First week in Palo Alto’s highly reputable public school

Jonathan started his 1st grade at Walter Hays this Tuesday. We love the parents community and the school atmosphere, as well as the adjacent parks, playgrounds, and libraries. However, the academic side and the teacher commitment seem to be a bit lacking. Compared to ISB, with Ms. Chang who is the most fantastic homeroom teacher, the difference is night and day.

The first day was fine. The little desks are set up to face the teacher and the board. Jonathan said all subjects were so easy. Kids still practiced counting to 100.

I talked to our neighbor whose daughter had the same homeroom teacher 12 years ago, and he said this teacher is pretty quiet. Also, she’s a better fit with girls than boys, our neighbor says.

Based on my observations, Jonathan did extremely well with younger, vibrant teachers who are enthusiastic about learning and teaching. Jonathan didn’t adjust so well with teachers who only say what they planned to and teachers who couldn’t interact or improvise in the classroom. So this is a little concerning.

At ISB and Stanford Bing Nursery School, kids are encouraged to speak up. Here, the teacher at WH said that there won’t be much whole-class sharing. Jonathan didn’t know this rule and answered the question before the teacher picked him – the teacher said, “Only kindergarteners do that.” Anyway, it didn’t sound so bad yet. We all have to grow up and be more patient. 🙂

The second day Jonathan cried so much at night, stating that he didn’t like this school. He raised his hands and the teacher never picked him. He wasn’t part of 10 students randomly chosen to express their dreams. He didn’t like the schedule in which the students are stuck with one homeroom teacher all day long – no arts, music, PE.

Math, Science, English are all taught by one quiet teacher. Nothing else.

All subjects were too easy and repetitive.

I said we have options. We try our best to adjust to this school and see if things will improve in the next few days/weeks. If not, we can always switch. Jonathan was so excited to switch to the academic Hoover school, or to other private schools where we have to pay. I said but Hoover will have homework, and it focuses on academics. Jonathan said, I love that even more! Oh well… We assured him that he doesn’t have to worry about tuition. If the public school is free but not right for him, we can go to a private school with a better fit.

On Thursday, I peeked after lunch. Jonathan seemed lively and happy with his friends. He also has a nice new friend, Evelyn (who liked to encourage him to fight another kid though). And Quinn was so sweet in helping Annabella when she cried. I’m amazed at his big heart – Quinn didn’t remember Annabella as Jonathan’s sister. He just saw her crying with daddy, and he walked to her to offer help. He also said, “if you stop crying and talk like a normal baby, then I can understand you more.”

Overall, I think Jonathan is having great friends here. (At ISB, I was also struck by how nice and supportive the kids were. Ms. Chang always said that the kids in the class went to Jonathan for reading and writing help all the time. He was the class helper. And when Jonathan felt bad about his running capacity. His friends, Cruz and Jack, told him to run more at home. Jonathan said he already did. Then Cruz said, then find a better way to run! Then they brainstormed on how to improve Jonathan’s running posture so that he ran faster. These 5-year-old kids never ceased to amaze me. :D)

At the end of the day, I talked to Jonathan’s homeroom teacher, hoping to increase his engagement and positive perception. What the teacher said to me revealed her thought process, presumptions, and philosophy. She might be a good teacher for many students and is highly experienced, having taught at this school for 19 years. Yet, her philosophies and presumptions about kids are not aligned with ours.

She said that the fact that Jonathan wanted to answer in class and that Jonathan said he was bored and needed more challenges showed a “fixed mindset”, which is harmful. This is so wrong on many grounds. It seems like the homeroom teacher misinterpreted and misapplied the growth mindset, developed by Carol Dweck at Stanford. I went to Stanford, Daddy went to Stanford, Jonathan and Annabella went to Stanford’s Bing Nursery School where Dweck is a researcher, and ISB is a big subscriber of the growth mindset movement. We know what a growth mindset is, and we know a fixed mindset. The point of a growth mindset is so that people don’t just think they’re born with smart genes and don’t have to work hard to achieve things. A growth mindset encourages you to believe that everyone can grow, your brain can grow, you can strive to be better and better, and you can overcome challenges. Challenges are good. Failures are not to be afraid of, as long as you learn something and improve overtime. (Just showing efforts but with repeated failures / no improvement doesn’t make you have a growth mindset.) People with a fixed mindset would be afraid of challenges and would choose easy tasks so that it reinforces their own beliefs that their intelligence is superior and fixed.

I think the fact that Jonathan wanted to speak up even though he wasn’t sure if his answer was right or wrong, but he was willing to participate anyway shows a true growth mindset – a mindset that’s not afraid to be wrong and a mindset opened to learning. (Vladimir also said that he could see in Jonathan’s eyes that he loves to learn.)

Also, the fact that Jonathan seeks more challenges means that he wants to stretch himself – that’s a growth mindset. A fixed mindset student would rather do what he already knows and does well such as showing people that he’s the best in class at counting to 100. So again, the teacher’s logic is flawed. It seems like she’s pessimistic that students who say they’re bored with easy content “perhaps want to brag”. (Perhaps a lot of people with a “false growth mindset” see high achievers as wanting to brag their superior intelligence via more advanced stuffs.)

I know Jonathan, and that’s not the case with him (or any other 6-year-old students I’ve met.) I believe almost all children have an innate desire and capacity to learn and grow intellectually (not always physically because my daughter doesn’t want to grow up. :p)

Another parent made an appointment with the teacher regarding the curriculum. Then he said that she’s very opinionated; he felt like she dismissed his ideas, and perhaps there might be a problem with her manners, at least with adults…

So far, it seems like there is some truth to what people say something is wrong with the US public school system. This is California’s No.1 school district, and we’re still in shock that it’s not rigorous at all. It tries to accommodate to the bottom too much. To comply to the No Child Left Behind program, the elementary curriculum is watered down and the expectations for students are extremely low. We are committing our children to “forced underachievement”, which is detrimental and harmful. Teachers are overwhelmed. They don’t have assistants, despite having 20 students in the classroom. Teachers don’t have the bandwidth to interact with parents. Instead, they just impose rules and express reasons that exist to create an easier job for them. For example, she wouldn’t remind 1st grade kids whether they are going to order lunch on the first day. If they forget to raise their hands, they’d have to go without lunch. Her reason is that if she remembers and reminds any student, the students will learn not to remember for themselves. Also, if a parent goes inside the classroom, all other parents will do too, and so she doesn’t allow a parent to step inside the classroom. I think these are quite pessimistic views of the world. To me, students want to do well and be good – they don’t want to develop a dependence on teachers to remember lunch orders for them. If they forget, it’s a mistake and a teacher’s help would be appreciated. Also, it’s not like all parents want to go inside the classroom. If one really feels the need to say something to a child, it’s because one needs to (that day). It doesn’t necessarily mean that all the parents will suddenly jam her classroom.


เราตัดสินแทนลูกไม่ได้นะ ว่าเค้าไม่อยากเก่ง

เราคิดไปเองว่ายิ่งเรียนเยอะยิ่งไม่มีความสุข …

บางคนมีความสุขกับการเรียน การค้นคว้า (เช่น มามี้แด๊ดดี้ คุณตา)

บางคนมีความสุขกับการคิดธุรกิจ เกมส์ธุรกิจ (คุณปู่)

จะบังคับคน introvert , geeks ไป party สังสรรค์ บ่อยๆ อาจจะทรมานมากกว่าอยู่บ้านอ่านหนังสือ ทำงานวิจัย คิดแผนธุรกิจ

แต่ บางคนมีความสุขกับการช้อปปิ้ง (คุณย่า)

บางคนมีความสุขกับสังคม คนเยอะๆ ร้องเพลง ปาร์ตี้ กินเลี้ยง …

บางคนอาจจะมีความสุขจากการที่ต้องใช้สมองอย่างเต็มที่ เพราะงั้นคน intense ก็มีความสุขได้ …


เราตัดสินแทนลูกไม่ได้ว่า การที่ให้เค้าเรียนน้อยๆ จนแทบไม่ได้เรียน ให้ใช้สมองในด้านตรรกะน้อยๆ ให้เค้าวิ่งเล่นกับเพื่อนทั้งวันแทน ให้ใช้แต่สมองด้านสังคม จะมีความสุขที่สุด (ทั้งๆที่เค้าอาจอยากอ่านหนังสือเพิ่ม หรืออยากเข้าใจวิทยาศาสตร์มากขึ้น หรืออยากทำสิ่งประดิษฐ์ของตัวเอง หรืออยากวาดรูปแบบเคร่งเครียด ก็ได้) อย่างน้อยก็ควรจะสมดุลย​์ ทั้งพัฒนาสมอง ทั้งพัฒนาร่างกาย

กีฬาก็เล่น ดนตรีก็เล่น/เรียน ศิลปะ ฟังเพลง เพราะงั้น ก็ไม่ได้ขาดอะไรไป

บางทีเราก็คิดไปเองว่า คนจนถึงจะเป็นคนดี คนรวยเป็นคนไม่ดี

หรือคนไม่เก่งถึงจะมีความสุข คนเก่งจะไม่มีความสุข


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