Saint Zuck of Palo Alto The possibilities and limitations of the gift | Inside East Side | Martin Lamarque | Almanac Online |

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By Martin Lamarque

About this blog: I have lived in Belle Haven since 1997, and work as an interpreter in the emergency department of a county hospital. My main interest is to help improve society by way of giving families the support and information they need to ra...  (More)

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Saint Zuck of Palo Alto The possibilities and limitations of the gift

Uploaded: Jul 2, 2014
I got very excited when I heard of Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan's pledge of 120 million to help improve education in struggling communities of the Bay Area, among them, East Palo Alto, and Belle Haven.
Until I read the details of the plan, briefly explained by the couple in the editorial pages of the Mercury News. It basically centers its premises in the belief that if we help close the digital divide between the haves and the have nots, we will finally put impoverished children on their way to higher test scores.
I am still hoping that given the fact that Priscilla is a pediatrician, she will convince her husband that they should invest their well meant gift in combating what Harvard's Center on the Developing Child identifies as the main source of failure for many of the nation's children: [Toxic Stress
Harvard being both Zuckerberg and Priscilla's alma mater, I am counting on this fact too, in my hope that they will take an interest in the subject.
Toxic stress is something that plenty of kids on this side of the highway endure in varied forms from the time they arrive in the world. Particularly in this area of the country where the economic divide is so stark, that even neighboring countries would have a hard time depicting it so clearly.
As with other social investments we have seen going nowhere, the solution to major problems and disparities are again being identified as the need to "close the digital divide". We forget that even though never before there were so many different electronic devices at the disposal of virtually everyone, poor children's academic performance continues to rank at the bottom. For all children, but especially those who grow up in poverty, there is a direct correlation between the time spent on electronic media, and academic underperformance (let alone its negative effects on social and physical development).
No matter how many studies have shown that it is less screen time--not more--that children need to develop well and learn, the push continues to be for the promotion of more electronic devices, often through school.
What overworked teachers need to help children learn is not more computers in their classrooms, but other human beings assisting them in person. Here is where funding could really make a difference. Funds to develop a curriculum with more non-competitive play and physical activities would achieve much more and in more areas, than giving schools more money to spend on getting wired.
In this community, a fraction of those 120 million dollars would take us a lot further if it got invested in promoting the social and emotional development of children. In no small part by raising parents' understanding of the importance of reducing the toxic stress in their families, (i.e. through the elimination of physical and emotional abuse, and neglect). Once empowered by knowledge, parents would realize that in spite of the obscene economic inequalities around them, they hold a bigger piece of the puzzle in their children's lives, than they ever knew they did.
Even if we did a good job at getting more parents on this path, not much will change if we don't invest in strengthening and supporting families through practical support.
We need to intervene long before a difficult situation becomes a crisis, and a chronic crisis dooms the future of a child. Training school staff to better understand the factors affecting a child's performance--and a mechanism to intervene in ways that don't stigmitize parents, but instead get them the support they need to improve their parenting--would be money well invested.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Louise68, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Jul 4, 2014 at 9:21 pm


Money must be spent on basic human needs, not on electronic toys and gadgets, in order to lessen or eliminate poverty and too much stress. How about more money for food, clothing, shelter, and much better medical care, and promoting healthy and frequent human interactions? The Zuckerberg's gift is wasted money, and makes me sad, because it could have done so much good had it been spent wisely and compassionately.

Martin -- I really appreciate your blogs. You really tell it like it is.

Posted by RW, a resident of another community,
on Jul 6, 2014 at 1:25 am

Yes and Yes. Or how about a stronger food program, after school opportunities for play and learning, and meaningful parent education? Throwing iPads at students does not get to the root of the problem of the divide between high achievement and low achievement.

Posted by Martin Lamarque, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven,
on Jul 6, 2014 at 9:56 pm

@Louise68& RW

Thank you both for your comments.

Given that many of people with very limited resources spend a big proportion of their low wages on all those gadgets, there is a lot of education we need to do on our side.

And given the popularity of junk food in our neighborhoods, a lot of education has to happen in this area too. It's getting harder to defend the theory that we have no other choice than to feed junk to our kids because nutritious food is too expensive.
A high calorie/high sugar diet plus too many hours spent in front of the different screens have created the prospect of poor health (physical and otherwise)that kids in economically disadvantaged communities are facing.

Posted by Red Onoz, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood,
on Jul 8, 2014 at 1:21 pm

'Toxic Stress' is very pseudoscientific sounding. Kids don't achieve because there is no emphasis on it, and many don't have fathers or have an otherwise broken home. Could it be that even life conditions aside from vague things like 'stress' even junk food are complete red herrings? The culture kids learn and more so their immediate relationships (socialization) account for the majority of outcomes. Imparted values and effective strategies matter a lot. Teach kids that families, life, and knowledge matter, not partying or driving a nice car.

Posted by Nancy Reyering, a resident of Woodside: other,
on Jul 17, 2014 at 3:53 pm

Beautifully written, compelling, true. Thank you.

Posted by Martin Lamarque, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven,
on Jul 17, 2014 at 9:32 pm


Thank you for reading my blog, and leaving such kind compliments.

Although there is evidence all around us of the need for human connection and free play in the lives of kids, policymakers and funders are taking their time to catch up and start investing in a new, promising direction.

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