“Strange Contagion” by Lee Daniel Kravetz

A study that stemmed from the Gunn high school suicide cluster in Palo Alto.

I just received my hardcopy community newsletter in the mail today and was interested to see on the back cover an article written by one of my neighbors, Lee Daniel Kravetz, a practicing psychotherapist.  He moved to Palo Alto in 2009 and lived there during the four years when nine students from Gunn High School took their own lives.

This led to his research for his new book Strange Contagion which he described in our latest newsletter and is now available at bookstores.

He moved to the San Mateo area in part to get out of the environment described in the book, but acknowledges that the trouble described there continues to spread.

Tragically, our local high school has not been immune to this problem.

I have also warned about the negative effects of our school system in this blog, particularly in my articles Critical Warnings re AP Classes and How to Interest Kids in Science, Engineering, and Math.

As more people are attracted to the Silicon Valley gold rush from around the world, competition for jobs and resources here continues to grow.  Many of these newcomers come from poorer, heavily populated countries where high-stakes testing is the environment in which they grew up: with limited resources available, one succeeds or fails in life based on national exam outcomes.  This sometimes produces children who are pushed to take year round academics to get ahead while other children are “wasting” their summers playing…

In the past, America was always the land of opportunity for all.  It was rich enough and offered copious educational options so that, if one failed in one endeavor, there were always other doors that remained open.  While this country had its child labor abuses in earlier times, the U.S. fortunately progressed to a point where childhood was a time of life largely sheltered from the grindstone.  These gains may now be in jeopardy.

I am concerned that too many students are narrowly and frantically focussed on the SAT and AP exam route.  This enriches the College Board which produces these exams and courses, and also helps out college admissions officers, but frequently fails our kids as I wrote in It’s AP ex(sc)am time again!.

I look forward to reading Mr. Kravetz’s book, and remind parents once again to look carefully at their children’s class schedules.

Do not simply accept the statement that “I have to take these classes because all of my smart friends are taking them.”  This can lead to unhappy results if a child overreaches.

With the new school year about a month away, please review my article Critical Warnings re AP Classes if you have not done so recently.

As always, thanks for reading!

Author: David Kristofferson

Retired Ph.D. scientist, teacher (after retiring from industry, taught in private and public high schools and then worked a decade in my own private tutoring business), bioinformatician (managed both the NIH-funded GenBank National Nucleic Acid Sequence Databank and the BIONET National Computer Resource for Molecular Biology), IT director at Eos and Raven Biotechnologies, software product manager, AAAS Fellow, avid cyclist, and backpacker!

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