Editorial: Beyond the anguish | January 30, 2015 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - January 30, 2015

Editorial: Beyond the anguish

While explanations elude, we should not be deterred from action

As the Palo Alto community mourns and reflects on the loss of another Palo Alto teenager — the third in four months — we must not allow our frustrations, fears and divergent perspectives to block the path forward.

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Posted by Gunn Dad
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 30, 2015 at 8:14 am

Gunn Dad is a registered user.

Yes -- end the futile academic signaling arms race. End it not because it's causing suicides -- not a single one of these 17 suicides has been reliably linked to academic stress. End it because it's the right thing to do.

Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 30, 2015 at 8:18 am

The anguish is not over homework, per se, but the race to get ahead in the college application process.

I would love to see Palo Alto lead the way in a national push to reform the college application process. Other countries don't have the frenzy we have here. Something is wrong when there is no centralized method and some students get multiple offers which then can't accept all, while others equally qualified get looked over just because they come from the same high school.

The colleges have a lot to do with this arms race, it is about time they sorted out their act.

Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 30, 2015 at 8:30 am

There are several High Schools in the immediate area with similar demographics and academic reputations as Gunn High School. Yet none seem to be similarly afflicted. So whatever is happening at Gunn HS is a contributing factor. If PAUSD doesn't make substantive changes, we can and should expect similar tragic results. Why Gunn doesn't adopt the block scheduling and counseling strategy of Paly is beyond me.

Posted by roundabouts
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 30, 2015 at 8:51 am

The problem is: what action? As soon as you start the argument "that we need to do something" we get all sorts of weirdo requests:
- we need to test for mold in the classroom
- we need to restrict the number of APs
- we need an option for doing absolutely no homework
- we need to let students find their own level
- we need smaller class sizes
- we need TA at Gunn
- ....quickly followed by we don't need TA at Gunn
- we need to fully implemented areas such as homework and counseling
- ....

The list goes on and on. With each special interest group pushing their own agenda and using the Weekly's excuse of "while explanations elude, we should not be deterred from action".

Yeah, "we've got no idea why it's happening but we need to do something" is a great recipe for success!

Posted by Gunn Dad
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 30, 2015 at 9:24 am

Gunn Dad is a registered user.

"Yet none seem to be similarly afflicted. So whatever is happening at Gunn HS is a contributing factor."

Nobody has identified anything happening at Gunn that isn't also happening at other competitive schools that nevertheless have no suicide problem.

The stress and wastefulness of the academic signaling/sorting arms race is a problem worth solving even if this were the last suicide. It's hard not to see a dynamic whereby people exploit the suicides to push their own agenda. For example, the SaveThe2008 agenda seems more about making life easier for teachers than about making life easier for students.

My agenda is to relieve my Gunn student from the excessive burdens of pointless homework that seems designed not to teach, but to sort kids in a signaling arms race. But I'm not going to pretend that this problem is causing suicides.

Posted by Gail
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 30, 2015 at 11:04 am

[Post removed.]

Posted by Hands up don't shoot
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 30, 2015 at 11:11 am

[Post removed.]

Posted by Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jan 30, 2015 at 11:47 am

You wrote,
" we get all sorts of weirdo requests:
- we need to test for mold in the classroom"

First of all, your post seems politically motivated to blunt people taking action. For you to try to dismiss parents who are trying to solve this problem as "special interests" with an "agenda" is the height of pernicious spin and makes me wonder at your motives. In case you hadn't noticed, there's a cover story today about how 'no homework' is an option, being done, and might even be the more high-quality educational path.

Parents in a school district do have an agenda: to help kids have the best "environment for learning, growing and finding happiness." The only people around who seem to have a problem with that are certain people in the district office who should have been given their marching orders a long time ago and who will never appreciate their own culpability in the unhappiness of many families. Those people are in many instances the reason there are any "agendas" rather than simply problems that were long ago solved for the benefit of our kids.

Secondly, this is a community of many engineers who clearly want to sit down and hash out solutions to a problem that goes well beyond the tragedies and that many of us have been trying to address for years. That's the engineering method -- look at all the potential aspects of a problem, look at all the many ways to potentially address it, and implement as many as possible all at once in order to affect the best change within the available resources, especially if it's no skin off anyone's nose to implement most of them.

For example, mold.

Sorry, not a weirdo request. There is a huge consensus of research around the importance of the built environment to student physical and mental well-being, and even student performance.

Think about it: we have done all the perfunctory measures around mental health and it hasn't solved the problem. The burden of the physical environment, though, hasn't been addressed almost at all, in fact, Project Safety Net said they didn't have the bandwidth for it.

However, you do bring up a point. I was the one bringing up the research-proven connection between indoor mold and depression, and indoor dampness and sleep problems (even among those without allergies), something for which there is stronger research evidence than putting in place news blackouts after a tragedy which we seem to have embraced to a fault.

Per much research and the consensus in the environmental health community such as at the EPA and CDPH, TESTING for mold (as you incorrectly summarized the "agenda") is almost useless and the wrong way to go about creating a healthy built environment for students. From an email from the head architect in the facilities division of the California Department of Education (actually read some of the links, the first one is especially eye-opening):

There have been numerous studies that link student achievement and health to proper management of indoor air quality (IAQ) in school buildings. The following link to the study entitled,
“PRIORITIZATION OF 31 CRITERIA FOR SCHOOL BUILDING ADEQUACY” by Glen Earthman, 2004 is probably the most widely known in this area of study.
Web Link

One aspect of IAQ is proper ventilation with adequate outdoor air
Web Link

Another important attribute of managing IAQ is contaminant control -- either biological contaminants, like mold and pollen, or chemical contaminants, such as Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), outdoor pollutants, like vehicle emissions.

The California Department of Public Health has a web page on Mold and Dampness Web Link
In 2011, the CDPH released a Statement on Building Dampness, Mold, and Health which recommends the following treatment of building dampness and mold.
Web Link
“CDPH has concluded that the presence of water damage, dampness, visible mold, or mold odor
in schools, workplaces, residences, and other indoor environments is unhealthy.
We recommend against measuring indoor microorganisms or using the presence of specific
microorganisms to determine the level of health hazard or the need for urgent remediation.
Rather, we strongly recommend addressing water damage, dampness, visible mold, and mold
odor by (a) identification and correction of the source of water that may allow microbial
growth or contribute to other problems, (b) the rapid drying or removal of damp materials,
and (c) the cleaning or removal of mold and moldy materials, as rapidly and safely as possible,
to protect the health and well-being of building occupants, especially children.”

There are many different tools available for IAQ management. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has created a program for schools focused on this topic, entitled “Tools for Schools”. This program provides many resources and best practices that school administrators can use to increase awareness and make effective changes to support the health and wellbeing of all building occupants.
Web Link

Our district promised us "improving indoor air quality" in our bond measure, and equivalent to new construction in renovated spaces, yet no programs were put in place to achieve this, and in some ways the district administration was in the past obstructionist about it. So we even have a mandate and funds to go about eliminating this potential source of the problem. And given how it hasn't even been considered, the fact that so much else has already been done without solving the problem makes this aspect all the more important to address.

The protestations against it are so inexplicable, the attempts to marginalize it so pernicious, it begins to create concern about the agenda of those who actively oppose such measures which are unequivocally beneficial to our students' physical and mental health and performance. The first step in implementing an indoor air quality management plan is a thorough walk-through with a detailed checklist. It does make one wonder who is afraid of a closer look at our facilities during/after the bond work.

Posted by neighbor
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 30, 2015 at 11:59 am

"The New White Flight," The Wall Street Journal, Sat/Sun, Nov 19-20, 2005, pp. 1, A8, "When Eddie started freshman geometry, he boy was shocked to learn that many of his Asian students in his class had already taken the course in summer school, Mr. Rowley recalls. That gave them a big leg up."
This article is principally about Monte Vista High School in Cupertino.
Here's one example of the unethical gaming of the system going on that cheats honest students out of a fair playing field. Grades are all important at our competitive high schools, and any "edge" assists prepped students with elite college admissions
Force the Tiger Moms to disclose in writing the taking of a course in advance of taking one at our high schools for a grade.
This is one material way to "lessen the stress" felt by honest students who do their own work and manage their own academic lives.

Posted by Curious
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 30, 2015 at 12:14 pm

Serious questions follow (really)
1. To what does "signaling arms race" by GunnDad refer?
2. How would block scheduling help? What problem would it solve?

Posted by Gail
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 30, 2015 at 12:31 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Gunn parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 30, 2015 at 12:49 pm

Part of the issue now at gunn is the pattern that has been established. Suicide is now an accepted category in the kids minds and they all know someone who has, causing a degree of cluster effect. This is one of the reasons it is perpetuating here and not as obvious elsewhere. If it were as simple as switching schedules we would have done it. The school administration has been actively pursuing some of these options and is working to implement them. This is a systemic problem that will take all of us changing to fix, so I'm hoping that we can work together to make it so.

Posted by Midtowner
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 30, 2015 at 12:55 pm

I also would like a definition of the term "signaling arms race mentioned here. Not in my vocabulary.

Posted by Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jan 30, 2015 at 1:10 pm

I'm sorry no one else answered your question seriously.

There is a well-known phenomenon of "transition cost" when it comes to switching between subjects, activities, etc. When you go online, there is a transition cost in your attention to going to something else, usually around 15 minutes. This is why texting and driving is such a bad idea.

There is a transition cost to switching subjects. When kids stop one activity and move on to the next, a lot of that time is "wasted" in terms of learning. This is one reason homeschooling is taking off not just in the religious crowd anymore, but among people who want a better education for their kids. There are so many resources available now to provide the basic stuff, and most families find their kids can be finished with that kind of work in 2-3 hours every day and have the rest of the day to do high-level activities.

So, if you let kids have 3 or 4 classes a day instead of 6 or 7, and arrange the schedule so they don't have every class every day, it's easier to ensure they don't have too much homework, and it's also better in terms of their focus. They have fewer transitions and better ability to focus on one thing, accomplish something real in that one thing, before moving on to something else.

In principle, block scheduling would allow kids to focus more and essentially have more learning time instead of transition time during the day.

Posted by Mr.Recycle
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 30, 2015 at 1:24 pm

@ Parent - roundabouts is right in trying to blunt misguided action. Taking a bunch of weird unsupported action is as likely to cause more problems as fix them. The whole mold thing is really off base, and just by raising it you are going to cause anxiety in less informed people. Or take another "solution" that is thrown around a lot these days - banning cell phones. No one has any real idea or data on whether that would help or hurt. It might help some, and hurt others. Bad action is worse than inaction.

Posted by Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jan 30, 2015 at 2:12 pm

Mr. Recycle,
you wrote,
"Taking a bunch of weird unsupported action is as likely to cause more problems as fix them. The whole mold thing is really off base, and just by raising it you are going to cause anxiety in less informed people. Or take another "solution" that is thrown around a lot these days - banning cell phones. No one has any real idea or data on whether that would help or hurt. It might help some, and hurt others. Bad action is worse than inaction."

You have just made a sweeping, unsupported claim without any realization about how much harm you could be doing by blunting important action that we have a mandate to do anyway and will almost certainly help.

Off base? I just provided evidence. But don't take my word for it. Go to the California Department of Education facilities people, the EPA or the California Department of Public Health if you don't believe me. Who do you have on your side but district insiders who are despised for their CYA behavior?

Here are the facts:

1. The consensus from the research, according to EPA, WHO, CDPH, NIOSH, CDC, CDE and every environmental health and educational organization across the globe, is the good indoor air quality is important in schools for student physical and mental health and for student performance, and that bad indoor air quality can hurt student physical and mental health and student performance. According to the EPA, bad indoor air quality in schools can not only cause asthma attacks, it can be responsible for the development of the disease in students.

2. The consensus from the research, etc, is that the built environment (not just air quality) is important to student physical and mental wellbeing and performance.

3. The consensus from the research, according to the EPA et al, is that health impacts go with dampness, not just mold.

4. There is solid research now connecting indoor mold and depression. There is solid research connecting dampness and sleep problems, not just in those with allergies. There is solid research connecting asthma with depression. There is solid and overwhelming research showing that schools with better IAQ have less asthma and less absenteeism due to illness of all kinds.

5. Our district has a $375 million bond measure that promised parents "improving indoor air quality" and equivalent to new construction in all bond projects, but no programs were put in place to achieve this.

6. Our district has conditions across many campuses, especially all the middle school campuses, and including high school campuses, where indoor air quality is problematic in many places and where conditions that could by no stretch of the imagination be called "equivalent" to new construction are likely to involve mold and other indoor air problems, for example, old carpeting that was used for years while the JLS campus flooded badly annually, and was not changed during renovation, and slab floors that were not sealed and insulated when they were.

There is LOTS and LOTS of data that making these improvements, that we already have the mandate to do, and that are recommended by every respected environmental health organization from here to the skies, would help. You on the other hand have zero evidence that addressing this problems and making healthier campuses for our children would only cause "anxiety" among the smart and concerned families here.

We have every evidence that action in this case will help in many ways that are important to us, and will probably help with the problem at hand, and we have a mandate to act. On the other hand, calls to ignore that are suspicious for how they divert attention from scrutiny of use of our funds.

What will hurt our kids is inaction and failing to have the courage to act for what we know to be right. In the words of I.F. Stone: "The essence of tragedy is not the doing of evil by evil men but the doing of evil by good men, out of weakness, indecision, sloth, inability to act in accordance with what they know to be right."

If you can't be convinced by the heavy weight of evidence to do the right thing, at least stop trying to impede others. There is too much at stake.

Posted by cw
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 30, 2015 at 2:49 pm

Since 2009, many people (whose names you would know) have been telling us that academic stress has led to these suicides. They had no evidence of that whatsoever. But they argued with the school board to change things like graduation requirements, the calendar, the homework policy, etc. They got their way, and yet the suicides continue. They took the community down the wrong road. There's an excellent article in the Daily Post this morning headlined, "A call for answers about suicides," that talks about how difficult it is to solve a problem when you haven't determined what caused it. It is a much more lucid approach to this subject than the Weekly's attitude of "While explanations elude, we should not be deterred from action."

Posted by Gunn parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 30, 2015 at 3:03 pm

How is reducing academic stress by revising the school calendar and the district homework policy taking the community down the wrong road? No, you cannot blame the suicides on academic stress or the school, but clearly, there is a problem at Gunn regarding academic stress and something must be done for those kids. Why did Paly see a need to reduce academic stress 5 years ago and move to a block schedule? Why have so many schools in our area moved to a different schedule but not Gunn? Why has nothing been done at Gunn to help make life better for Gunn students????

Posted by Mr.Recycle
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 30, 2015 at 3:04 pm

@Parent - there is some evidence connecting mold to asthma, but nothing else. Why you are doing harm is that you have no information, no evidence, nothing, about the actual air quality at Gunn. You might as well be blaming vaccines, or gluten, or soda, or WIFI exposure. You are distracting from real issues. [Portion removed.]

Posted by Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jan 30, 2015 at 3:57 pm

Mr. Recycle,

Why are you continuing to double down on your completely unsupported contentions? Are you a district insider? Because the only thing you are standing against is doing something that has unequivocal benefit to our children, we were promised the district would do anyway, and that will help the physical and mental health of our children (if you believe sources like the EPA and the CDC instead of anonymous posters on this thread who seem to have an agenda to stop parents from acting).

First of all, achieving good indoor air quality is an ongoing effort that takes into account the implementation of best practices. We have NEVER DONE THIS at Gunn, we have never done this anywhere in the district, and we have conditions that lead to poor indoor air quality, such as older carpeting on uninsulated slab foundations.

In fact, the way districts typically achieve "improving indoor air quality" as our bond measure promises is by adopting indoor air quality management plans, as recommended by the EPA. Part of an effective IAQ management plan involves educating the public and actively soliciting input about subjective symptoms and observations. Has our district done any of this? No. I wouldn't say there is "no evidence" because there is evidence, the district just hasn't told the public about it, or has interpreted what evidence it has gotten or feedback it has gotten from parents dishonestly, or simply failed to pursue recommended actions at all (like implementing an IAQ management plan that would find all the sources of problems).

Indoor air quality problems encompass far more than mold, but mold has been correlated positively with depression. But there is no way you can tell in any given case that it's "mold related" as you cynically state. The only thing you can do in light of the available knowledge is to ELIMINATE this as a factor for our kids AS WE HAVE ALREADY BEEN PROMISED, PAID FOR, AND THE DISTRICT HAS FAILED TO DO.

Again, one wonders why anyone would have a problem with that, unless they had some professional reason to prevent the community from realizing we didn't get what we paid for or someone had fallen down on the job and it was hurting our kids and making it impossible for us to succeed with all of our other efforts because of the overlay of environmental influences on the situation. (It is not limited just to mold, if you read my previous posts, and if you continue to mischaracterize it as such, I hope you will also state your personal conflict of interest in creating such dishonest spin.)

Posted by Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jan 30, 2015 at 4:06 pm

Mr. Recycle,

You said, "there is some evidence connecting mold to asthma, but nothing else"

I said, "There is solid research now connecting indoor mold and depression. There is solid research connecting dampness and sleep problems, not just in those with allergies. There is solid research connecting asthma with depression. There is solid and overwhelming research showing that schools with better IAQ have less asthma and less absenteeism due to illness of all kinds."

In fact, the consensus in the environmental health world is that DAMPNESS is correlated with health effects in occupants, not just mold. Follow the water. Condensation on cold slabs in carpets. Condensation on air systems that drips onto ceiling tiles in classrooms, Unrecognized leaks. Kids tracking water into classrooms unabaited from flooding year after year. Etc. PAUSD is completely NOT following best practices in regards to any of this, nor is it heeding concerns of parents whose kids are having problems.

But don't ask me, ask the experts at the EPA, WHO, CDPH, and elsewhere. Even the California Department of Education, where they actually read all the research.

The first link I provided was from the California Department of Education and summarizes "available research on the links between conditions in school buildings and student achievement."

Conditions in school buildings and student achievement.

The listed "Criteria that most impact student achievement" includes "(2) Indoor Air Quality"
Some excerpts:
"Ample research evidence strongly indicates that poor air quality results in poor performance by students and workers."

"Illnesses caused by a poor environment result in student absences that also result in lower performance on such measures as achievement tests."

"The US Environmental Protection Agency estimates that more than 10 million days of schooling are lost each year by students because of asthma attacks (EPA, 2000). Students can not perform adequately if they are sick or absent from school because of illnesses resulting from poor air quality in the classroom."

"Positive correlations were found between CO2 concentrations in the classroom and the reported student health symptoms and also the performance of students on the SPES."

Indoor mold and depression:
Web Link

"The physical consequences of living in a damp, moldy house are well documented and include increased asthma attacks and other respiratory ailments, headaches, fatigue, and sore throats. People who live in moldy environments may also have more depression, finds a study of 5,882 adults living in 2,982 households, published in the October 2007 issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

"The connection between mold and mental health surprised even the lead author, epidemiologist Edmond Shenassa of Brown University, who was skeptical of the mold–depression link suggested by smaller studies. “We thought that once we statistically accounted for physical factors like crowding and psychological aspects like not having control over one’s living environment, then the association between mold and depression would vanish,” he says. But rather than debunking the notion, Shenassa found an association between mold toxins and depression."

Asthma and depression
Web Link

"Depressive symptoms may be linked to the development of adult-onset asthma, preliminary research suggests. A cohort of nearly 32,000 participants from the Black Women's Health Study (BWHS) showed that those with the highest depressive symptom scores were more than twice as likely to develop asthma as their counterparts with the lowest symptom scores There was also a higher incidence rate trend for asthma for women who took antidepressants and were current or former smokers.

"I was surprised at the magnitude of the relative risk in our highest category of depressive symptoms," lead author Patricia F. Coogan, ScD, research professor of epidemiology at the Slone Epidemiology Center at Boston University in Massachusetts, told Medscape Medical News."

From the Centers for Disease Control: Facts about Mold and Dampness:
"In 2004 the Institute of Medicine (IOM) found there was sufficient evidence to link indoor exposure to mold with upper respiratory tract symptoms, cough, and wheeze in otherwise healthy people"

"The IOM also found limited or suggestive evidence linking indoor mold exposure and respiratory illness in otherwise healthy children."

"In addition, in 2004 the IOM found sufficient evidence to link exposure to damp indoor environments in general to upper respiratory tract symptoms, cough, and wheeze in otherwise healthy people and with asthma symptoms in people with asthma. The IOM also found limited or suggestive evidence linking exposure to damp indoor environments in general to shortness of breath, to respiratory illness in otherwise healthy children and to potential development of asthma in susceptible individuals. In 2009, the World Health Organization issued additional guidance, the WHO Guidelines for Indoor Air Quality: Dampness and Mould[PDF - 2.52 "


If you want me to list every piece of evidence that exists, this could be a really, really, long post hundreds of pages long.

What is your purpose in trying to mischaracterize the evidence and keep people from caring about taking care of this potential influence this time? It's one factor we didn't take into account, we need to take care of it anyway.

How could anyone have a problem with that? (Where is Bill Hewlett when you need him?!)

Posted by Morgan
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 30, 2015 at 4:08 pm

In suicide clusters care must be taken not to publicize.
Now in todays world that is impossible. It is saturated on social media. All the young people saying how much they care for the deceased. .
This makes the suicide victim important.
It encourages more.

I do not have a problem with an adult correct factual reporting. Dates, time, statistics. This makes suicide seem as it is, very sad and very damaging.

It is the young persons social media which makes it seem like a good idea.

It is no accident that these suicides started when the kids in Palo Alto started using social networks.

And of course stress, unrealistic greedy parents expectations, lack of sleep, techno overstimulus, shortened attention spans ,and cheating using phones are all factors.

But it is the kids themselves- making suicide desirable by the respect they pay to the deceased on social media which is the biggest driver of copycat suicides.

This must be stopped. .

Parents must take control again

Posted by Morgan
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 30, 2015 at 4:13 pm

Ok get rid of the mold, if there is any. But Palo ALto is not particulary afflicted by mold. Try the east cost, or New Orleans, or Belgium, or Britain. This is NOT the cause or even a contributing factor so why is it that the Palo Alto Online censor more relevant comments but leave this very very minor business of removing mold on this thread?

Posted by science
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 30, 2015 at 4:15 pm

Academic stress causes depression.

Academic stress also causes sleep deprivation which in turn causes depression.

Depression causes suicide.

Stress is also independently linked to suicidality, particularly in adolescents who are impulsive. It is considered a "co-factor" according to Dr. Meg Durbin who just said on the radio yesterday that academic pressure could contribute to suicide even in students who are not depressed.

I am sick to death of hearing about how it plays no role. There is a lot of science supporting the points above. It is not debatable. If it makes you feel better to talk about preventing depression than about preventing suicide for some reason go ahead. But since suicide is caused by depression I don't see what that buys you.

And really, this whole idea that academic stress plays no role in suicide was a creation from the mind of Kevin Skelly. He didn't want to do anything about it, so he made unsupportable statements, he got Dr. Joshi to say them too -- which was really questionable given the causal modeling above which is well known -- and then voila he could do nothing.

Some school board members are having a fantasy (Townsend in particular) that mental illness is endogenous, that is, that it emanates from inside the person. There are genetic variables, poorly understood. But stress interacts with them, and cause depression. Everyone knows this. Townsend thinks it is like a heart defect. It's not. It's like diabetes. Sure you can have a genetic disposition. BUt anyone will get it if they eat enough candy and get fat enough.

We are very fat.

Posted by Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jan 30, 2015 at 4:20 pm

Mr. Recycle,
Mold in an indoor environment comes from dampness, which is usually from many sources. Thousands of respirating children. Leaks from plumbing. Exterior leaks. Condensation from air systems going unmonitored. Tracking water from flooded campuses (happened for decades unabated at JLS).

Having a cold, uninsulated concrete slab foundation where the downspouts pour water right at the foot of the foundation, where the landscaping isn't properly graded and the drainage allows flooding is a recipe for condensation inside. This has happened on many of our campuses, unabaited, for years. Even when the drainage is fixed, unless you properly remediate, you have a problem.

Having uninsulated surfaces elsewhere, when there are temperature gradients and moisture accumulation inside is also a recipe for condensation against the surface and indoor mold.

Here's a link from the CDPH:
Web Link
Mold in My School: What Do I Do? (Guess what, it's for CALIFORNIA schools.)

The document recommends:

• Develop an Indoor Air Qual- ity Protection Policy for your school before there are prob- lems. The U.S. E.P.A.’s “Tools for Schools” program can be implemented for little or no cost and can help districts in- volve everyone in maintain- ing good classroom indoor air quality.

• Respond promptly to staff or parental concerns about water leakage, mold growth or un- usual illnesses in classrooms.

• If a water leak or mold growth is discovered, admit its pres- ence. Be honest, frank, and open when discussing school facilities and potential envi- ronmental health issues.


Posted by Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jan 30, 2015 at 4:26 pm


You are buying into Mr. Recycle's framing of this discussion and I would encourage you to read all of the material instead of making specious and inaccurate statements trying to dismiss this issue.

The fact is, we never addressed these environmental contributors to the problem. You have no idea whether it's a problem or not. For all you know, it's the complete and entire reason all the other efforts have not been successful despite all we've done. We won't know until we address this issue that has been entirely neglected, not in small part because the uninformed and dismissive attitude of people like Mr. Recycle and you prevails in our district office.

Our kids deserve better than this.

Posted by Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jan 30, 2015 at 4:33 pm

[Post removed. Please start another thread specifically on indoor air quality.]

Posted by a different parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jan 30, 2015 at 7:33 pm

@ roundabouts and @ Mr. Recycle

Thanks! I appreciate your comments.

Our schools are being spun in many directions by different "opinions".

Posted by Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jan 30, 2015 at 8:29 pm

My apologies, but this issue is very relevant, was suppressed in past discussions -- and since most people don't understand it well, it's not likely to be seen on another thread.

At least if you are going to delete the research-based corrections to the misinformation above by, please also delete the wrong and misleading statements by Mr. Recycle and Morgan above, for example, making statements about climate are about as appropriate as someone bringing up Louisiana petroleum industries to say we don't have to worry about indoor poisons in California.

I'd very much like for us not to argue these things like this, but to really get together and try to problem solve. That means looking at all ideas. I remember a day when if anyone brought up yoga, they would have been laughed out of town, and yet here we are getting a wellness center with yoga.

The point is, we should talk about everything, with everything on the table, especially if they are things that are likely to help the overall situation and that we should be doing anyway, like improving indoor air quality, like improving the feel of the built environment (as the link I provided from the California Department of Education head architect discusses), like setting boundaries on the school day as our own development assets survey puts such emphasis on boundaries already.

We should sit down and systematically list everything -- many of the suggestions don't involve controversy, won't be hard, and should be done anyway. Where there is controversy, we should consider why and see if there is a way to provide the benefits each side wishes to achieve while avoiding the controversy. For example, with homework, we are probably never going to settle the argument over how much is too much, but if we recognize that some people are always going to want a very homework heavy direction and others want an equally high-quality track without the homework (requiring a different educational approach), we can settle the disagreement simply by offering choices that are eminently doable.

And IAQ should not be off the table this time, especially since we did so much the last time and it wasn't enough.

Posted by tl;dr
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 30, 2015 at 9:07 pm

The subsequent posts are certainly ironic.

Weekly, if you ever wanted an example of why your editorial is wrong, there you have it.

You simply do not use a personal tragedy to promote unrelated initiatives.

Posted by Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jan 30, 2015 at 9:46 pm


The whole reason I pursue what seems like an unrelated "initiative" to you is that I have seen the connection in real life, have taken the effort to read the research, and know it's not something most people have the background or knowledge with.

From where I am standing, I have been unable to do something there is good evidence could help reduce the amount of depression and stress in our schools, and which would certainly improve health measures among our students (which helps with resilience), that is strongly recommended for schools to do, and that we have been promised would happen anyway. I have felt anguish about this for years in our district, and have done what has been in my power. I am not some contractor making millions from some contract to build a building, I am a parent who has taken considerable time and dealt with some pretty stressful and horrible behavior from people in the district office whose job it should have been to do this stuff, because this is important for our kids (say I, and lots and lots of relevant agencies like CDE and EPA).

As a survivor of large-scale disaster, I am well aware that people tend not to act on even obviously potentially deadly things unless they are motivated by the worst happening. No one is "using" anything, parents are trying to do the best they can. Your post contains the same irony of which you accuse the Weekly.

Posted by parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 30, 2015 at 11:25 pm

Thank you Editors for trying to share facts on brain disorders/disease. When I used to hear terms like depression I thought like other: kids sad about grades, friends,parents putting on pressure etc. Unfortunately I learned that the "brain disorder/disease" I observed was not caused by Gunn, classes, grades, teachers.

Treatment is very difficult. Many people do not respond to treatment. Meds have horrible side effects, sometimes worse than the disorder. We need to support Mental health issues by being informed about brain chemical imbalances. Realize there is too much stigma for most intelligent kids to admit they are having bizarre thoughts. Wellness center at Gunn sounds nice, but its not for these serious hidden problems.

To improve the lives of our young suffering community, we need to support research on Brain Disorder/ diseases. Asking Gunn to change classes/hours is not the answer. I use the term Brain disease/disorder because there is a horrible stigma associated with Mental Illness.
Maybe our elected officials can address these issues and be more vocal- i think Gail Price is on a mental health panel, so please Gail heip educate this Community.

There are many online sources: psychforum, nami forums, mdjuction, psychosis forums, hearing voices forums.

If brain disorders are occurring at Gunn in clusters maybe there is some study needed by public health dept.?Learning about psychosis probably needs to become a basic parenting issue/ teacher issue.

Info on Psychosis
Web link: Web Link
An estimated 80% of patients affected by a psychotic disorder experience their first episode between the ages of 15-30.

Psychosis does not discriminate and effects people of all nationalities, all social standings, all intelligence levels as well as both young males and females. There does tend to be an earlier onset of psychosis in young males than females; youth mental health services do tend to see more young males than females.

Psychosis and young people

Psychosis is most likely to occur in young adults and is quite common. Around 2 out of every 100 young people will experience a psychotic episode - making psychosis more common than diabetes in young people. Most make a full recovery from the experience.

Psychosis can lead to changes in mood and thinking and to abnormal ideas.

Posted by Johnny
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 31, 2015 at 8:32 am

I went to Gunn High School. I graduated in 2004. Gunn made me so depressed that I wanted to kill myself, constantly. But instead, I turned to marijuana and basically screwed up my future.

Palo Alto parents: prepare for the truth.

Gunn kids commit suicide not because of academic pressure. You are all barking up the wrong tree.
Gunn kids commit suicide because of other Gunn kids.
The prevailing atmosphere on Gunn campus has a Nazi-esque nature. Most kids who are willing to conform and fit in might enjoy Gunn because they are one of the "Titans".

However, the standards of conformity are very narrow. This is entirely in a social sense, not an academic one. The kids who would rather hold on to their individuality might find like-minded friends, or else hang out with the stoners and drunks, or else be utterly alone.

For this reason, kids might turn to cutting class and avoiding the campus entirely. They are forced into a prison-like environment which basically lies to them about the real world and tries to scare them into compliance with threats of future financial insecurity. The incredibly depressing Lord of the Flies atmosphere is the entirety of their reality. They are not aware that there is a big beautiful world out there with a gigantic variety of people with vastly differing views and opinions. Just because they don't fit in the narrow Gunn culture doesn't mean they won't fit in elsewhere.

If they dare to actually go out and see this world, avoiding the daily, lonely hell that is Gunn campus, they are chastised as "truants" and condemned for "cutting class" when all they're doing is acting on a healthy desire to escape an oppressive environment, pursue their true interests, and search for a place where they belong.

Stop treating kids like prisoners who need to be herded into a playpen. It is utterly disrespectful and shortsighted.

Posted by PAHS Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 31, 2015 at 10:07 am

The only way to really have a strong sense of self or "good mental health" in this environment is to accept the things you cannot change, change the things you can and hopefully gain the wisdom to know the difference. This must come from one's family, "family values" and family priorities. Most parents in this community are so very bright, driven, ambitious and accomplished, and they cannot relate to a child who may be more sensitive and/or less ambitious than themselves. So what if my child doesn't get into a top school? So what if he/she is not meeting high level peers in college? So what if he/she will not become a CEO? I think parents and community members need to take a much closer look at our own mental health, values and priorities before we try to "fix" anything. And, for some, life in this environment is not worth it...

Posted by Educator
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 31, 2015 at 12:02 pm

Has PAUSD considered the impact of creating SMALLER SECONDARY SCHOOLS?? Overcrowding leads to anonymity within school environments, disconnectedness, and obviously much distress. Research clearly shows that smaller learning environments foster better mental health, community involvement and, achievement outcomes for kids. This is such a basic concept that seems to have been overlooked here. In many areas, smaller schools, or schools-within-a school, such as academies with different foci- are common. With more resources than practically any other school district in California, I think that this could be easily accomplished, quickly.

Posted by Johnny
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 31, 2015 at 1:38 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by hysteria
a resident of Community Center
on Jan 31, 2015 at 1:53 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Gross
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 31, 2015 at 3:42 pm

Nauseated that school board members and other pols will probably attend the child's funeral. A child's funeral is not for people who did not know the child or family. It is not a political event, or a chance to prove you care by being seen. It's opportunistic to go to the memorial service which is for those who know the family. It also is a bad idea to have hundreds of teens who didn't know him at an event like this given the contagion.

Board: if you want to show you care do something this time.

Posted by Not that Parent
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 31, 2015 at 4:13 pm

Johnny, Thank you for weighing in with your experience at Gunn. I'm very sorry to hear that it was like that for you. Unfortunately, it's not surprising. Our district is at the center of a vortex of different pressures, economic, technological, financial and so on. The real estate industry has for many years been peddling real estate here all over the world as a place with such strong schools that students are guaranteed entry into Ivy Leagues. This all results in a high concentration of people with that goal in mind, and it results in the culture you describe so well. We can't stop the greedy pied pipers of real estate, nor the grinding forth of booms and busts, but the absurdities of the discussion that you are pointing out are the result of a lot of us who do care trying to get our minds around the problem and find a way to improve the situation. Now that you're an adult, I hope you'll continue to add your insights and also ideas. Oh, and I think the air quality thing is being put forth by just one individual, who, for some reason, having made the point, insists on repeating it again and again.

Posted by Johnny
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 31, 2015 at 6:32 pm

Okay. Sorry for my previous post, I was a little angry and I'll admit it was in bad taste.

I think any kind of broad, arbitrary "fix" to the situation is misled.

I don't claim to know everything, so take everything I'm about to say with a grain of a salt. A lot of it is opinion based on the limited data I have and my own life experience.

I've been reading from a lot of Libertarian sources lately. I think we need to get government out of education. This would help reduce all the arbitrary, one-size-fits-all measures that suffocate independent-minded students (whom, I believe, usually have a higher IQ). Instead, the brightest minds get their spirits crushed, while the less creative conformists go to Ivy League!

Also, truancy is a myth. Youth should want to go to school. If they are forced to "learn" material that they don't care about, they develop a natural dislike for learning and think they need to "play the game" and go through the motions. This inspires cheating, and it also makes students willing to put up with the lies, and see school as a means to an end... that end being guaranteed financial security if they get the all-important College Degree.

This mindset -- of doing schoolwork as a means to an end -- rather than from an intrinsic passion for learning -- was EXTREMELY RAMPANT in Gunn when I went there. Its as if 90 percent of the students were resigned to this jaded mentality e.g. structuring an essay according to the Holy Format drilled by one particularly narrow-minded AP English teacher to "prove" a thesis that they don't even believe in.

Writing College Essays was the focus of English AP. Never mind studying books in-depth or exploring the power of the English language. This was of secondary importance.
I was in the class to learn English literature, not to learn how to write a College Admission Essay. Most kids were bewildered and never agreed with me when I brought up these points. How could I be so dumb and impractical.

End compulsory schooling at Junior High or sooner. Allow kids to enter an apprenticeship at age 14. YES let them WORK. Have them learn to build a boat and go sailing. There's lots of mathematics and wood shop education that goes into that. Or let them play in a band and tour the country. There is so much for our youth to do other than go to school like a bunch of slaves.

The key is that students are immediately allowed to APPLY what they learn to real life pursuits that they are passionate about. Instead of being tested with meaningless multiple-choice papers.

I have always been appalled by SAT tests especially, and how people think they have to buy those thick, heavy books and get tutors just to study for SAT. They learn absolutely nothing useful, it is an immense lie and waste of time.
I scored fairly high on SAT without putting any importance into it... go figure. It was such a frivolous waste of time to even take those tests. I remember wanting to go practice on my musical instruments but instead I was forced to go sit in class in those portable buildings they had at Gunn back then, and listen to a bitter, unintelligent, incompetent teacher who was having a bad day try to shove some Pythagorean Theorem lesson into my brain.

Or the concept of FINALS: some kind of death knell that must be survived or else...

The weeks they devoted to STAR and SAT testing as if its some all-important holy ritual is but one example of the dogmatic, suffocating practices at Gunn and I think that big government has a lot to do with it.

Nothing justifies multiple choice tests that try to trick the student and make sure they read every line of every paragraph in the Holy Textbook.

It all has to go.

Leave the kids alone. What they need is FREEDOM.

Posted by Paly Alum
a resident of another community
on Jan 31, 2015 at 6:58 pm

"Suicide ideation, they say, is not the product of too much homework, test anxiety, too little sleep or worry about college admissions, in spite of the stress they may cause."

Guess what? All of those things cause stress, which exacerbates any underlying symptoms of mental illness - anxiety, depression, etc.

At Paly I felt pressure not just to do my best, but to be THE best. It wasn't a particular teacher or class that made me feel this way; it was the culture of the town and the school.

Posted by Marc Vincenti & Martha Cabot
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 31, 2015 at 11:24 pm

Dear Palo Alto Onliners,

We're pleased, encouraged, delighted, and thrilled that the Weekly, in its rundown of "constructive and creative ideas," has included:

1) reducing the number of grade reports;

And, 2) requiring cell phones be turned off while on campus.

These exactly chime with two of the six proposals of "Save the 2,008"—our community initiative to promote a healthier, happier life at school.

What's more, three other items on the Weekly's list—regarding homework, consistency of class workloads in identical classes taught by different teachers, and number of APs—are right in the target-area of two more of our six proposals.

The only slight differences being:

a) our homework solution, "ClockTalk," is friendly to everyone—parents, teachers, and students—in that it generates data about contrasting workloads, data for teachers about the minutes their kids are putting in at home, and opens up a "homework communications channel" for kids to dialogue continually with teachers, and teachers with kids.

And, b) our goal regarding APs is not to flash a red light that sets a limit, but merely a yellow light that would require parents and kids, when they're contemplating multiple APs, to "pull over" for some serious guidance-counseling about the likely losses of sleep, of family time, of cultural and religious time, of extracurricular time, of developmental assets, and of interaction with other teens. Only then—after everyone understands—comes the green light.

We're deeply grateful that the Weekly, even in the face of our collective sadness, is moving in a positive and civil way to help us solve our community's problems.


Martha Cabot & Marc Vincenti
Gunn student and former Gunn teacher
Co-founders, "Save the 2,008"

Learn all about us at: www.savethe2008.com

Posted by Gunn HS Student
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 1, 2015 at 7:46 am

Johnny—first of all, how dare you compare the Gunn HS environment to Nazism? If you have a problem with Gunn, you have every right to say so, but it is beyond any boundary to say the school has anything in common with WW2 Germany, especially less than a week after International Holocaust Remembrance Day. [Portion removed.]

Past that, I see your point. Feeling left out, however, seems like a problem that has to do with high school, not GUNN high school.

Personally, as a current Gunn student, I am inspired constantly by how accepting our student body is. Especially compared to other schools in the area (Fremont, Lynbrook, Los Altos, even Paly, I could go on) my school is so progressive and relatively non-judgmental.

I'm a guy in choir, and people actually think that's cool. The student government isn't made up of all the best looking and most popular kids in school, but those most passionate about speaking up and fostering community spirit. The party kids and athletic stars aren't worshipped; the kids who are friendliest and nicest are the ones who end up on Homecoming court.

You say you felt suicidal because of nothing that had to do with academic stress, rather for social stress. You're completely right that academic stress has had no more to do with the suicides than social stress. The causes for suicidal feelings are of course different for every person, and the only way that Gunn is different than any other high school is that the door to suicide has now been opened up as a real, viable option.

Good luck to the Gunn administration to closing that door. But in the meantime, at least we can take this time to address and actually begin to tackle (on a bigger scale than we have so far) some of the existing issues at Gunn: both academic stress and social isolation.

Posted by Anneke
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 1, 2015 at 9:21 am

I read the obituary of Harry Hann-yi Lee with great sadness. He was obviously a good human being with many capabilities, who made his parents proud. My sincere condolences to his family and friends.

Unfortunately, I also came away with a feeling that this young man with many natural gifts had a desperate need to feel perfect in everything he took on.

Always striving for perfection instead of excellence may be too high a price to pay.

Posted by Morgan
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 1, 2015 at 5:48 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by School Start Time?
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 1, 2015 at 9:13 pm

Perhaps we should consider having our MSs and HSs start later (i.e. 9 am) to allow our pre-teens and teens (whose circadian rhythms make them more likely to be "night owls") to get more sleep.

Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 2, 2015 at 2:55 am

Start time?
I am confident school could start an hour EARLIER without affecting nightly amount of sleep.
Watch it happen after March 8.

Posted by Justin
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 2, 2015 at 11:09 pm

I think parents should remember to remind students that just because they are struggling or feel like they are failing, academically or otherwise, does not mean they are failures. That failure is part of life, but with resilience one can eventually succeed. Try to give examples of people who weren't the top student who still were successful in life and that academics, social status in high school, etc, etc aren't everything. I think this is a good article addressing the issues of protecting kids from failure while pushing them hard for success. Web Link

Posted by Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Feb 3, 2015 at 3:22 am

That's a very nice sentiment, but telling kids that while doing nothing but holding up score cards constantly to sort them will send the opposite message.

If we are failing a lot of these really smart kids, the system is a failure, not the kids. Is the purpose of education to sort the children, or to, as our district vision states, optimize the education of each one?

I think this kind of thinking is really wrongheaded, and is only going to lead to more anguish. Putting so many really smart kids in a really, really narrow system, judging them by narrow criteria - making the judging more important than the education - will make "winners" out of a few and "losers" out of the rest. Is that what education should be? A system of so many smart kids that grades on a curve is a system that should get an F. (See Daphne Koller's TED Talk about solving the 2 sigma problem.)

This has nothing to do with learning from failure. Let kids have an education where they get to DO, where the learn from failure in the course of learning and trying. The kids here don't need to have grades to work hard or pursue opportunities.

People with talents and intelligence and interest, as every child I have ever seen in school here is, feel anguish when they cannot live to their potential. Telling the majority of kids that they should just cool it and accept that they are 3rd tier, don't challenge themselves, etc, because our system is so narrow it doesn't capitalize on their strengths and strengthen the weaknesses -- that's the stress of hiding who you really are and trying to live as someone else. It only makes things WORSE, not better.

To say the kids must either be on a 24/7 intense academic sorting track or a "dumbed down" version of it is a false choice that does a terrible disservice to our kids. It's quite frankly the wrong system for a place like Palo Alto. Why is it that we have a system like this?

Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 3, 2015 at 5:08 am

@Justin, I got a good laugh out of your link. The message seems to be, it's okay to fail as long as you become a millionaire by age 25. The author has found her niche. I loved what she wrote about herself upon finding her calling: "So I did what anyone would do and completed a bachelor's and master's in psychology at Stanford."

Posted by Not that Parent
a resident of South of Midtown
on Feb 3, 2015 at 8:14 am

I heartily agree about the permission to fail arguments. We have a quantity of folks who go around lecturing and blogging to us about how all these lesser kids should accept their lot and just be happy with their mediocrity. They all use their Stanford or ivy credentials in order to qualify to make these remarks, and then proceed to reinforce the very idiotic value system of which they are proponents. They are incapable of stepping outside the prevailing culture that values education that is cutthroat, cruel, soul crushing, and produces the very lack of human depth that it takes to lecture a whole auditorium of adults about how they, too, have, in addition to a successful star child just like mom and dad, but also a big loser who failed at everything, but the good news is that everyone has at last come to terms with this failure and let the underachiever stay in the family. Madeline Levine, mentioned in the blog linked above gives such a lecture to packed crowds. Our problem is that so many of us are lemmings who have drunk this koolade at the expense of our children. Parents should fight this value system and teach their children to avoid institutions that create such shallow, blockheaded adults.

Posted by Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Feb 3, 2015 at 9:02 am

You wrote:
"Has PAUSD considered the impact of creating SMALLER SECONDARY SCHOOLS?? Overcrowding leads to anonymity within school environments, disconnectedness, and obviously much distress. "

I am still smarting from pushing for us to reopen Cubberly while improving the other schools rather than building bigger at Gunn and Paly, which is what the district wanted. Interestingly, one of the strongest reasons to reopen Cubberley, I felt, was that it would allow us to have 3 schools that all fell within what is considered "optimal" per research for schools sizes. Not too big, not too little, just right. Instead, the district put money into pushing Gunn and Paly into the too big range, because we were so great we were immune to the problems like the achievement gap being worse in larger schools I guess.

I don't know if you are a Gunn educator, but you were on the opposite side of that fence then if you were. We who wanted to reopen Cubberley were rebuffed by being told that they could always do schools-within-schools in larger schools. Good luck asking for that now.

Posted by Justin
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 3, 2015 at 11:03 am

I don't think I am arguing that we should simply say failure is ok and it's ok to be third tier. I am saying that constantly holding up the score card all the time is the problem. The idea that you MUST have perfect scores, and scores are ALL that matters is the problem. It squashes creativity. It makes students risk adverse. It makes them hesitant to explore.

I am speaking from personal experience here. I was a straight A student in high school. When I got to college, my first year or two any time I took a course that I thought was going to be too challenging I'd get scared. Often I'd even drop a course because I didn't want to get a B. Now as an adult, I realize how big of a mistake that was. It would have been better if I took the risk and learned more and not worried as much about my scores. I think that was the whole entire point of the article. In the long run worrying about scores, grades, etc too much was detrimental to me.

I think Eva wrote another good piece on this back in July: Web Link

Here is an excerpt:
"Last week, William Deresiewicz, author of Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life, published a controversial piece in The New Republic. Don't Send Your Kid to the Ivy League basically claims that kids who go to top schools get turned into zombies.

He's right, a little. There are definitely kids at top-tier schools who are intense, hard-working memorizers, but pretty poor problem solvers. The problem is, Deresiewicz taught at an Ivy for many years, so these are the exact sorts of kids he was likely to interact with most. You know -- the self-selecting group that only cares about getting the A. The ones who hound TA's about what questions will and won't be on the exam. Who are more focused on performance than learning.

The real inventors, innovators and creators at Ivy League schools are often too busy for office hours. They're too busy for the A. They're off exploring the world around them -- and identifying important energy, infrastructure and social problems along the way. They're turning the project they did for last semester's engineering class into a company. They're leading their volleyball or dance or debate or whatever-they're-passionate-about team to a national championship. Or playing in a rock show. Or taking advantage of one of the thousands of non-classroom opportunities available to them at a prestigious and well-endowed school."

Posted by psychologist
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 3, 2015 at 11:22 am

@musical, glad your thing is music, and not reading comprehension. The point is pretty clearly that it is only through exploration and experimentation that kids can find their niche, their passion, and, ultimately, success. Do you really think that some kid who took 13 APs can complete computational tasks better than a computer? It's skills like design, need-finding and creativity that are valuable. And you don't learn those skills in AP US History. [Portion removed.]

Since you seem like the a very concrete thinker, I shall explicitly explain the purpose of the examples in the article. You don't have to be an internet millionaire to be successful. It's pretty obvious that those were extreme examples, meant to inspire kids to take a chance. Maybe you don't make $5M selling ear training lessons, but you end up making a steady passive income of $500 a month (even $50/month would be an extra $600 per year!), which will massively help them pay off their inevitable student loans. It could even help them get the momentum they need to start running a small music lesson business. Or maybe no one buy their lessons, and, in the process of trying to figure out why, they discover a passion for statistics or a social media marketing genius. Either way, it's a much better use of their time than... what? Spending several extra hours writing a paper for a required class they not interested in and will never think about again, so they get an A- instead of a B+?
[Portion removed.]

@Parent, When kids DO -- as they should, because that is the best, if not only, way to learn -- they sometimes fail. Not every hypothesis is correct. Not every prototype will work. It seems contradictory to say, "It's not about teaching kids coping skills & that it's okay to fail," and, "Kids should DO," in the same sentence. It's pretty well-documented that kids will never DO when they have a paralyzing fear of not getting it right the first time.

Posted by Justin
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 3, 2015 at 11:25 am

I don't think the message was it is ok to fail as long as you are a millionaire by age 25. That is a very shallow take on the arguments in the post. Those millionaires are just one example of people who followed their passion and one definition of success. In another post by Eva she gives several examples of people she knew that she considers successful that followed their passions. They were Stanford students, but the point was they weren't the type of students who focused on grades. You can read that here if you like: Web Link

I can give other examples from personal experience. I am a PhD student at Stanford. The student I consider the most successful student in my program did not go to a top undergrad at all. He wasn't a top student at his under grad. He told me he was a B- student, not because he wasn't smart but he didn't really care about grades and no one pressured him. You know what though, he explored his interests and started working in research. The professor he worked for saw his potential and got him admitted to the Stanford PhD program. He is probably the most creative one of us, and I think part of it is because he was never forced to focus on grades and stuff like that. This post by Eva is a lot older, and it is focused on younger kids, but the idea is the same, teach thinking not flash cards: Web Link .

Also talking to @NotThatParent. You are completely missing the point on the permission to fail arguments. It is not that you are accepting mediocrity. It's that grades aren't everything and it's about finding your own passions and interests. I think the example I just gave above applies here as well. Honestly being an insider inside of Stanford I meet many many people in the graduate programs who weren't straight A students in high school but were people who explored their own interests and became unique in that way. I often find those people to be more successful as well (I am saying this as someone who was a straight A student themselves). A lot of straight A students, myself included, who were afraid to fail do very poorly their first years of graduate school doing research because research involves failing. To move forward you will fail. In fact the philosophy is more or less fail fast, and fail often. I find that the people like myself who were straight A students really struggle with this more so than the grad students like the one I mentioned above who are more used to struggling and are more resilient. It took me a long time to realize grades just aren't that important, and the emphasis we put on them can be counterproductive to learning and success as an adult.

Posted by Not that Parent
a resident of South of Midtown
on Feb 3, 2015 at 1:15 pm

Justin, You are completely missing my point. The subject of this discussion is how we are educating young people in our Palo Alto schools. These schools are full of students who are being taught that they must get into an elite university. In order to do this, although the universities claim otherwise, students must have perfect scores, inflated grades, advanced placement courses, along with A.P. test scores of 4 or 5, extracurricular activities, community service awards, etc. This is simply true.

My contention is that to do otherwise is not to fail, but perhaps to pursue an authentic course of study rather than follow the trail of zombies in pursuit of the Ivies and their ilk. Because you are in one, and because you are using that as your credential, I'm afraid you are also doing the same thing I'm pointing out in the bloggers and speakers we are getting advice from. I believe that to avoid elite schools and the advice of people who have bought into them and speak as their mouthpieces, would be the first step in helping our students to avoid the pitfalls of despair they are falling into.

Posted by My Thoughts
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 3, 2015 at 5:57 pm

My Thoughts is a registered user.

Back to original point of this editorial. There is one statement that is too wrong:

"Mental health professionals have repeatedly stated that suicide stems from severe and chronic depression or other mental illness. Suicide ideation, they say, is not the product of too much homework, test anxiety, too little sleep or worry about college admissions, in spite of the stress they may cause."

This is wrong in our case, because I know specifically that my kid depression and anxiety is caused directly from the school. Mainly by how the teacher treats my kid with so much pressure. They use homework to pressure my kid, and they use intimidation and humiliation when homework is not done. This directly causes fear and anxiety. So the editorial is wrong - this kind of mistreatment can and does lead to suicide ideation.

Maybe homework in a normal sense is okay; but how it is used by some teachers does directly lead to anxiety and suicide ideas.

As for most of the rest of the posters here you are ALL missing one big point about suicide - it does not have to be a mystery.

We can ask kids who have not yet committed suicide. They may have anxiety, depression, or maybe suicide idea. They are right here. They have not left us. These kids are having a lot of struggles in our community and nobody is talking to them.

Why not prevent the next suicide - by asking them what is hard. What struggles they face. Where their anxiety hits them hardest. When did it start? How can we help?

Then make changes to the school and community from this. These kids are still alive, and are in pain. Yet we ignore them, and claim that their problem could not possibly come from school. Well, if you ask them, you find that a lot of the problems DO come from the school.

Nobody bothers to ask them, because they do not want to fix the school.

You cannot fix suicide by asking a bunch of kids who don't have anxiety, or depression, or never thinking suicide.

You cannot fix suicide by listening to editorial from somebody who does not have real experience with kids suffering anxiety in this school. Editorial is wrong.

Posted by Reader
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 3, 2015 at 6:15 pm

My Thoughts,

I think you should read the editorial again. They agree with you and were just pointing out what mental health professionals have been saying and why there is push-back from the community.

Posted by Editor is not an MD
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 3, 2015 at 6:47 pm

Generally a good editorial, but this statement is actually inaccurate: "Mental health professionals have repeatedly stated that suicide stems from severe and chronic depression or other mental illness. Suicide ideation, they say, is not the product of too much homework, test anxiety, too little sleep or worry about college admissions, in spite of the stress they may cause."

In fact, there are numerous studies that document the connection between stress and other environmental factors and depression, and between depression and suicide. Stress can exacerbate a pre-existing mental disorder, or it can lead to depression that is not chronic, but combined with adolescent impulsivity can lead to suicide. The idea that there is stress on the one side, and depression on the other, and a chasm between them -- is false. Even if it is comforting to some of our school leaders.

Posted by Johnny
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 3, 2015 at 7:49 pm

I see a lot of emotions and revelations in this thread.
However, I am not seeing anyone taking action.

We need to accept that the system isn't driven by morals. It is driven by money and incentives.

No amount of suicides will change the fact that colleges are simply bloated and this system will never change unless we cut off the head of the dragon.

We need to stop giving prestigoius universities so much credit. We need to stop acting like going to college is so gd special.

High schools and colleges alike are not being held accountable for their tainted definition of success and their skewed version of education.

I am here proposing an actual solution: vote libertarian to get all government out of education. The only way we can hold them accountable is to cut off their funding.

Beyond emotions and morality, what we need is honesty and accountability all across the board. Vote libertarian, tell everyone you know. Free your children from the cage of lies. Let them spread their wings and fly.

Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 4, 2015 at 12:37 am

Ok Justin (and @psychologist), really I don't belong in this conversation - I was born at Stanford and didn't even apply, let alone get anywhere near their PhD programs. Mellowed my bliss elsewhere. You're right though, we can look to these experts for parallels between stressed Stanford students and stressed High School students, shifted perhaps an order of magnitude. In either case there may be the unfortunate aspect of "the higher they climb, the harder they fall." Back to your regular programming.

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