and administration view these commments and look into these issues. On the first day of school in August, my bright child was full of hope, excitement, and eagerness to truly learn. This morning, this same child was begging me to drink his first cup of coffee so that he could stay awake in 1st period after staying up until midnight in anticipation of two big tests this week. Heartbreaking.

Posted by Sigh, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Nov 19, 2013 at 5:47 pm

"I hope that the Gunn counseling staff and administration view these commments and look into these issues."

Well now I know you are new here. Welcome to PAUSD. Don't be afraid to take your child out to private school if you feel in your gut it is not working. Kids deserve to be in schools where they can thrive not just survive. I regret sticking with it. I should have bailed. It is damaging to be so sleep deprived (see front page of NYT today about strong relationship between sleep and depression. Run.

Posted by parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 19, 2013 at 5:56 pm

I'd be interested to know what private school you are sending your child to. From speaking to friends with kids at private middle and high schools the stress is just as high. I guess it's more acceptable to accept if you are paying for it.

Posted by Gunn Parent, a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 19, 2013 at 5:59 pm

Concerned, Thank you for another view into this troubling culture! I agree that this bringing in people to say these things while continuing a system in which a student who actually does this will be slammed for it is really awful. A number of things have to change for this situation to improve. We parents need to ignore the marketing by elite schools and help our students find schools that will accept genuine students and help them thrive. This means refusing to be drawn into the boasting and posturing around college entrance. I would not be proud if I helped my child cheat his way into anything. Mainly, though, a parent can help by being the guardian of the child's true self rather than a puppeteer.

Posted by neighbor, a resident of another community
on Nov 19, 2013 at 6:30 pm

Many of the letters above just reinforce why Julie Lythcott-Haims' message to students was so necessary. She has a critical message for you and an empowering one for the kids.

Attacking the messenger doesn't help the situation.

Posted by So right, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 19, 2013 at 6:48 pm

Ms Julie is so right...I have seen many kids over the years enroll in majors that they really didn't want to, but did so to pacify their parents or in the case of many [portion removed] students, to avoid "shaming their families". I have even had a couple of doctors who really wanted to be veterinarians, but that was not acceptable to their parents. I have two close [portion removed] friends whose parents told them," MD or PhD are your choices". They are both currently in careers they do not like very much, and they console themselves by reminding themselves that their families are happy.

How can anyone feel happy, fulfilled, or successful working at something they never wanted to do? In the case of the aforementioned doctors, neither one was a very good doctor, and really SHOULD have done something they were more suited for.

It is best for a young person to make their own niche in society and do what the like and are good at. it is hard to be happy otherwise.

Posted by neighbor, a resident of another community
on Nov 19, 2013 at 7:18 pm

Over-parenting is certainly not limited to South Asians in Palo Alto. It's an equal opportunity mistake -- it applies to parents of all backgrounds and races.

Posted by live and let live, a resident of Green Acres
on Nov 19, 2013 at 7:19 pm

Judging other people's parenting has become quite a spectator sport. Seems to be an even more popular trend than helicopter parenting.

While she has many valid things to say, providing support rather than judgment is usually the better path to change.

Posted by live and let live, a resident of Green Acres
on Nov 19, 2013 at 7:21 pm


Maybe I meant "Judging other people's parenting has become quite a blood sport...."

Posted by Sal, a resident of Community Center
on Nov 19, 2013 at 7:28 pm

"Concerned about too much Homework": Your expectations are unrealistic. You're complaining about 2-3 hours of homework for a freshman? They are taking 6 classes (discounting PE) and you expect less homework? In 7th and 8th grade, my child had 3+ hours of homework (and she is not a slow worker). As a freshman, she now has 4+ hours of homework and is in regular lanes. She has had 3 years of over-the-top, challenging teachers! And complaining about Midnite bedtime? My child often goes to sleep at that time. Yes, many of our high school students are sleep-deprived. At break time in class today, 6 kids had their heads on their desks. In answer to your question, no, there isn't enough free time for our students. My son played 4 years of club sport but had to give it up once he got to Paly due to the workload. Our athletes sacrifice their grades for sports.

Posted by Late to the game Lythcott-Haims, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 19, 2013 at 7:46 pm

Concerned about too much homework,

"If anything, telling students to explore their passions and then preventing them from doing so seems likely to cause yet additional stress on students."

I couldn't agree more, and parent shaming coming from schools, teachers or former teachers needs to stop.

Julie Lythcott Haims

"It can be hard to know your passion when you're this young, but you ought to be interested in figuring it out,"

Why should 10th graders be interested in figuring this out, or knowing their passion now? As opposed to in their lifetime?

Could it be that it's for the college application?

What is passion for a 10th grader anyway? A sport, and instrument, a volunteer activity, a hobby collecting stamps, finding the cure for cancer.

These have all been turned into college application requirements.

Colleges have sucked the air out of the normal lives of teenagers, learning in High School has been hijacked by competition which teachers and schools creating a batch of doers not learners. Parents are playing the only game in town.

Suggestion Mrs Haims,

Please take your road show to the colleges and ask them to just do a LOTTERY and let's stop this "passion" stuff.

Why else would a former dean of college ADMISSIONS be speaking about passion?

Posted by Julie Lythcott-Haims, a resident of Green Acres
on Nov 19, 2013 at 9:17 pm

Hi everyone,

Thanks for taking the time to read the article about my talk to Gunn sophs and juniors last week.

For the record: I have two kids in the PAUSD. One is in 7th grade and the other is a freshman at Gunn. I've lived in Palo Alto since 2002. I am on the Advisory Boards of PIE, Challenge Success, and Foundation for a College Education. Bill, I am familiar with your work and I respect it. I was not Dean of Admission; I was Dean of Freshmen and in that role my job was to pay attention to the transition of kids into Stanford University. Our students came from all walks of life, not just the handful of schools in the nation that are like Gunn academically or demographically. Yet regardless of background, over the years I saw too many parents involved in the decision-making and problem solving you'd expect an 18-22 year old to be able to handle on their own. I am interested in each of us charting our own path and growing into healthy self-actualized adults.

I thought Chris Kenrick did a marvelous job of capturing an overview of what was a 25 minute talk. The students did a lot of hand-raising in response to questions I asked about Gunn culture (one of which was reported in the story). My overarching themes were 1) don't fear failure; and 2) find your own voice and honor it. I gave a lot of context for my opinions, and praised parents for wanting the best for their kids.

Like almost all of you it seems, I am very concerned about many aspects of life as a kid in Palo Alto. From the sheer amount of homework our PAUSD kids face, to the level of pressure they feel to perform at a certain level, I think we ought to be very concerned and we ought to identify the source of the problem in addition to focusing on solutions such as counseling. I am writing a book based on my observations as Dean and as a Palo Alto parent (to be published by Holt, 2015). Sounds like I can count on a healthy debate when it comes out!


Posted by Dan Cornell, a resident of Los Altos
on Nov 19, 2013 at 9:23 pm

I loved this report and the arguments that followed as well. Students need to be challenged by well intended adults other than their parents. They will be exposed to differing views for the rest of their lives and they are ready in High School to consider these concepts. I have a son who graduated from Northwestern University and a son in High School now. I also have a 7th grader. I would be fine with all of them attending a talk by Julie Lythcott-Haims and Madeline Levine. I don't see this as "piling on parents." I see this as messaging to kids that you should make sure you are aligned with the path on which you travel. Kids may only hear a small portion of this message now as "Mom and Dad aren't perfect." In time, each will learn that they must choose their own path even if it is identical to what their parents suggested.

Posted by disappointed in you Dean Julie, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Nov 19, 2013 at 9:42 pm

Julie, I am sure that you mean well but you just are not able to comment with a basis of knowledge about the Gunn experience. You have 2 months of experience with high school in Palo Alto and anyone will tell you that freshman year, especially first semester, is the easiest part of HS in PA. The difference between elementary/middle and then high school is like the difference between rollerblades and a Lotus. It is just not the same thing. I understand full well what you experienced at Stanford. If you want to try to deal in stereotypes and project that experience onto Gunn you can definitely find those parents but that is not the bulk of what is happening. I already described what that is; parents are trying to help kids cope with an obscene workload and a hypercompetive environment that would make Durkheim reconsider whether he went far enough in describing the downside of anomie.

I think you should consider 3 points:

1. Do you really know what you are talking about about Gunn? Are Gunn students, the whole population and not just the top 10%, really similar enough to Stanford students to think that the ideas you have about helicopter parents really apply there. Could you be seeing something else but because you have a mental model of what you expect to find, think you are seeing what fits your model?

A third of the kids at Gunn are not only not going to Stanford, they are not going to a 4 year college. But they still have to contend with all that pressure, stress, and homework. Their parents didn't assign that homework. Their parents are trying to keep them sane and on the path (or off the path, as it were) and get them to do the homework. Which leads to:

2. Is it really right to go to a high school full of 14 and 15 year olds and tell them that basically they shouldn't listen to their parents? I know that is a rough summary but I have issues with that, given that I know that in that room are a lot of boys and girls who are young and who don't want to do their homework or clean their rooms or turn down their music or stop smoking pot. There are a lot of kids who struggle. Their issue is not 'how do I find my bliss and begin building that boat to sail around the world' it's how can I prevent flunking out of Chem so that I can still go to Fresno State. The counselor won't help them, they have no TA to turn to, their friends are all focused on their AP classes, they feel like a total loser, their self esteem is plummeting, and mom might be the only port in the storm. Now you say "find your bliss and mom doesn't know what's best for you." Really?

perhaps you would like to address that kind of commentary to the honor society but the average kid at Gunn does not need to hear that from you. It does not help. Mom does frankly know best that that kid needs to do his homework, stop cutting class because he can't stand to be there, stop smoking weed, and try to survive Gunn high school even though he is not a homework machine. MYOB comes to mind.

3. I think you are being used by a Gunn administration that likes and cultivates the idea that the problem is the parents not the school. But the school is responsible for the homework, the alienation, the lack of a reasonable counseling program (they really broke and bought that one), the hypercompetitiveness, the pushing of APs and elite colleges, the promoting of the high test scores, the lack of enough places in lower lane classes, and other issues that you have yet to experience (and probably never will due to who you are). Gunn is responsible for what they do -- not the parents. To blame parents is a cop-out and since you are writing a book about how horrible mothers are with all their helicoperness, Gunn loves you. Yay. it's not our fault. Look, a Stanford expert to say so. You are being used and you should get the lay of the land at Gunn before you step up to the podium and tell those kids that if they are stressed to blame their moms.

I suggest that you lay low and try to see what is happening -- really happening -- at Gunn before offering up advice to our kids about our parenting.

Congrats on your book. But let's see you get a teen through high school here before you tell my child that I am doing it wrong.

Posted by Gunn dad, a resident of Gunn High School
on Nov 19, 2013 at 9:42 pm

I share the frustration of some parents with this topic. It's fine to exhort students to follow their inner compass, find their own ideas of success, etc. But if you create an institution that routinely gives students hours of homework a night, underlines one measure of success that most can't reach, and gives them no concrete way to engage adults about their academic futures -- you might as well not bother. In fact, I wonder who is really supposed to benefit from a talk like that. For my kids, they might well end up feeling worse about themselves because they can't figure out how to follow their bliss.
The truth is, Gunn needs reform in order to work for many of the students who attend it. Ms. Lythcott-Haims may not have the experience yet to understand that, so it may not be fair to blame her for delivering an unhelpful message. I do think that the other adults on the stage know it, and choose not to talk about it.

Posted by Late to the game Lythcott-Haims, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 19, 2013 at 9:50 pm

Mrs. Haims,

Thank you for clarifying you are not Admissions.

I'm all for other qualified adults speaking to kids, and I'm learning you are imminently qualified as a former Dean of Students at Stanford nonetheless.

It's still really annoying to have the same message coming from educators, when homework load can't be figured out. When an industry has developed thanks to the College board, and college admissions offices off the backs of youth. And when learning in school has been supplanted by doing school.

Whose specialty is it to fix the underlying problems? Instead of rehashing what we already know?

Your observation
"I saw too many parents involved in the decision-making and problem solving you'd expect an 18-22 year old to be able to handle on their own."

That's because you saw Stanford students who HAD to have their parents involved in every aspect of their life to do what they did. What was that? Perfect GPA, perfect SAT, concerto violinists, olympic athletes.

Stanford asked for perfect, that's what perfect looks like.

Not that this will happen anytime soon, but if Stanford would take B and C students with little or no extracurriculars, you would have a completely different brew.

Please consider asking the tough questions of the college industry and not just focus on parents.

Posted by HoverNoMore, a resident of Green Acres
on Nov 20, 2013 at 2:49 am

When I asked the principal of Gunn, back in 2010 or so, why the teachers weren't required to post grades in the online system where parents could have access to them like they do at Palo Alto Prep (so that an involved parent could keep an eye on a struggling student and identify when they are in need of help), the response I got was that too many Gunn parents would make the lives of their students miserable if they saw an A- or a B.

My daughter embarked on her college search thinking she wouldn't get in to any college (and she had very good test scores, only 1 AP class and average grades). She got in to 10 4 year schools. Unfortunately, this is what Gunn does to the self esteem of normal kids.

Unfortunately, reading parenting books and latest research on effective parenting is not required reading for parents. Therefore, the kids are stuck with the parents they have, all well meaning, but not necessarily positive influences on their kids.
Kudos Julie for letting the students know that it's ok to stand up to tiger parents and just say no.

Posted by Mom, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 20, 2013 at 5:47 am

The previous poster makes a great point that the admissions gauntlet into a college like Stanford requires an unusual level of student and parent commitment. I would encourage the speaker, as she prepares her book with advice about the high school years that she has yet to navigate as a parent, to go spend some time with students at the local community colleges or Cal State East Bay. Ask those students if their parents helped them and ask them how they feel about their college choices.

Posted by C, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 20, 2013 at 7:40 am

Paly student here so I'm not going to take sides on the Gunn issue but I think that you parents should stop making the "ignorance" claim. She's a parent of a student, involved with PIE, and did admissions across the street -- seems to me as if she'd know her stuff. On another note, where are all the Gunn students? I'd like to hear their opinion about admissions because at Paly admissions aren't as cut-throat as many of you are implying they are at Gunn. Sure, we do have a push towards name-brand schools - "Ohmygosh, Harvard? Stanford? Yale? Duke? etc." but we do recognize there are other top schools.

On another note, keep the college map! I've loved looking at it since I was a freshman, and it's really nice to have a place where it's easy to find who's going where as opposed to asking around Paly.

Posted by pmychang, a resident of Gunn High School
on Nov 20, 2013 at 8:17 am

I don't think there is anything wrong with what Julie is saying, but she is saying it to the wrong audience.

My husband is a professor and advisor to Stanford undergrads and during his training he was told basically that his mission was to undo everything these students had to to do get to Stanford. In other words, to get into Stanford these students had to be focused, disciplined and competitive. But ironically Stanford wants their graduates to be broad, inquisitive, and not afraid to take chances, i.e. lifelong learners and explorers. So as soon as they are admitted their advisors are instructed to tell them to take a broader set of courses, to take chances, to work outside their comfort zone. My husband pointed out that if this is the student they want to shape, they really should change their selection criteria.

In my opinion, students vary widely in the high school years and some need more guidance than others. Putting kids in the position of pushing back against their parents puts even more responsibility on their shoulders. Its like saying, if you are miserable, its your fault for letting your parents do this to you. Structurally, high school kids are least well positioned to do this. And some parents are just going to behave badly when their kids push back-kids are not known for being especially tactful or reasonable at this age. The time for pushing back and exploring is probably in college--colleges can do more by offering a common core, or breadth requirements, or having a certain number of classes pass not pass.

Posted by disappointed in you Dean Julie, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Nov 20, 2013 at 8:37 am

pmychang: Exactly, thank you for saying that much better than I did.

I do think that Gunn is taking advantage of the fact that Julie has a particular message which is "break free of your parents" which is properly aimed at college students but which is consonant with Gunn's overall responsibility-avoidance strategy. They were probably very excited to stick her up on the stage so that she can validate their lack of interest in reform by blaming all the "tiger moms" out there. Mr. J's comment about moms texting in about grades was just pathetic.

Gunn does not want to reform. It will go to any length to avoid the serious internal soul searching that it needs to do in order to make it a more welcoming and less competitive place. The teachers believe that all that homework is somehow rigorous and that they are toughening the kids up. Gunn is a place that takes pride in being so difficult and as the student survey results show, it is needlessly difficult for students. That is the crux issue for Palo Alto -- do you want schools that have workloads in high school that amount to a hazing ritual and which inculcate learning habits that Stanford and other elite schools have to work to undo once your student arrives? Why would you want that?

And Julie, why would you want to be part of that? Please do not allow your message to be appropriated by Gunn HS this way. The correct audience for your message is parents of incoming freshman at elite schools and the kids themselves, not my 15 year old who can't do his hw because it is too much.

If you want to help the teens at Gunn, advocate for less homework and better counseling.

Posted by Meine, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 20, 2013 at 9:02 am

My son recently graduated from Berkeley; his first year there he was surprised that he had less homework and stress there than at Paly. He actually had an easier time at Berkeley than many of the other students there, because they had to transition to a higher amount of homework! especially reading! writing, math, and science, that they were simply not prepared for. This was an amount that he was perfectly used to after four years at Paly--in fact, some of it, especially biology, philosophy, and literature, were actually repeat work of his junior and senior years at Paly! During his freshman year at B erkeley, he actually felt like he could kick back and take it easy for the first time since Jordan Middle School!

We have concluded that PAUSD assigns too much homework and stress at a time when kids are impressionable and not really ready to take it. Save it for senior year!

Posted by Former Paly parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 20, 2013 at 9:21 am

I'd like to recommend another Weekly article on this topic from a couple of years ago called "Driven to Succeed: How we are depriving teens of a sense of purpose." It addresses many of the same points in this thread, including a lot of information from teen interviews. Dean Julie is quoted in the article, as are Stanford professors Bill Damon and Denise Pope, and other local professionals working with youth.

Web Link

Posted by Late to the game Lythcott-Haims, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 20, 2013 at 9:31 am

Telling kids to find a passion when they are in an academic penitentiary is cruel.

Posted by Get over yourselves, a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 20, 2013 at 11:37 am

Everyone is to blame. But think about this...what if parents banded together and did not ALLOW (or force, whichever it might be) their children to take such a heavy load, and what if the PAUSD made STRICT rules around homework. What if the math lanes weren't so extreme? What if that JUST WASN"T OFFERED. What if that is what Palo Alto was churning out? Do you think Harvard and Stanford would just suddenly stop accepting kids from Palo Alto? NO.
They wouldn't. In fact I bet it would make headlines that Palo Alto is an example of a well regarded community that is making strides in life balance and is churning out kids who are THINKERS who are GOOD, WELL BALANCED students that are a model for our society.

We live in a vacuum here in Palo Alto. There is life beyond studying people. There is life beyond extreme academics. What are you all trying so hard to prove? That your offspring are as smart as you? That your offspring are smarter than you? Many people in this town need a reality check. Get some perspective. Maybe for many people they think that if you haven't gone to an IVY league or similar school you will work at minimum wage job for your whole life? Is that the fear? Is the fear that they won't be CONNECTED to the "right" people? How about worrying about your child's connection to their family. How about worrying about their ability to feel connected to themselves and have some true friendships based on nothing other than just that....friendship. How about feeling blessed to live in this beautiful environment and have so many opportunities here WITHOUT feeling like EVERY SINGLE OPPORTUNITY out there is something your child needs to EXCEL at? Why can't your child just work as a volunteer and help local charities...why must they START their OWN charity to get water to African nations? What about being a little more present?

And believe it or not kids in other parts of our country, who will turn out to be successful important members of society do not begin building their resumes in kindergarten. They play sports for FUN and not to be ranked!!! Play golf? Well then join JrPGA or what is the point? Swim? Swim for PASA otherwise why would you possibly swim? Play soccer? Join a competitive year around travel team. Why ELSE would you possibly spend your time kicking around a ball if you aren't climbing the ranks in that sport? Play chess? Why aren't you doing a tournament in Sacramento every weekend? Why would you possibly learn that game for FUN...something to play with your family and friends?

Give these kids a chance to breath and have some fun with their lives without EVERY SINGLE LITTLE THING being judged. With the great teachers available to our youth in PAUSD these kids are ALL going to learn. ALL will get a good education even without AP's.

STOP the panic. You are ruining it for everyone else around here who just wants to have happy, motivated, inspired children who feel balance in their lives and understand that academics are really only ONE SMALL element in the scheme of life. Don't forget....Steve Jobs didn't go to Harvard. Instead of killing himself to get in there in high school he was spending his time being creative.

Posted by Julie Lythcott-Haims, a resident of Green Acres
on Nov 20, 2013 at 11:50 am

Hi again -

This debate is so important. I really appreciate all of your voices. There's some good feedback for me in your posts, such as how the HS audience is different from a college audience. Thanks for that -

When you draw conclusions about what I said or what you think I meant, keep in mind that you're reading a few quotes excerpted from a lengthy talk. For example the line, "It can be hard to know your passion when you're this young, but you ought to be interested in figuring it out," was preceded by something to the effect of "you're told to go find your passion but what does that even MEAN?" And then followed with some advice about how to think about passion, which was summed up in the article as things that "bring them joy and align with their values." Another example is the line, "it's a myth that our parents always know what's best for us." The context for this was the subset of parents who are narrowly prescriptive of kids' choices.

My purpose is not to blame parents. I myself am a parent struggling with the right degree of push and pull in a hyper-competitive community. Success to me is kids who like themselves, are kind to others, and have the life skills necessary to go out in the world and make something of their talents and skills. I think we parents need support and guidance in doing what we know is right for our kids' mental health even if that means our kid won't get admitted to School X. Yes, the colleges are part of the problem.

I am a huge advocate for less homework. As I said earlier I'm on the Board of Challenge Success which is making strides in this arena not only in Palo Alto, but in the broader Bay Area community and in fact nationwide. In the hand-raising segment of the talk I engaged the students around their perception of the homework load. I wanted them to see each others' hands shoot up and to know they aren't alone if they are feeling overwhelmed.

Everyone on this thread knows there's too much pressure on kids in our community. Yes the college admission process fuels it. So do our needs/egos/fears as parents. I'm interested in kids knowing that some of the adults around them see the pressure, think it's not okay, and want to do something about it. I'm one of them.


Posted by almostdonewithPAschools, a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 20, 2013 at 11:51 am

Sal, what was your point? That since your kid stays up till midnight and does nothing but homework, that's OK??? Adolescents NEED their sleep. Sleep deprivation can lead to future neurodegenerative diseases, similar to head injuries. This isn't a contest to see whose kid works the hardest. I started a teaching program to teach hish school science but quit over disgust at the whole system. I am glad my kids are almost done with school here and in retrospect, would have moved them out before HS. Grade school and middle schools here are great, but HS here provide very mediocre, non-creative programs (at least at Paly), not at all on par with many more mid-level less stressful schools around the country. Stress isn't good for anyone, haven't you read the medical journals? I have attended top level ivy leagues, state universities and community colleges. You can find good or bad teachers and programs at all of them. Find one that fits you and enjoy. BTW, many more students can go directly from a program at a CC into a well paying job compared to college.

Posted by Julie Lythcott-Haims, a resident of Green Acres
on Nov 20, 2013 at 11:56 am

@Get Over Yourselves: I didn't see your message prior to my last post, so I'm responding to say YES. And THANK YOU. You offered the kind of unvarnished reality check more of us need to feel braver embracing. This is the very movement I'm interested in. Toward that end, I'd love to know who you are.

Posted by And get out of your bubble, a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 20, 2013 at 2:28 pm

BRAVO Get Over Yourselves!! I second EVERYTHING you wrote. In addition to those points, those who are fueling the crazy train (and IMO, the schools and the parents and the colleges are all guilty) around here should consider these:

1) No one in any of the greater metropolitan areas (other than Ivy League and Stanford types) gives a crap where anyone attended college. I have seen people play the "I graduated from Stanford (or sub in any Ivy)" card in social situations in other regions (seemingly due to a lack of social skills that would enable them to break the ice with another topic), and it always falls flat. It actually works against them in terms of making meaningful connections with people. This is not to say that any of these schools are substandard. Of course they're not. They offer fabulous educations. But it is not a good lesson to teach our kids that their self-worth and identity should derive entirely from their academic achievements.

2) Speaking of social skills, how about giving our kids time to work on them? Why are we locking them up with school and homework every waking moment of the day? Don't we want our kids to be able to attend a party as an adult without wearing their Google Glass? Talk about a lack of depth.

3) We are not behaving as though we value education. The whole set-up -- the fostering of a system where kids are pitted against other kids in an insanely non-sensical, hyper-competitive, stepford environment -- suggests that we are all a bunch of dumb-dumbs who don't prioritize raising thoughtful children. It's embarrassing that the same community that supposedly values education has endorsed a system that requires colleges to deprogram the automatons who come out of it. It's telling that the institutions who uphold these insane admissions standards aren't creative enough to think outside of the box about how to create entrance standards that don't require the kids to be deprogrammed. Don't our kids deserve better than this?

To Ms. Lythcott-Haims: thank you for raising very important points. I am sorry that you have to explain to people how to read news articles. Of course there was context around the things you said. This is a very important discussion, and I appreciate you spending your time raising these issues.

Posted by Late to the game Lythcott-Haims, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 20, 2013 at 2:46 pm


Somewhere between your last post about "my purpose is not to blame parents" you turned over to gush at "get over yourselves'" rant, and that this is "the very movement you are interested in"?

I think there are two movements going on here. Those who tell others to get over themselves, and those who would like to stop the noise of parent bashing for whatever reason.

A movement that judges other parents and tells people to get over themselves is arrogant. Worst of all is arrogance in the name of good for others.

This being said, thank you for admitting that colleges are part of the problem. We can thank colleges for AP's, lanes of all speeds, and for turning volunteering into a resume builder. Great to know you are on the board of Challenge Success, it sounds to me the same message is getting re-packaged in other ways, and the sting the parents continues. Please consider some sting to colleges and the Homework masters.

Perusing the article form a few years ago about the guy William Damon who thinks the problem is "meaninglessness" at this age, I think you guys at Stanford have some issues about reality yourselves.

I cannot think of a better time to have personal space for "meaninglessness" than youth.

Absent letting a kid lose themselves to video games or Facebook or the depths of misery in Tumblr, I think the old fashioned stuff works and believe it or not most parents are doing encouraging this in their families.

Family meals
Physical activity
Religious activities

Homework and the college application process interferes with all of the above. Passion has no business here unless you are trying to document life for a college essay.

I want the anti-passion movement

Posted by Let's Get Real, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Nov 20, 2013 at 4:13 pm

What is needed here is an economic perspective. We have the 1% talking to the 1% about how to find passion. Let's focus instead on how the College Industrial complex is suctioning money out of the wallets of working families to pay for over testing, admission fees and, if you get in, excessive tuition. Let's talk about how the 1% have the resources to pay for tutors, college coaches and elite camps to better their chances of competing in this broken system. We should not be focusing on how to get a leg up on the competition or finding individual solutions. We should be developing a political consciousness that challenges the dominant paradigm that pits our children against each other for a perceived shrinking pie. Let's talk about how some businesses in California fail to pay their fair share of taxes to support education through tax minimization (transfer pricing, the double Irish etc) or through the gift of Prop 13. Let's arm our kids with the political consciousness so that they understand that they are participating in a system that pits them against each other only to leave them burdened with debt. Instead of listening to Dean Julie for an hour, the time would have been better spent drafting letters to our state and national representatives to ask them to repeal Prop 13, close the tax loopholes which allow Apple, Google, Cisco etc not to pay their fair share, and to provide for student debt relief. Let's Get Real!

Posted by Observer, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 20, 2013 at 4:42 pm

I like what get real just wrote and want to acknowledge it. Thanks for posting that dose of reality.

However, I do want to reply to Ms. Lythcott Haims about being a "strong advocate" of homework limits. In Palo Alto we have a homework policy that limits work that can be assigned to 10 minutes per grade level per night. That policy was was the outcome of several years of work by parent leaders in the community from We Can Do Better Palo Alto including Darren Neuman, Sally Bemus, and Ken Dauber. They worked hard to get the committee to be formed, to push the school board to make it a focused goal (thanks to Barbara Klausner) and to formulate the policy. There were other parents on the committee, as well as teachers who worked very hard on it.

However, it has received no implementation or monitoring whatsoever by the district. The board hasn't received any report at all of how the implementation is going, whether schools are using the policy, whether the district is checking to see if its working, no data has been collected, and nothing has been done or said. The board and the district staff just adopted the policy and abandoned the field.

I don't remember Ms. Lythcott-Haims being involved in the homework policy. But since you are a "strong advocate" of homework limits perhaps you would like to take the lead in finding out what has been done in the way of implementation.

Being an advocate is not the same is being a supporter. Advocacy is action. Advocate is a verb. There's nothing wrong with being a supporter of homework limits but if you want to be an advocate then please advocate.

In terms of "joining a movement" and Challenge Success -- I am not sure what you are talking about. Challenge Success has not made much of an inroad at Gunn. Gunn is not a CS school. It likes to throw lectures and trot Denise (and now you, I guess) out to give a talk but it has not implemented the CS program. its participation is shallow and self-serving. It's parents mean well but get little done.

I think CS is great but PAUSD pays it lip service. So do you intend to be part of a lip service "movement"? What good will that do anyone? Do you intend to turn CS into an actual advocacy situation in which it stands up on issues like homework at Gunn (including in the honors and AP classes)?

Finally, you posted above that you care about issues other than counseling. I presume this is a reference to advisory at Gunn. You are about to learn how terrible Gunn counseling is, and the lesson will be harsh, starting next year when your child will see a counselor once if lucky, and wait hours to change a schedule. I must say that it is a bit odd to see you advocating against advisory when you were responsible for overseeing a high-touch freshman advising program and full well know the benefits of that connectoin between students and advisors.

This whole exchange is just very disheartening. [Portion removed.]

Posted by C, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 20, 2013 at 7:03 pm

Regarding the 10 minutes/grade, it doesn't apply if you're in an honors course. Which means that APs, Chem H, Physics H, honots languages, and english H don't count towards the total.
Regarding thr "freshman with 3-4 hours HW," freshman year, I took Spanish 3H and the highest lane math and still had less than 90 minutes/grade. HW shouldn't top 4 hours a night freshman year (seriously? I'm a senior taking 5 APs and it rarely tops that for me) unless an essay was procrastinated on or studying is done right before multiple tests without being spaced out.

Posted by Julie Lythcott-Haims, a resident of Green Acres
on Nov 20, 2013 at 7:22 pm

@Observer, No. When I said we "ought to identify the source of the problem in addition to focusing on solutions such as counseling" I was referring specifically to mental health counseling (which I am in favor of). And as for advisory, I support that as well for the very reasons you've inferred a person like me should.

Posted by Reality check, a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 20, 2013 at 7:24 pm

My observation after many years as a parent in the district is that there have been many talks about reducing stress aimed at parents and kids. I haven't heard of any talks like that for teachers and administrators. When parents complain they get told that they are the problem. This just seems like more of the same.

Posted by Gunn dad, a resident of Gunn High School
on Nov 20, 2013 at 7:29 pm

Advisory at Gunn was killed in the spring by Gunn staff and the school board, after parents tried to get it adopted as part of a Gunn committee. It's too late to support it now.

Posted by disappointed in you Dean Julie, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 20, 2013 at 7:47 pm

Thanks for clarifying that you support getting to the root causes of stress, reducing homework, and implementing advisory at Gunn. That is very refreshing and I hope you run for school board on that platform. I will support you.

It's great to hear that you support these things because even though these have been hot topics for the past 4 years and there has been a lot of advocacy going on, and you have been very involved in PIE and so forth I have never seen or heard your positions on these issues or seen you at any meetings of the school board advocating for them.

Good to know what you think privately anyway.

Posted by Save our Students!, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Nov 20, 2013 at 8:14 pm


I applaud your position on homework reduction. It seems like there is consensus in the education community that manageable homework, enough sleep, and balance in life are crucial for our children.

So, if this is the right approach, why wait?

How can we make this happen at Gunn now -- not next year, but now?

With your influence and involvement at Gunn, how can you help make an immediate difference for our kids -- including your daughter?

If we can make this change now, then it will make a significant and positive difference in the lives of the our students who are at Gunn today. What is the best approach for us parents, and for you, as a community leader, to ensure that Gunn does the right thing now?

Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 20, 2013 at 8:26 pm

Instead of putting the onus on Julie, why don't you try to get all the parents in this community galvanized to make a change? It's not up to one parent. It's up to all parents. You have to be able to come to consensus as to what you want for your children. Do you go to parent meetings at the school? Do you attend site council meetings? If you want your voice heard, you have to speak up.

Posted by Late, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 20, 2013 at 9:05 pm


You might want to read the post from Observer. Also Gunn dad's post.

Two critical PARENT led initiatives have recently happened, one shot down by the board and school staff at Gunn about advisory, the other as Observer points out about homework policy.

"The board and the district staff just adopted the policy and abandoned the field."

I do not think Julie can help.

We need teachers to step up, school leaders, Principals, we need change from the inside, but that is not going to happen.

It's too complicated. Students have grown up to think this is normal.

I don't know how college admissions people sleep at night knowing they are doing nothing to stop this grand theft of youth lives with demands of APs and Honors classes and Awards and college application essays that have to prove relative value.

And now the new deal is to make students produce passion in High School too?

Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 20, 2013 at 9:16 pm

I think you may be missing the point. First of all, you state that two parent led initiatives were shut down. It should have been student led. Second, when Dr. Damon and Julie speak about passion, they are not necessarily saying you need a grandiose one, like curing cancer, they are saying it's helpful to have something worth working towards. That may be,as Dr. Damon say, starting a family or becoming a teacher, or it may be creating the new "Facebook". You have to do what speaks to you. Not what will necessarily make you a billion dollars. That won't make everyone happy. Thank goodness we have people who want to go into the professions that will make the world a better place at the expense of making themselves wealthy. You can't take your money with you. Hopefully, it you have a lot of it you will join Bill Gates in donating it to those who are less fortunate because of circumstances not under their control.

Posted by live and let live, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 20, 2013 at 9:25 pm

Being very honest here. You have great kids, and you are obviously doing a great job raising them. Neither they nor you are perfect, though, and I prefer my own style of raising my own kids to yours. Different kids have different needs and circumstances. You can be very judgmental, often coming from an ideological place, and there is no talking to you then. What's the word? Self-righteous, you can be very self-righteous.

You have an important message about kids learning independence and how to find their path - something parents WANT for their kids. How about sharing strategies rather than preaching and judging?

Posted by Late, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 20, 2013 at 9:40 pm


Are you sort of joking? Or does all this sound so nuts to me that I can't tell if it's real.

I disagree with the passion AP requirement in High School, or that passion at any age needs to have an output. You would add that passion should not pay either?

I think homework is sounding more useful than all this esoteric passion stuff which I hope someday anoother expert will prove is completely age inappropriate.

Posted by some of my own advice, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 21, 2013 at 8:46 am

I hope Ms. Haims' book sells to help pay her bills. But I wonder who will buy it. Helicopter parents won't pay money to be judged and preached to and non-helicopter parents won't need it. Given that Ms. Haims has the same "parenting" creds as the zillions of the rest of us, her expertise won't help sell her parenting advice either.

Rather, it sounds like it will be a "tell-all" book full of sad stories that will make a news splash because of the Stanford job she held. The media's spin will be the decade of Stanford University admissions officers – Ms. Haims' professional contacts and friends – who they will say are inept, misguided and blind. Her interviews will push to get her to criticize the accomplishments and emotional stability of the students in all those freshman classes she knew personally whom she'll have to say, to prove her point, did not deserve the Stanford admissions offer they received.

Dean Julie, is that really your take-away from all the people you worked with and got to know at Stanford? Really, Stanford's freshman dorm hallways are full of empty souls leading lives without purpose, ruined by their parents before they were old or enlightened enough to fight back?

Tread carefully. The parents you say are harming their children with over-involved parenting are parents who are checking in on grades to see if their children would be better off with different study habits or could use more prods to approach their teacher for help. Those who are in music lessons against their will may be children who love music and find themselves struggling to learn more difficult material but with effort and encouragement will get through it and enjoy their craft and accomplishments even more. Those who want to quit the football team may be the children who dreamed about playing football ever since pre-school but just realized that they are not the best on the team; their parents may see this as an opportunity for them to learn patience and humility so push them to stay on the team even though they sit on the bench more than they'd prefer.

I don't doubt that there are a few parents whose "help" may do more harm than good, but how big a problem is that in Palo Alto? A few do not make it pervasive.

IMHO writing a book and going on the circuit to sensationalize the few may put money in your pocket but you'll hurt the feelings of lots and lots of people at Stanford whom you have crossed paths with and think of as friends to do that.

Posted by respect our youth, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 21, 2013 at 9:04 am

Passion can come from many places and at different times for people. To state that a young high school student should have a passion just adds a new burden to their already jammed packed schedule. What would be more helpful to students would be to explain how they can begin to see that the things that they are most interested in and enjoy doing can lead to a passion.

For instance, if a student really enjoys a language, helping them to understand that tutoring in that language; developing or joining a club emphasis around the language and studying the culture surrounding that language may lead to discovering a passion. When student join every club, every sport, every AP just for the sake of the parents' pride or for filling out the blanks on their college aps they are doing everyone a disservice.

Schools could help by limiting the number of the AP classes (having challenging classes that do not "win" extra GPAs), making clubs require a certain percentage of participation in order to qualify for use on college aps, require attendance/participation to qualify for letters in sports and qualify what really constitutes community service (vs. let's walk the track all night at Stanford with our friends and call it service).

Let's work together as parents, teachers, counselors and community and respect our youth by allowing them a time of growth. Let them learn about themselves and what they want to become rather than what you want them to become. They just might surprise you.

Posted by disappointed in you Dean Julie, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 21, 2013 at 9:53 am

People interested in this topic should take a look at Terri Lobdell's excellent three part story. Here she addresses how excessive homework can destroy the opportunity to find a passion. It seems that there are parents already working on these issues in PAUSD. Maybe that's the "movement" you can join Dean Julie.

Web Link

This is consistent with Pope's research, which found students doing more than 3.5 hours of homework per day were at risk for higher stress levels affecting physical and mental health.

The National PTA and the National Education Association recommend guidelines, suggested by Duke University professor Harris Cooper, of 10 minutes per night per grade. For a high school senior, this means 120 minutes, or two hours. According to Harris Cooper, writing in the New York Times, "many high school district policies state that (students) should expect about 30 minutes of homework for each academic course they take, a bit more for honors or advanced placement courses." That level is "consistent with the conclusions reached by our research analysis," he writes.

This is the kind of empirical standard We Can Do Better Palo Alto is seeking. According to Dauber, it is the school district's responsibility to lead and make decisions about what constitutes a healthy, productive learning environment, and then set limits around that for everyone to live by.

According to Dauber, "the PAUSD board and administration have a tendency to not understand the negative effects of this competitive environment, and when pressed, they will say, 'It's not our fault; it's these other parents.' I think that is just a red herring. I don't believe there is a constituency for pressure. I think there is a constituency for rigorous, challenging curriculum, but I think that is utterly disconnected from insane quantities of homework."

Palo Alto school district superintendent Kevin Skelly, however, refuted Dauber's comment about the district board and administration: "I just don't hear that from my fellow administrators nor from the board."

He called the examination of homework issues, "good for our community."

"We look forward to the dialog about purpose and amount of homework."

Skelly said he believes there will be a wide range of views about desired amounts, with some saying there's too much, others too little and others just enough. He also said that differing student motivations and abilities affect time on task as well as the quality of the experience.

"If kids aren't motivated academically, homework means slogging around and reduces the quality and increases the time students spend on the topic. Contrast that to a student who loves Shakespeare or math or science. They will devote hours to this without considering it work of any kind!"

Skelly also stressed the importance of good communications and expectation-setting between teachers and students so that students are not spending too much time on assignments.

While Dauber sees the most urgent priority as "turning down the speed of the treadmill" by limiting homework hours, she also affirms the importance of focusing on the quality of the students' learning experience.

"I agree with Bill Damon about purpose, but it has to go hand-in-hand with a realistic assessment of volume," she said. "No one can find their purpose when they're doing three or four hours a night of meaningless busywork.

"We are putting students under so much time pressure and emotional pressure and fear. ... We have to turn down the homework-o-meter on these kids and give them time and space to think about the important questions of what do I want to do, who I am, and what can I do for others."

Posted by neighbor, a resident of another community
on Nov 21, 2013 at 12:12 pm

Julie Lythcott-Haims gives a speech encouraging students to be their own person/think for themselves -- which was no doubt an inspiration and relief to many of them -- and hovering PA parents predictably go ballistic. Many of the nasty letters here just reveal how relevant and important her advice was in the first place.

Palo Alto parents: Back-off. Learning how to deal with homework and decision-making is part of growing up.

Posted by RV a PA resident, a resident of Green Acres
on Nov 21, 2013 at 1:12 pm

RV a PA resident is a registered user.

@Some of my own advise - great post. I totally agree.

I beleive it is important to guide and sometimes push/motivate the child so that they can become interested in something and run with it. Obviously, as a parent you have to apply your judgment to see if the child is happy and want to be pushed/motivated in that direction and I think most parents are capable of recognizing that.

I especially find the Middle schools are only geared to teach to the average. The only way to stretch the students during this time is outside of school. It is the middle school years that determine where the students land in high school and I am very disappointed by the academic lanes in Middle schools.

No doubt there is stress in High schools but the bigger problems are mental health and isolation. The High schools are so huge and are not cognizant to issues relating to individual students. Focusing on parents and condemning their involvement is missing the problem. The issue is to have the High schools make each and every student feel included and able to excel and when problems exist to be able to recognize and address those problems. Gunn especially is sorely lacking in this.

Posted by live and let live, a resident of Green Acres
on Nov 21, 2013 at 2:00 pm

Maybe the lesson to parents is to find their own path for their families, rather than listening to judgmental and strident voices who think they have all the answers.

There is in schools an inherent power struggle between parents and teachers/administrators. I think Palo Alto actually handles it pretty well all things considered, by being inclusive of parents (at least at the teacher level) and having schools with choice programs to match different perspectives.

It's an old story for school administrators and teachers to marginalize parents through some form of "we know better than you" when parents have concerns or want input. Perhaps the giving families tools to help foster independence is better from someone who doesn't come from that administrator perspective, which has an inherent adversarial bias toward parents. I'm not suggesting JLH couldn't do it, just that she has to be willing to examine her own bias.

Posted by Late, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 21, 2013 at 3:49 pm

Denise Pope did her homework by getting data on the problem of too much HW and over scheduling.

There is no data on passion for teenagers. If anything, Stanford Freshman are the most capable of demonstrating "passion" for the college application and what that looks like now is that it was a coerced process?

Correcting the problem is not to have teenagers figure out the "right" passion, it's leaving them alone on this topic.

Van Gough surely had passion for painting, but passion can become crazy. Passion is doing a LOT more of something because you love it.

Is that really what teenagers need to discover? To know what to do a LOT of?

Of course there is a place for encouraging talent or saving a kid from drugs, but maybe the quest to help kids find passion is where the pushing come from.

I continue to think that passion in teenagers is related to college application essays. It's to prove something.

If colleges had lotteries, there would be no need to prove passion at such a young age.

Posted by parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 21, 2013 at 5:06 pm

I attended a presentation that Dr. Damon gave a couple of years ago. My take away was that if you had a purpose in life (not necessarily a passion) then you were more likely to be successful. Your purpose could be as grand as curing a cancer or as routine as wanting a family. It gives you reason to work hard in school. If you don't have a purpose, then it is somewhat pointless to work so hard in school for all A's because you are not giving yourself time to find something you want. We've all heard of kids who get to college and then wonder what they are doing there and regretting putting academics above all else. I think that is what Julie Lythcott Hains was trying to tell the kids. Take some time to figure out where you want to be and what you want to be doing so you have something real to work for, instead of empty A's.

Posted by live and let live, a resident of Green Acres
on Nov 21, 2013 at 5:26 pm

Good point.

It seems to me there's a strong culture at Stanford that students want to APPEAR as if they are doing well without having to work too hard, even as they have to work hard. It's seems to be a kind of warped badge of honor, or intelligence "test". In an environment where everyone is smart, that seems to be the social competition that goes on, being able to (or making it seem like one is able to) do things more easily than everyone else.

It's not the same everywhere, it's not a universal university culture. It seems to be the opposite at Cal, where the culture seems to place a heavy emphasis on the appearance of working hard even when one is not or doesn't need to be. A "face time" culture, which has its own drawbacks.

Maybe some of what Dr. LH has seen at Stanford is filtered through the lens of that culture. There was a book by an expert the district brought in to help with stress, and in it, the author recommends letting the kids use parents as an excuse to circumvent peer pressure. As in, I can't stay late, my mom's a real terror, etc. For those at Stanford who cannot succeed in making it look like they are able to do well without breaking a sweat, being able to blame parents for working hard and stressing about classes may be attractive cover.

I'm not saying there aren't pushy parents who need to let up on their kids. I'm just saying, being steeped in that culture may not lead to the best understanding on this issue.


Posted by neighbor, a resident of another community
on Nov 21, 2013 at 6:41 pm

This thread has become total nonsense. Lots of hysteria.

Many comments attacking Lythcott-Haims just because she encouraged kids to set their own goals and follow their own dreams are bizarre. And the obviously ignorant comments about about what goes on in Stanford's culture reek of defensiveness. This thread has gotten hysterical (all meanings intended).

Let your kids grow up an start making THEIR OWN plans, and follow their heads/hearts with confidence. High schoolers can do that with just a little help -- resist being overbearing and controlling. Allow your kid to grow and start make their own choices. Stay out of their way -- or, you may find them living at home when they are 40-year old children.

Posted by Late, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 21, 2013 at 7:36 pm


live and let live may be on to something, not the least is that some of us just try to decipher where some of the theories come from. Your seem to have your own lithurgy.

Let's get real has the best summary. It's the 1% talking to the 1% and 1% which is good enough to sell books.

But if Mrs. Haims wants to really rock the boat, I would urge her to really push back on homework loads and the college admissions game. If not for college admissions, we would never be having a conversation about "purpose" or passion for 14 and 15 year olds. Nobody would be grooming themselves for the gatekeepers.

If I wrote a book, I would say screw you gatekeepers, my kids are good enough with or without purpose or demonstrated passion. They will eventually get it, what counts is the journey, the moment, and right now it is their time to be kids.

Posted by Midtowner, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 21, 2013 at 9:56 pm

The overly aggressive way in which some parents write on this thread makes me think it is no wonder some of the kids in our schools are having problems. Look at their parents and how aggressive and self-righteous they are. People like that are the ones who are over-controlling as parents for sure.

Posted by easy to judge, hard to parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 22, 2013 at 7:16 am

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]

Posted by Student Advocate, a resident of Gunn High School
on Nov 22, 2013 at 1:36 pm

@ parent "I think you may be missing the point. First of all, you state that two parent led initiatives were shut down. It should have been student led."

This above comment was made in response to parents advocating for reduced homework district wide and advisory at Gunn. I would like to point out that both initiatives arose from student advocacy and years of student surveys that collected data on counseling and homework. Gunn ASB officers publicly advocated for teacher advisory at the school board which resulted in Titan 101. Titan 101 was intended to be rolled out to all grades after piloting it the first year with the freshman class. Students on both high school campuses endorsed the candidacy of Mr. Dauber because of his advocacy for improvements to counseling, homework policies and his support of the work free winter break; all student driven initiatives.

Students have been speaking out for years about the issues addressed in these postings. The district has been ineffective in addressing our students' concerns. Too often administrators place the blame on parents, saying they can't make changes because parents are demanding this rigorous competitive system for our children.

Parents who support a balanced life for their children need to speak up loudly and in unison to effect the change our children deserve.

Posted by Mom, a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Nov 22, 2013 at 2:19 pm

I agree it's time for Dr. Skelly and co to stop making Ken Dauber their enemy and make him and his supporters allies. The way Skelly acts is unprofessional . Dauber and his group got schoology and put pressure that every teacher should use it. Dauber pressed for the homework policy and got it. Skelly didn't enforced it. Dauber pressed for advisory at gunn and carried the ball further downfield with his team than anyone before in the past 20 years only to be stopped by Skelly at the one yard line. Here is a group that has been effective because they weren't afraid to stand up for the right thing. And dr. Skelly should work with people who show passion for our kids instead of putting them on a list and retaliating against them. [Portion removed.]

Posted by Midtowner, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 22, 2013 at 5:25 pm

I don't know why you say that homework policy has not been enforced. At Paly, where my child is, homework load WAS reduced. In math class, homework that used to be optional was made partially optional, and the optional part was not graded.

I saw my child's time spent on homework reduced. This year, as a senior, in high lane classes for math and science, my child has plenty of time for things other than homework and goes to bed by 11 PM at the latest. (and we use absolutely no tutors).

So, clearly, homework load WAS reduced, at least at Paly, and my child will be the first one to admit that there is less homework than there was a couple of years ago.

The problem is some people won't be happy until there no homework at all. Personally, I believe that homework is necessary for pratice and fluency be it in languages or in math for instance.

Posted by Midtowner, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 22, 2013 at 5:26 pm

My message above should read: Homework that used to be MANDATORY was made optional.

Posted by Michael, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Nov 23, 2013 at 12:29 am

As a senior at Gunn, I am quite annoyed by parents who presume to know more about the school than the students. Throughout my time at Gunn, my main sources of motivation have been myself and my peers, not my parents, and while I don't claim to speak for the entire student body, I believe that the "Tiger parent" stereotype is blown out of proportion. I have pushed myself through tough classes and fought hard to get A's, and I do admit that lots of classes give lots of useless busy-work, which should absolutely be made optional. That's the fault of the teachers. The counseling system is non-existent at best and generally more harmful than helpful to students (at least that's the consensus of all the students I've talked to). Titan 101 is a joke. So yes, Gunn does have its flaws. That being said, I think any student who fails to challenge himself at Gunn is wasting his time, and will be at a huge disadvantage in the college application process compared to his more motivated peers. My only regrets about my time at Gunn are not starting GRT last year and not pushing hard enough to get into APC Physics this year. My parents largely talked me into both of those decisions. Obviously your student shouldn't be staying up, crying over homework all night, but trust me, I've been in plenty of time-waster classes, and I'd take stressful over trivial any day. If your student's getting into a top-ranked school isn't a high priority, which I would find rather difficult to believe, considering that you bought a house in Palo Alto, that's fine, but don't presume that helicopter parenting is my sole motivation to get into Stanford.

My advice to parents: If your kid is academically self-motivated (it seems to me that most students are), that's great. Good for your kid, good for you. You've probably set a good example for him/her, and, at least from what I've been told, you can't go wrong with a Palo Alto education. If your kid is not self-motivated, it is your responsibility as a decent parent to fill the void. At least inform him/her of the potential consequences of squandering the great opportunities available in Palo Alto and encourage your kid to take the tough classes (within reason). Do it if you value your kid's future.

Dean Lythcott-Haims says "It's a myth that failure is bad." That's why she's the Dean of Freshmen, not an admissions officer.

Posted by Mean teachers, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 23, 2013 at 10:44 am

Since my son was a toddler, he has always had a passion for something. By the time he was in elementary school, teachers here were telling him that his passions and talents ( art, antiquities, and all things mechanical) were silly or useless or unprofitable. In first grade, he even had a teacher throw a book at him because he told her he was bored!

In middle school, he only had two teachers encourage his passions, which by then had expanded to include history, geography, and cultural anthropology (BTW, Intel currently employs eleven cultural anthropologists). The others told him that he would never. Be able to find decent employment doing what he loves.

In high school, his passions were still for art, mechanics, antique cars, trucks, trains, aircraft, history, diesel mechanics, etc, AND now photography and sociology. Still, his passions and talents were discouraged with the exception of one single teacher, and now he was being told that he was not college material. He was even discouraged from taking the SAT!!!

My son ended up going to a JC far from home, got a good job that he soon grew tired of, and now wishes to go to a four-year college and major in Russian or American history, even if it means he can only get a teaching job ( meaning, a job that does not pay well).

Good going PAUSD teachers and counselors! Thanx for telling my son that you have to do what society wants you to do, not what you want to do, in order to be successful.

Posted by Disappointed, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Nov 23, 2013 at 11:24 am

Hopefully dean Julie reads these last 2 comments and meditates on whether parents are the problem to the extent she had believed. Julie I encourage you to consider that your mental model of causation is incorrect as applied to Gunn and, to a lesser extent, Paly. I say "to a lesser extent" because Paly has a history and trajectory of being more concerned with social emotional health and also of encouraging academic creativity as in the journalism program.

Posted by neighbor, a resident of another community
on Nov 23, 2013 at 1:03 pm

Hard to believe how hysterical and defensive PA parents can get.... WOW. The Dean simply told students "to focus on finding their passions and setting their own paths." They are old enough to start thinking for themselves.

The Dean is not evil, and the attacks are absurd. The Dean's message was supportive to kids who have way too much pressure put on them. They are totally stressed out -- when asked that specific question, all the hands went up. She was recognizing their power and right to start exploring possible futures and choices.

There are too many expectations. Kids know who they are expected to be by others -- instead of who they are and what they want to become.

And, YES, failure is part of learning because the lessons learned are invaluable. The speech at my kid's graduation from Stanford was about this exact point. Being wrong is OK if you learn from it. Unfortunately many of today's kids think failure is the end of their life as they know it instead of learning from it. We all fail once in a while throughout our lives.

Parents....I'll write it again: it is hard, but back off and let your kids grow.

Posted by Late, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 23, 2013 at 1:47 pm


"Paly has a history and trajectory of being more concerned with social emotional health and also of encouraging academic creativity as in the journalism program."

That's a really good point. Paly also has (had) a history of irreverence to certain degree. Note the streaking or egg war stories. I've heard the former Paly principal was ousted because he was too chill, though parents and students loved him.


You write better than everyone on this thread, including the Dean. You're 100% spot on to remind everyone that in High School parent influence is replaced by peer influence, highlighting self-motivation, and pointing to the opportunities that Palo Alto offers.

In the effort to reduce stress, people are wondering how to correct a system that has Freshman in college dismantling at the first sign of failure or needing parental help at every turn.

Live and let live was on to something, which is what are the perceptions that students are being led to believe is necessary IN college, and how to get into college. Has college become so demanding they not only ask you to be a morph of Mother Theresa and Steve Jobs on the application, but they also want you to keep that up for four years? And how is this going to be fixed by tinkering with 10th graders?

Posted by Late, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 23, 2013 at 2:22 pm

I should add that it would be interesting to know if the failures to launch students the Dean encountered at Stanford are Palo Alto students. I would doubt it because Paly and Gunn are practically the size of a small college and there are so many options here, kids have to navigate real life all the time.

Just one example of where hoards of kids here experience "failure" is HIgh School sports, open to only the best. If anything, the level of competition organized in the schools is so intense that passion is the least of the issues.

Posted by Late, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 23, 2013 at 4:09 pm


"The speech at my kid's graduation from Stanford was about this exact point. Being wrong is OK if you learn from it. Unfortunately many of today's kids think failure is the end of their life as they know it instead of learning from it. We all fail once in a while throughout our lives.

Parents....I'll write it again: it is hard, but back off and let your kids grow."

You seem a little hysterical yourself.

A speech at a college graduation does not translate to a speech for 10th graders, and the parent blame might be misplaced.

Expect the pushback, especially if the guru talk on failure has nothing to back it up, except these anecdotal stories from the very school that demands perfection.

Posted by inside perspective, a resident of Stanford
on Nov 23, 2013 at 5:43 pm

Let's be clear about Ms. Lythcott-Haims' CV. She was not a professor, she was an administrator. She doesn't have an advanced degree psychology, or education, or anything else. She has a J.D. [Portion removed.]

Posted by neighbor, a resident of another community
on Nov 23, 2013 at 6:47 pm

Very strange to be personally attacked as "being hysterical" for trying to get folks to back off a little. I see that's not possible to calm the "discussion," but I can add some facts.

Before you "clarify" Haims background do some checking:

--- Most of the SU law faculty have JDs as their terminal degree. Haims' degree was from Harvard. She was Assoc. Dean of Student Affairs at the SU Law School. She also practiced Corporate Law before returning to Academia. Overall, not a shabby academic and counseling background.

--- In addition to being Dean of Freshman and Undergraduate Advising -- where she dealt exclusively with the student pressures and successes at the University -- Haims was an Assoc. Vice Provost and a Special Assistant to the University President.

I don't know the woman personally, but those are strong credentials for speaking to students who starting to think about, or are about to embark on, their college years.

Disagree with her talk on substantive grounds, but refrain from personal attack. Agree to disagree with her....and with me.... with courtesy and grace. Good lesson for the kids too.

Posted by inside perspective, a resident of Stanford
on Nov 23, 2013 at 7:38 pm

I am well aware of Ms. Lythcott Haims CV. My point is, that for someone who doesn't hold any advanced degree in education or child psychology, she spends a lot of time telling people how to parent their children. [Portion removed.]

Yes, she dealt with pressures and success at a University - and I believe she did a good job in that capacity - but she has cherry picked the stories [portion removed.] There are many Stanford undergraduates whose stories don't line up with Ms. Lythcott-Haims agenda, and those she conveniently ignores.

[Portion removed.]

Posted by neighbor, a resident of another community
on Nov 23, 2013 at 9:37 pm

I'm not sure what the name "Inside Perspective" actually refers to, but can't help wondering if it is an inside line to SU employee gossip?

As stated before: Lythcott-Haims spent the bulk of her career in student affairs, both in the Law School and SU Undergrad Education. Her predecessors and her successor have had similar qualifications and experience, albeit with other academic specializations. An Ed.D. or a psychology degree has not been typical and neither are required or essential to the position.

Candidates for the Assoc. Dean of Students job (or for comparable jobs in the separate SU Schools) are judged on whether they are the best candidate for the job. Normally, all have advanced degrees and varied University experience. Nevertheless, the decision about job qualifications and candidates rests with Stanford -- not you.

Regardless: The issue about whether Lythcott-Haims was qualified for her SU job is simply a red herring. The charge that she was pushing her own "parenting agenda" (you know nothing about her parenting) or any other secret agenda is absurd. She spoke from her professional experience.

Lythcott-Haims did not invite herself to speak at Gunn. She was not "telling parents how to raise their children." In fact, she was not addressing parents AT ALL.

She was asked to address the students because of her experience supporting student interests in the face of academic pressure. Her talk was obviously meant to lessen the pressures that Gunn students might feel about their future.

So, you didn't like the message, but maybe it gave some students some insights and maybe it took some pressure off to encourage a bit of independent thinking.

[Portion removed.]

Posted by disappointed in you Dean Julie, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Nov 23, 2013 at 10:07 pm

"Lythcott-Haims did not invite herself to speak at Gunn."

Exactly. The Gunn administration wanted to have her speak because her message of parent-blaming and helicopter parenting is well-known. It fits with the Gunn administration and faculty belief that Gunn does not need to reform and is not a cause of stress. Rather, it is all the parents' fault.

This is a myth, but it is one that supports Gunn in not changing. Gunn teachers assign hours of homework, not parents. Gunn teachers vetoed the parents' effort to bring TA to Gunn. Gunn teachers have insisted that Gunn retain a counseling system that the student posting above called "non-existent at best and generally more harmful than helpful to students."

Let's repeat that just to make sure you are all with me: Gunn's "counseling system is non-existent at best and generally more harmful than helpful to students"

That was written yesterday not two years ago. After two years of Katya's and Mr. J's supposed improvements and the addition of 2 new counselors and the reassignment of one of the counselors, we still have a program that the very articulate student posting above called "non-existent at best and generally more harmful than helpful to students."

The Gunn administration glories in the idea that it is all parents' fault. Kim Cowell made a presentation to the board 3 years ago in which she said that she considered her job (before she was replaced by Mr. J as the head of counseling) to be dealing with the "precooked" students that were pressured by families.

Gunn high school is unnecessarily competitive, and assigns reams of meaningless busywork. Some students figure out how to get through. Some don't. Some smoke their brains out. Some binge drink. Some are depressed and anxious. Some cut themselves. Many are promiscuous.

So called high functioning students abuse adderoll, which is sold to them by the ADHD boys who are out on the path smoking weed at brunch and lunch every day. Some kids go to class drunk.

Palo Alto, we need counseling reform at Gunn. Please get your head out of the sand. High test scores are not a sign that everything is fine. Some kids (many kids) get high test scores but are not doing well. Achievement and thriving are not the same thing.

Parents who know this have tried to get help for their kids and know how unresponsive Gunn can be. Any parent who has ever tried to email a teacher to find out whether or not their freshman ADHD child is caught up on their work knows what a horrible literal hell they are plunged into. Any parent who has tried to get online and see how their student is doing after being told that they can find out from Blackboard or Infinite Campus or Schoology knows the depths of true desperation. Some teachers use these tools, some don't, some have their own websites, most never answer emails from parents.

Then when you try to get an answer to a question about whether your freshman child is completing the work, because you are trying to find out why they have a grade warning, you are accused by Gunn of being a "helicopter parent" and told that it is your child's job to "self-advocate" even if they are on a 504 or an IEP and the thing that is their disability is their inability to be organized or to self-advocate.

I am surprised that parents don't just go postal, especially when their kids are bullied and the school doesn't return emails.

Please Julie just don't be used by these people. They love for you to say that it's all the parents fault but that is just not true.

Posted by Mom, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Nov 23, 2013 at 11:08 pm

@disappointed in you Dean Julie,

Thank you for your post.
I have a student with IEP at Gunn and I was thinking the same thing as yours.
I didn't write here until now because I didn't want to waste any more time by writing about the problems at Gunn. I just felt a little better tonight, knowing someone feels the same way.

Posted by Mom, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Nov 23, 2013 at 11:29 pm

I just want to mention another reason I don't care about improving schools here anymore.
If this intellectual city, Palo Alto can do only this much for its schools, it is not hard to imagine that kids in my country can beat kids in the US in the future. With all the technologies available now, education is so accessible anywhere in the world. I am preparing my kids can compete with kids in other Asian countries.

Posted by Late, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 23, 2013 at 11:37 pm


"She was asked to address the students because of her experience supporting student interests in the face of academic pressure."

The face of academic pressure is telling trapped kids that there are 3000 schools that they can explore (doesn't that sound appealing!), but forgetting to come clean that the school they attend teaches to 30 schools.

The face of academic pressure is not just academics, but the expectation that students produce adult like qualities of wisdom, self-reflection, discernment, attainment of nirvana in terms of passion and purpose in life.

The face of academic pressure is when trapped kids are told that parental advice to do well in school and be good kids is helicopter, tiger, hysterical.

The face of academic pressure IS academic pressure, generated by the curriculum, lanes, teaching, homework loads, guidance to navigate the mess, and all the other things that are never measured and are off limits for scrutiny.

Not sure if the school is using JLH or JLH is using the school. Clearly there was an agenda.

As I have been posting - this whole mess is largely because of the college application process. Colleges need to stop crowning admissions officers as gatekeepers, stop this holistic crap of judging the human spirit. Turn a chunk of admissions into a LOTTERY. When the requirements change, so will the competition.

Is there research on passion and competition?

Posted by inside perspective, a resident of Stanford
on Nov 23, 2013 at 11:40 pm

I never said she wasn't qualified for her Stanford job - nor did I say she did a bad job.

Let me put this another way. The Dean of Freshman does not operate in a vacuum. There are many, many people at Stanford who work with students and fully understand the scope of undergraduate education and life today. For example, there are Resident Fellows, some of whom are faculty and teach undergraduates and are also parents - they LIVE on campus, with students 24/7. [Portion removed.] She is one person, with one opinion. She has a right to that opinion, and a right to be heard publicly, but I think parents should understand what her professional limitations are. She has no formal training as a psychologist nor does she hold a degree in education. It doesn't much matter if you agree with her views or not, but I do think it's very important that parents understand that there are plenty of people who are equally, if not more qualified, than Ms Lythcott-Haims, who respect the right of parents to raise their children in the way that best suits their family.

Posted by capitalism & codes of conduct, a resident of Stanford
on Nov 24, 2013 at 7:11 am

[Post removed.]

Posted by inside perspective, a resident of Stanford
on Nov 24, 2013 at 9:16 am

@capitalism & codes of conduct


Posted by Another insider, a resident of Nixon School
on Nov 24, 2013 at 9:18 am

This is really kind of surprising. I thought I was the only one who found Julie judgment and condescending about parenting. The sad thing is that (1) her book is pretty cynical given that like Amy Chua's book it traded on
Stereotypes and will be a huge best seller purchased by the very people she is judging and (2) like Chua she wl be trading on her association with elite institutions to brand her message. I also object to her dragging Stanford into this because it damaged the brand by giving parents the sense that the staff is judging th and might write a best seller about th later. Stanford should want close ties and good relations with parents who have concerns about students. Parents should not pay )50k per year and then feel afraid to call an RD with a concern due to the fact that they worry they will be judged . Speaking as an SU parent that is offensive to me. I don't see how that is in Stanford's best interest. Julie is entitled to her opinion but no one would buy the bo but for her association with Stanford. The cashing in on the brand at The university's expense is wrong and I hope the university stops it. Write all the parenting advice you want. Leave SU out of it.

Do we want parents to send their kids to Berkeley and MIT instead so they won't feel judged? Think about it Greg Boardman.

Posted by inside perspective, a resident of Stanford
on Nov 24, 2013 at 9:21 am

[Post removed.]

Posted by capitalism & codes of conduct, a resident of Stanford
on Nov 24, 2013 at 9:38 am

Inside Perspective,

I am not sure why the "capitalism & codes of conduct" post was removed either.

Here is a link to the Stanford University Code of Conduct: Web Link.

This Code applies to everyone working, now or in the past, at and for the university.

Stanford's Code

Prohibited "Using for personal gain ... confidential or privileged information [like student medical info] acquired in connection with the individual's University-supported activities."

"Community members receive and generate on behalf of the University various types of confidential, proprietary and private information. It is imperative that each community member [protect] such information, and such policies apply EVEN AFTER community member's relationship with Stanford ends."

Posted by inside perspective, a resident of Stanford
on Nov 24, 2013 at 9:40 am

[Post removed.]

Posted by NotResearch, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 24, 2013 at 9:51 am

It seems likely that Ms. Lythcott-Haim's book will be anecdotal, rather than backed by research. In fact, survivorship bias is built into her perspective:

Stanford students, she said, "were somewhat failure-deprived,"
"They'd done so well, they'd been coached, protected, tutored,
pushed to this and that achievement, this and that competition,
and gotten to this point."

Exactly - they got to a point where JLH started observing them. She did not observe all the kids that went into the High-School process which produced these students. So the selection of anecdotes is built around the extreme high grades and outcomes of selected students. Of course the don't know failure - that is how they got into Stanford in the first place.

Now perhaps these are great kids that excel at everything (likely), or perhaps they might have failed at something if they were uncoached (also likely). But the point is that the source of her experience is a biased selection of kids who survived up to the point they show up at Stanford.

Advice about coaching kids who really need coaching, help with their math, ask for help on papers, etc. is completely out of scope from her perspective. I look forward to seeing the book to see if she has any research or hard numbers from a broad range of high-shools and students who did NOT get to Stanford. [Portion removed.]

She goes on to say:

"But if they've been deprived of the chance to get it wrong, when
things go wrong -- and they will -- they fall apart, they're crushed."

But if you're not risking failure, she told students, "then you're
not trying hard enough."

Really? Again her bias is likely playing into her perspective. I hope this is more well developed in her book, as I suspect that the kids who tried something, and failed, likely do not end up as her sample set. The survivorship bias of her sample of Stanford kids only includes those who tried and succeeded, or those who took a low-risk path and succeeded.

Kids who try something really ambitious will fail, sometimes multiple times before they get it right. The systems in place punish such efforts, because school is a one-pass, right-first-time system. You try a class and fail, you get an "F" on grades, and you are therefore not part of JLH's sample set.

There are no do-overs. It is a product of the industrialization of school. Kids are on a conveyor belt they cannot slow, stop, or alter. And it is a system which is over-energized by the tangibles: HW, grades, AP's.
Intangibles such as creativity, innovation, culture are totally sidelined. Oddly these are the talents that we want at SU, and in Silicon Valley; however our own schools simply allow NO time to pursue creative endeavors, and certainly don't reward it, recognize it, or include it in the curriculum.

I appreciate the previous poster reminding the author that what she is disclosing may not be her privilege.

Posted by Another insider, a resident of Nixon School
on Nov 24, 2013 at 9:56 am

I don't know if it violates the rules or not. But I think it is not in Stanford's interest and if it is not against the rules to publicly criticize parents this way (lets call us tuition payers to make the point clearer) then the Provost should change the rules at least prospectively. Protection of the brand is important. JLH has free speech but not the right to trade on the brand to the brands detriment.

[Portion removed.]

Posted by Another insider, a resident of Nixon School
on Nov 24, 2013 at 10:05 am

[Post removed.]

Posted by inside perspective, a resident of Stanford
on Nov 24, 2013 at 10:18 am

[Post removed.]

Posted by Town Square Moderator, online staff of Palo Alto Online
on Nov 24, 2013 at 10:35 am

Town Square Moderator is a registered user.

Inside perspective,

You're repeating points you've already made, and you are making statements on behalf of others and assertions that are potentially defamatory. Stick to your own objections to the content of the remarks made by Ms. Lythcott-Haimes and your comments will be less likely to be edited or removed.