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An Alternative View

By Diana Diamond

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About this blog: So much is right — and wrong — about what is happening in Palo Alto. In this blog I want to discuss all that with you. I know many residents care about this town, and I want to explore our collective interests to help ...  (More)

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Can we ever improve our schools?

Uploaded: Nov 17, 2018
When I think about my K-12 education, and I look back at my kids’ and now my grandkids’ education, things haven’t really changed that much. Yes, penmanship, rote learning and civics courses were emphasized more then than now, and the tilt was more toward individual learning, rather than doing study projects in teams, as occurs today. But all in all, our education offerings haven’t changed that much in decades.

I say all this because I recently read an interesting op-ed in The New York Times, “I
Will Miss You, German Schools,” by a Californian who moved with his family to Munich for six years. He described what kind of education his kid was experiencing over there. It was an exciting educational one, and started me thinking why can’t we step out of our traditional learning box here and see what new approaches we can offer our kids. Silicon Valley seems to be the obvious starting point for a more creative thinking.

The op-ed writer, Firoozeh Dumas, author of “Funny in Farsi” and “It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel,” describes his daughter’s education in a part of Munich with top-notch schools, where people only paid a few percentage points more in taxes than in California. As he commented, “Holy Betsy DeVos, do we get more!”

In the elementary school his daughter attended, there was a rich curriculum full of math and sciences, arts and languages. After school, he wrote, in addition to the more traditional offerings of chess, theater and computers, she could take circus lessons -- learning to juggle, walk on a tightrope and ride a unicycle. Since her school did not have a pool, students were bused every week to a nearby sports club for lessons, at no extra charge.”

“We have paid for extras like trips to museums (at $4 each) and $250 for a weeklong class trip to Austria intended to foster independence (a highlight was that each child did a short walk alone at night in a field), but that’s it. On a few occasions the school organized fund-raising efforts; the recipients were in other countries,” Dumas said.

Once in high school the college-bound ones were equipped with sports halls, music rooms, and libraries with ancient books, often equivalent to college libraries. And higher education is free, Dumas repeatedly noted.

I am envious of the wonderful approach Germany seems to have taken to education, and all that it offers students. Now, maybe it’s not as great as Dumas writes, and we need to examine that closely.

Dumas is now coming back to California for cupcake sales by parents to raise money for new school projects, to student walkathons, carwashathons and danceathons, and to schools that want children to go door-to-door to ask neighbors if they want to buy Christmas wrapping paper.

But over the years, I have been besieged by students selling the equivalent of wrapping paper and cupcakes. And in Palo Alto, parents spend enormous amounts their own money ($1,000 each child I’ve heard) “contribution” to each kid’s school, their time and energy to raise money for their kids’ schools and every school in the district. And we are a rich community!

Can we, should we, have a more creative approach to our children’s education here on the Peninsula and in California? Yes, yes, yes!

But the first thing we need to do is get more information on how the Germans and other countries achieve an array of courses and activities for their children for only a bit more money. Of course their countries have lower defense budgets and higher taxes than the U.S., but that’s not the only answer. We have to find out – quickly – how they make it work.

We have to get our teachers to help us. They spend their days caring about our kids, so I assume they want to improve our educational system, too. We have to get our local school boards to start discussing what major changes they want, and how can they achieve them. One big step at a time. Hear me, Palo Alto Unified school board members?

What’s done in Munich and other European countries is certainly not impossible to accomplish here. We just have to try to be more creative and willing to try new things.
Local Journalism.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Nov 17, 2018 at 4:32 pm

I think you will find that German (and most overseas nations) schools the children spend more hours per day and more days per academic year in school. They also have PE but spend a lot less time worrying about high school sports.

To get a better idea of foreign schooling, it is important to see how long they actually spend in school and how much less time they do busy work.

I know of one high school student overseas who did business and tax in high school. We don't even teach our high school students how to fill in a tax form, how to balance a check book, how to write a resume, how to apply for a lease, a loan, or a mortgage. We are sadly more serious about Calculus and Algebra III, than we are about how to open a bank account!

Posted by Diana Diamond, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Nov 17, 2018 at 5:10 pm

Diana Diamond is a registered user.

Resident --
I agree with most of what you said.
When I was in Paris, kids were getting out of school at 4:30 pm. And it was straight classroom teaching -- I could see the classes in session at 4:25.

I also agree that we need more "practical" classes in high school -- how to write checks, balance a budget, write a resume, and pay a mortgage. All this is not a year's course, simply a couple of weeks set aside for the essentials of living day to day.

Thanks for your comment!


Posted by A few things, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Nov 17, 2018 at 6:32 pm

First of all, Firoozeh Dumas used to live in ... Palo Alto. I met her when she lived here. I don't know if she ever had children in high school in Palo Alto, but if not, she may be surprised by the high schools here if she comes back here. I dare say that high schools in Germany have nothing on our local high schools. Top notch sports facilities and many sports offerings. A brand new theater at Paly with all the bells and whistles and top notch theater program. A glass blowing studio at Paly. How many high schools anywhere have a glass blowing studio? And on, and on, and on.

Now, maybe elementary schools here do not have offerings that compare with German offerings. If you want the same services as in Germany (and in Europe in general), you have to pay way more taxes than you pay here. The way it works here is that schools may have funding and offerings, but they are out earlier in the day, as noted, and then parents get to supplement with after school activities, until middle or high school when there are lots, and lots of offerings.

Posted by A few things, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Nov 17, 2018 at 6:34 pm

I meant to say that schools here may have less* funding and offerings...

Posted by Vasche LaMou, a resident of Green Acres,
on Nov 18, 2018 at 10:58 pm

"We don't even teach our high school students how to fill in a tax form, how to balance a check book, how to write a resume, how to apply for a lease, a loan, or a mortgage. We are sadly more serious about Calculus and Algebra III, than we are about how to open a bank account!"

Are you crazy? Who ever heard of AP classes in Bank Account Opening? When has that ever got anybody into Harvard?

As for filling in tax forms, that's a lifelong learning process even for professional CPAs.

Posted by Tim Ranzetta, a resident of Professorville,
on Nov 19, 2018 at 4:46 pm

And to think there's a non-profit, Next Gen Personal Finance (, based in Palo Alto that is currently being used in 50% of high schools throughout the U.S. How about creating an elective based on our FREE curriculum and watch how many students flock to it? If you're a parent who wants to teach your children these essential money skills, here's a blog post with ideas on how to use milestones as teaching opportunities: Web Link

Tim (Co-founder)

Posted by Menlo parent, a resident of Menlo Park,
on Nov 20, 2018 at 1:14 pm

Just FYI, Dumas is a woman.

Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park,
on Nov 21, 2018 at 4:43 am

Why is it the US agonizes about everything that other countries are doing better than us, but we refuse to learn or change?

Finland's schools from Where To Invade Next: Web Link

Finland basically put all kids in the same boat, so that when something is wrong or there is a way to improve it, they all learn from it ... it's called economy of scale and it builds coherency and focus into the system. Somehow someone in our country thought it was better to have everyone fighting ... maybe so a certain group of people can steal everything while everyone is looking the other way

The days when a country can benefit from encouraging bullying and beating down their children and using them for cannon fodder are long gone.

Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Nov 23, 2018 at 9:43 am

Try private school for a completely different educational experience.

Posted by public teacher, a resident of another community,
on Nov 24, 2018 at 4:06 pm

"Private school": Test to get in, cherry pick students, no ESL, Autistic, SDC, "intervention" classes. Require parent involvement. No students "showing up" 10 weeks into the school year from another country that were not attending any school.

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