Gunn staff address conflicts following MLK Day talk | January 27, 2017 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - January 27, 2017

Gunn staff address conflicts following MLK Day talk

Assembly raises questions about how schools foster understanding, safeguard free speech

by Elena Kadvany

Last Friday, Jan. 20, at Gunn High School, students from all grades gathered in the gym for a belated Martin Luther King, Jr. Day event: listening to one of their peers and a Gunn mother talk about their experiences as African Americans. The mother, Julie Lythcott-Haims, a well-known writer and speaker, read excerpts from her upcoming memoir on race, "Real American."

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Staff Writer Elena Kadvany can be emailed at [email protected]


Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 27, 2017 at 9:21 am

From what I see, this article is covering 3 separate issues.

First, was this assembly to sell or promote a book, because reading it the speaker seems to have been doing that.

Second, the issue of respecting people's opinions if they differ from your own is a big problem, not just on social media, but everywhere. From the putting up of election posters (and removal of same) to abusive language and calling names to those whose ideas differ from the local norm, is rife everywhere and not only on line. People have to listen respectfully to different opinions and discuss or debate using sensible argument and not resorting to who can shout the loudest or make the ugliest meme or banner. If we all had the same opinions about everything life would be dull indeed.

Third, the race issue, which is a completely different issue than free speech. Everybody has a right to be heard and all issues do not center around race even if it centers around two people of different races having opposing opinions. Of course some issues are more about race than others, but not all issues are not defined by the race of those upholding them.

Posted by bannon
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 27, 2017 at 10:27 am

I think it is perfectly acceptable to suppress neo-Nazi and white supremacy speech, especially in a school setting. It is also perfectly acceptable to discuss ways to defend against neo-Nazis and white supremacists. Are there neo-Nazis and white supremacists in the Trump government? That is also a perfectly acceptable discussion right now.

Posted by half mast
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 27, 2017 at 11:24 am

"We worked really hard during the election cycle as well as now to have the school be a neutral place where students can receive and share ideas without fear," Gunn Principal Denise Herrmann said.

Is this the neutral place that flew the American flag at half mast all day after the election results came in showing that Trump had won? The claim is that the custodial staff had done that but not one staff member corrected "the mistake".
I think self reflection might be helpful.

Posted by Hmmmm?..
a resident of Mayfield
on Jan 27, 2017 at 12:29 pm

Web Link

Is violence in the dialogue? Intolerance to the point they will suppress first amendment rights.

Web Link

Posted by realitycheck
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 27, 2017 at 12:37 pm

Come on, everyone who is conservative and/or a Trump supporter knows that there is NO "safe space" to express their views, concerns, ideas or oppose liberal rhetoric and policy, without some degree of backlash -- in some cases unbelievably extreme. I'm an adult and have experienced firsthand being lambasted, de-friended, ostracized, and ignored and I haven't even told anyone who I voted for. My spouse has asked me to be circumspect online so as not to leave a trail as to our political views and jeopardize his career. I didn't put up a sign in my yard or on my car because I didn't want either vandalized. I have children and didn't want to subject them to the vulgar actions of Trump/Republican haters, all of which was on full display during the Women's March. But the media, celebrities, elitists keep pushing their agenda and keep us conservatives in the closet, uniting behind the scenes and growing stronger every day.

Posted by Jonathan Brown
a resident of Ventura
on Jan 27, 2017 at 12:41 pm

Let’s not shut down all speakers that push boundaries, utter opinions on controversial subjects, and get us out of our comfort zone. But I disagree that "it's not the school's job to say (something is) right or wrong.”
Perhaps this was poorly phrased or a non-contextualized soundbite. Our schools share a responsibility with the rest of our community to help kids understand the difference between right and wrong on all sorts of issues, such as the right way to peacefully disagree with each other, the right way to respect the opinions of others, the right way to question and think about the rules by which we live and respect one another, and that true hate speech is wrong. A civil society depends critically on teaching these kinds of core civic values, and the schools fail all of us when they pretend to wash their hands of that shared duty that we all have. Tolerating one viewpoint without question and shutting down discussion of divergent viewpoints is wrong. We need kids who can think critically and have the ability to frame rules that govern our future society. Otherwise they'll just be taught a "follow the herd" mentality, and that risks leading us ultimately into exactly the kinds of dangerous and dark places that all of us right-minded individuals want to avoid.

Posted by WhatIsHateSpeech
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 27, 2017 at 1:24 pm

Sorry, but I am getting tired of this (quote):
The school walks a "fine line," Herrmann said, in balancing a student's right to free speech and addressing speech that might be harmful to others.
"Everyone has a right to free speech but not hate speech," she said.

I quote from another source: Web Link
By Eugene Volokh May 7, 2015
I keep hearing about a supposed “hate speech” exception to the First Amendment, or statements such as, “This isn’t free speech, it’s hate speech,” or “When does free speech stop and hate speech begin?” But there is no hate speech exception to the First Amendment. Hateful ideas (whatever exactly that might mean) are just as protected under the First Amendment as other ideas. One is as free to condemn Islam — or Muslims, or Jews, or blacks, or whites, or illegal aliens, or native-born citizens — as one is to condemn capitalism or Socialism or Democrats or Republicans. (end quote)

So as much as I, myself, dislike many of the same things that others here dislike, I dislike more the broad assertion made by Herrmann above.

"... harmful to others ..."
It may offend. It may 'make them feel bad'. It may be reprehensible. But unless it meets VERY FINE AND EXPLICIT EXCEPTIONS (such as promoting violence against), then it cannot and should not and must not be prohibited. Nor should the school do anything in the lines of punishment to a student who expresses views outside the classroom (where those in objection cannot leave).
It should be argued and rebutted. And if you cannot do that well, then why should you be believed to be right?

I am NOT a Trump supporter. But this "it's not nice to hurt someones feelings so we'll prohibit your saying/doing things they do not like" has got to stop.

Posted by Kimberly Sweidy
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jan 27, 2017 at 1:24 pm

Kimberly Sweidy is a registered user.

I believe there is an unintentional typo.

"They're going to have to better vet the topic of talks and be more mindful and proactive about preventing alternative viewpoints and (providing a) more balanced approach."

Should Read:

"They're going to have to better vet the topic of talks and be more mindful and proactive about presenting alternative viewpoints and (providing a) more balanced approach."

For the record, I have no interest in preventing alternative viewpoints. I have every interest in presenting alternative viewpoints.

Kimberly Sweidy

Posted by Reality checklist
a resident of Mountain View
on Jan 27, 2017 at 1:29 pm

@realitycheck, I could have written your post, almost verbatim! i can't believe how divisive and vitriolic so many of even my close friends are, and yet I dare not say anything for fear of being ostracized, ridiculed and cut from events and groups. Tolerance indeed.

And I agree, I do believe there is a movement, I think/hope people are starting to wake up and see it's gone too far.

Posted by anonymous
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jan 27, 2017 at 1:52 pm

This seems like a good opportunity for the school to continue the dialogue.

Why not cancel classes for a day or two and have students meet in large and small groups? Then they can discuss these issues openly and with respect.

Learning how to discuss these issues in a calm and productive way is a more vital skill than whatever they are going to learn in those individual classes.

The best thing a school can do for its students is fostering critical and independent thinking. Writing, math, and science knowledge do not mean much without that.

Posted by Elena Kadvany
education reporter of the Palo Alto Weekly
on Jan 27, 2017 at 2:45 pm

Elena Kadvany is a registered user.

Kimberly: Thank you for catching that. It's been corrected to "presenting."

Posted by Not Again
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 27, 2017 at 2:48 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Parent
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 27, 2017 at 2:53 pm

It's perfectly appropriate to have these speakers around MLK weekend, and it's a shame that [portion removed] can't stand up for what they believe in and engage in civil dialogue about their views. If you believe in something, please articulate it, own it, and stand up for what you believe. [Portion removed.]

Posted by PAResident
a resident of Professorville
on Jan 27, 2017 at 3:57 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Ugh
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 27, 2017 at 4:12 pm

Ms Lythcott-Haim has proved herself to be something of a muckraker and trouble-maker. It appears she likes to stir the trouble pot, which she thinks gets people thinking.

[Portion removed.]

Posted by Kimberly Sweidy
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jan 27, 2017 at 4:38 pm

Kimberly Sweidy is a registered user.

I just emailed Dr. Herrmann and Ms. Lythcott-Haims this YouTube link of a speech I believe is entirely in keeping with honoring the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

This is Emem Andrew's Graduating Class Speech (Graduate Studies Program 10 or GSP10) at Singularity University given Friday, August 27, 2010. There wasn't a dry eye in the house, that night.  Ms. Andrew is from Nigeria.

Web Link

If you want the text of this speech in Word or PowerPoint, email me at [email protected]

Go Forth And Be Significant!

Posted by Eddie
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 27, 2017 at 5:42 pm

I firmly believe in a right to free speech in an academic environment. But, in the K-12 context, it is a very delicate issue because the audience is particularly impressionable. As the speaker herself reluctantly seems to acknowledge, she was invited to speak to share her personal experiences. She took advantage of the opportunity and used it as a forum to present her political views to a captive audience of children. Whether this was by design or not, I don't have a clue. But that's what happened.

A lively political debate is healthy, particularly in an academic setting. Here, we had no debate at all. The speaker was given a microphone and the implicit endorsement of the school, and the students were directed to attend and listen.

I don't fault the school for scheduling the event or for inviting the speaker because I don't doubt that it was scheduled to coincident with MLK Day and not the election. I do fault the school for not acknowledging after the fact that the speaker's remarks strayed off of the intended topic and that they regret that.

I've found that we are all for "differing" opinions being heard so as it's someone else that differs.

Posted by Tired of the Self Promotion
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 27, 2017 at 5:54 pm

Tired of the Self Promotion is a registered user.

@Ugh. I totally agree!

I attended Julie Lythcott-Haims' parent education talk at Gunn last school year 2016. As a speaker she was histrionic, fear based, and burst into tears multiple times. [Portion removed.] It's distressing that Gunn brought her back, this time to speak to students. [Portion removed.]

Posted by MidtownMom
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 27, 2017 at 6:14 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Dad of 4
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 27, 2017 at 6:39 pm

Please help me understand how the following statement is part of a memoir. It reads to me as more of a personal political view on current affairs.

"The angry disenfranchised whites were set free by the 2016 election, and their pent-up hate kept somewhat muzzled, tamed to an extent for 40 years now spurts out like a hydrant spewing hate across the streets of America."

And the Gunn Principal Herrmann's reaction:

"Everyone has a right to free speech but not hate speech"

It is not clear in the article, but she seems to be condemning the student who shared their personal view rather than the speaker's rant. Perhaps principal can clarify her remark.


Posted by Ben Lenail
a resident of Community Center
on Jan 27, 2017 at 7:22 pm

We should not object to hearing a left-wing viewpoint, but it should not be the only viewpoint allowed, and should not be presented as the official viewpoint of the school administration (keynote speaker at a mandatory all-school meeting).

We have both in Palo Alto now: effective censorship on conservative or libertarian ideas, and official endorsement of progressive stances.

Posted by Gunn
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 27, 2017 at 7:39 pm

Typical Gunn student. Declare yourself a "provacateur" and then shy away in the corner when you can't hide behind your computer. Speak up or be one of those "provacateurs" who actually speak to people face to face like the ones who did at the assembly. *special snowflake wants attention #can't be good for future employers #provacateur uploads a You Tube video to get rogue #write an English essay instead

Posted by Fake news
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jan 27, 2017 at 7:41 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Jaegarmeister
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 27, 2017 at 11:06 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Digestive Tract
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 27, 2017 at 11:15 pm

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]

Posted by Gunn student
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jan 27, 2017 at 11:16 pm

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]

Posted by frankinator
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jan 27, 2017 at 11:21 pm

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]

Posted by 9 inches
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 27, 2017 at 11:26 pm

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]

Posted by dennis
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jan 28, 2017 at 12:15 am

[Post removed.]

Posted by Sanctimonious City
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 28, 2017 at 3:22 pm

Schools in PAUSD have basically become indoctrination camps for progressive ideology. They have given up even the superficial semblance of balance or equal time for different viewpoints.

The fact that Gunn is a minority majority school and California is a minority majority state is causing all kinds of consternation and mental gymnastics. For example, we know that UC Berkely was actively and systematically discriminating against Asians (a minority group) in Freshman enrollment.

To skirt the laws regarding discrimination, we now see the expansion of the requirement for "Diversity and Inclusion" statements along with applications for college, internship programs and employment.

"University policy states that a candidate's race, gender, ethnicity or other personal characteristics may not be considered in the evaluation of academic appointments. However, search committees can consider past or proposed contributions to diversity as part of the overall review process."
- UC San Diego

“Have you ever participated in any activities that promoted under-represented minorities or has anyone in your close environment been ever affected by this issue? Please give a short description, along with your ideas on resolving the issue of under-represented minorities.”
-Stanford High School Summer Program for 9-12 graders

“Please describe your past experiences or activities, or future plans that you have, to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion in the sciences.”
-Stanford High School Summer Program for 9-12 graders

What is next, check boxes for whether one believes in global warming or planned parenthood?

So in addition to a resume, CV or application form, the applicant must submit a personal expose on how enthusiastically he/she has promoted progressive causes and it will be considered in the selection process. This is a common technique in communist or totalitarian countries where individuals are encouraged to outdo each other showering love on Stalin, Mao or the Great Leader.

Does anybody really think all minorities will receive the same weighting or favor? If you think this is limited to academia or government fear not. If the progressives have their way the requirement will be coming to Apple, Google, Facebook and any employer above 50 people near you.

Posted by Candace
a resident of Green Acres
on Jan 28, 2017 at 4:39 pm

How hard is it for the school to simply give both sides of the story in an assembly like this? If they're going to give kids one political perspective, give them the other at the same time. This is what I hate about Palo Alto. Everybody here pretends to believe in free speech, as long as they agree with that speech. [Portion removed.] I'm all for letting this author speak as long as it is balanced.

Posted by Open
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 30, 2017 at 1:05 am

@Tired of the self promotion,
I'm afraid I agree. L-H's heart is in the right place, but she comes across as imperious, judgmental, self-absorbed, self-righteous, and frankly, she just rolls over other people who disagree. I don't even mean major disagreement. [Portion removed.]

I think you are wrong. I am immersed in all ends of the spectrum in my own life, left and right. I can tell you that many people on the left would vote Republican if things swung back toward the ideals and away from the ideology. Things went off the rails when the primary focus became permanent Republican majority - which is fundamentally antidemocracy and relies on tricks and manipulations rather than honing the party in the marketplace of ideas - which led to a whole lot of unfiscally sound behavior and ideology without reflection.

I feel like there aren't any more fiscal conservatives anymore, only people who like to call themselves that, but favor policies that are more pennywise and pound foolish, or just downright bad for the economy (ideology over practicality and ideals). Even Trump is on record as admitting that the economy does better under Democrats (all the major nonpartisan analyses confirms this). Republicans got total control for six years during the Bush Presidency, and ran the world economy into the dirt. I know so many people who want to vote for what Republicans say they care about: fiscal responsibility, personal autonomy and limiting the intrusion of government in people's lives, etc, but that's not what the modern Republicans really do anymore. It's filtered through an ideology with an almost diametrically opposed result in the real world, but there is no way to have a conversation when one side won't engage with real facts. That's not a slam, that's a plea for rational debate. I find that when I try to converse with rightwing friends and family over politics, there also is a strong tendency for them to argue with a "liberal" straw man and not with me or my views. Yes, there are people on the left who are just as impervious to reason or debate, I grant you that. But I find there are far more people who identify as liberal who are willing to talk about the issues in an open way, including a desire to have rational Republican candidates to choose from again, people who didn't just fall in line no matter what for the unrepublican permanent majority. If you were willing to have an open discussion, not requiring the "facts" to come only from hard rightwing sources, you might find people a lot more open.

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