Filmmakers@Google: Vicki Abeles

Uploaded by AtGoogleTalks on 04.09.2010

>> I can't really remember the last time I had a chance to go into the backyard and just
run around. >> School's just so much pressure that every
day I'd wake up dreading it.. >> I'm afraid that our children are going
to sue us for stealing their childhoods.
>> [music]
>> I would spend six hours a night on my homework. >> You have to get into the top schools.
>> You have to take tests and do interviews. >> It's gone way to the extreme.
>> We're all caught up in it. >> In America, if you don't earn a lot of
money, something went wrong. >> The pressure comes from the colleges, from
the parents, from the government, but it has to stop.
>> You have to do well now so you can get into a good college
>> [music] >> Everyone expects us to be superheroes.
>> You have a fear from the parents that my kid needs to be able to get a job.
>> How do you expect us to do well when you can't even make mistakes?
>> You're dedicating your whole life to your grades.
>> You have to be smart, and you have to be involved in the arts.
>> I have soccer practice every day, plus the homework on top of that.
>> Produce, produce, produce. >> It's impossible.
>> I couldn't cope. >> [music]
>> I've gone through bouts of depression just because you feel so swamped.
>> I almost, like, had emotional breakdown. >> There have been six suicides in our school
district. >> [music]
>> Our students are pressured to perform. They're not necessarily pressured to learn
deeply and conceptually. >> So what is that gonna mean when we have
a whole population of dentists and doctors who've been trained from the script?
>> Things that actually get our students to think are pushed aside.
>> These kids come to the table with this creativity, and this love of learning. Let's
just not take it out of them >> [music]
>> I think the United States really needs to re-think how we do schooling. The economic
future of the country depends on our addressing this.
>> We need to re-define success for kids. It's gotta be something we do together, all
of us as a society, almost as a movement. >> Jobs need you to be a critical thinker.
They need you to be a problem solver. >> We need to really think, what does it take
to produce a happy, motivated, creative human being?
>> [music] >> [quiet]
>> [clapping] Host: So I have grown children but they went
through the Palo Alto school system and I certainly sympathize and identify with a lot
of this. We're fortunate enough today to have the director of the film, Vicki Abeles with
us, who will I think be prepared to answer questions that you might have on the content
of the film. Vicki: I'm interested in getting your reactions,
anything that resonated with you, and then I guess first thing we should just introduce
Jacqueline, who you saw briefly in the film, and my daughter, Jamie, who looks a little
different than a couple years ago. It's amazing how time flies. So comments, parents who any
of this resonated with, or as employers here things that you're seeing in the workplace.
>> Yeah. And use the mic. That's all I'm hear to say.
>> [laughing] >> Well, I'm just gonna say that I went to
the Monta Vista High School that showed up frequently in the movie and watching that
was sort of like watching a snapshot of my very unhappy, very terrible childhood from
about when I moved into the Alamo area in second grade until I left. And I would say
that partially that has to do with the really toxic social microcosm that exists in the
very rich, very obnoxious East Bay, but a lot of it has to do with a lot of the school
issues that were brought up in there and I, I remember -- you know, like, I remember having
feelings about if I forgot -- the first week of ninth grade, I forgot to do a piece of
homework 'cause I wasn't used to having homework over the weekend and I felt like I was a complete
failure and I went into the bathroom and cried for like 15 minutes over a really stupid piece
of homework that really didn't teach me anything and had no bearing on anything. But, I mean,
I still remember it. It was a traumatic event and it, it, it still makes me feel stupid
in some ways that that was something that was so frustrating to me. But yeah. I, I feel
like I could have been that girl that the movie was dedicated to in a lot of ways because
I went through at least half of middle school and all of high school with untreated clinical
depression because I didn't want to admit that anything was wrong to anyone and it took
a complete mental breakdown of way too much pressure during my first year at Stanford
because I didn't know how to manage real work, I only knew how to manage busywork, and actually
having to produce anything of value was just -- I couldn't handle it. I couldn't handle
actually being around all these really capable, really smart people. And life's been a lot
better since I got some treatment so I really wish that we would message to young people
that if they're really experiencing these feelings, they should get help.
Vicki: Thank you for that. >> That was really long. Sorry.
Vicki: No. That was great and I think -- I really appreciate that you were courageous
enough to share that this still impacts you, even as adults, because I think that is what
we're seeing and it's why it's so important that as adults, we start to safeguard the
health of our children and realize that these kids are still growing and developing their
minds and their bodies, and it is a long time to put the pressures that we're seeing, both
from our culture, as you correctly point out, and from our education system. The one size
fits all approach is not working for so many kids and so I would just encourage everybody
to be advocates for that, and a lot of the depression and the what I call unintended
consequences that you saw in this film really go unnoticed for a long time because kids
are very good at looking good and saying everything is okay.
>> So I have all kinds of things to say, but I'll limit it to two. First is I think you
went -- you didn't quite go far enough in actually encouraging kids to individually
act against -- if that's the word you wanna use -- the teachers and the principals, and
the systems themselves -- including at the extreme end, there's a beautiful book by a
woman named Grace Llewellyn, who you may have heard of, somebody may have mentioned to you,
on basically encouraging teenagers to drop out of school and home school themselves.
But, on a much more simplistic note, skip class every once in a while. Just take a day
off and read a book that you're interested in. I mean, these are the things that I did
all through high school and it -- most people my age -- I'm class of '93 high school so,
35, 40 -- most of the educated people had those experiences. They just ignored class
for a long weekend or took a trip and I don't see that happening nearly as much anymore
and I think that parents should go ahead and encourage that. And I also think that at,
at Google and at some of these places that are set out to be sort of the ultimate destination,
I think it would help if we were to make a point of that and if Stanford were to make
a point of that, and if whatever these things are that parents and kids have in their brain
as their, the goal of all of this could somehow explain that there's quite a few people in
this room and at this company who were not straight A students and did not at least initially
go to a Stanford or a Berkeley, or a Harvard, and that people's paths are very meandering
and that should be encouraged. Vicki: I absolutely agree with you. Let me
just ask you a question because I'm a little bit older than you and so I agree, looking
back at my education what things were like and we had a lot more freedom and time to
do things like just process what was going on and have jobs outside of school. But I'm
curious with your new hires coming in to Google, is it true that you are taking young people
who don't necessarily go to the name brand schools and have the top GPAs and so forth?
Because I know that a lot of Silicon Valley has gotten that reputation that is actually
fueling some of what we are seeing. And I just wanna say also that part of our message
is that we don't wanna blame one another and I think parents are doing their best job they
can, educators are within a culture that expects so much of our young people and as a parent
I think no one wants to shortchange the opportunities their kids may have down the road. So I just
wanna ask you that, and then I was gonna ask Jacqueline to address the first part of your
response. >> We have a lot of that information. I don't
-- I haven't looked at it recently but -- I mean, obviously there's going to be quite
a few people who are the mold as you'd wanna say, but there's also quite a few people that
come very in nontraditional routes to what they're doing and I think those are the people
that kind of make life interesting here, and I think that we should let that information
get out a little bit better. Vicki: Right. We wanna encourage different
pathways. Absolutely. Thank you. I was just gonna ask Jacqueline to address one of the
things we are doing as we go around the country speaking to young people is we are creating
a way for them to add their voice, and we are encouraging schools to include them –
their voice -- give them a lot more choice around their education but I want Jacqueline
just to address why aren't students opting to cut classes or to self-home school, as
you raised. Jacqueline: You make a very, very valid point.
A lot of students during high school, middle school, whatever it may be, would love to
skip class, would love to take a day off; but in doing that, it takes a lot of preparation.
You don't just get to take that day off. You have to contact your teachers, all seven,
eight of them, however many classes you're taking and say, "I'm sick today. What am I
missing? What can I make up for tomorrow? What's the homework from yesterday and today?"
And so on your day off you basically spend the entire day doing what you would have done
at school and it just seems so much easier to have just gone to school. I mean, taking
a day off and not having to do anything but sit down and read that favorite book -- you
may be too tired of reading from school your textbooks and whatever it may be that you
don't even wanna look at anything with words on it anymore because you're so sick of reading
all of the time. You wanna sit down and look at the birds outside or something else. You
wanna do something that's not what you're stuck doing seven days a week, 365 days a
year. Because really, as a student in high school especially, especially in the East
Bay, especially in these more competitive areas, you don't necessarily get breaks off.
Whereas for work, you may get vacation where you don't bring your work with you. But in
school, whether it's over Thanksgiving break, you have a Thanksgiving break project, Christmas
break project. You have summer homework for AP classes before you even take them. You
never really have a full break and I didn't even experience really a break until I got
to college and I had a break between semesters where I didn't have any classes to prepare
for or anything. You don't have summer homework before your classes in college like you do
with your AP classes. So yes, it would be amazing to have those days off and just say,
"I'm just gonna cut class today and not go," but then in the back of your head that you
have all of that to make up and your teacher is going -- you don't necessarily, you don't
have the freedom and liberty to do that because you are -- if you do that, you're not necessarily
the best student anymore and you don't fit that mold.
Vicki: Right. I think there's a lot of pressure on girls to be perfect and then we do see,
I think, as you saw in the film with Sam and Isaiah, that many of the boys -- and I don't
wanna generalize -- end up throwing up their hands and checking out. So I think there's
just a lot of different coping strategies. I don't wanna speak for Jamie except to say
that when she did start to get sick and needed to stay home from school, she got so far behind
from a few days off in seventh grade that it became impossible to catch up and that's
a real shame. I think that we need to reflect on our own lives as adults. We go home, we
can choose to do work after work or not, and I think we're not giving our young people
a choice in the matter and we need to encourage them to sleep, and to have balanced lives.
So thank you, Jacqueline. Yes? >> My gut tells me that you have identified
a serious and increasingly prevalent problem, or set of problems, but, and, I'm gonna be
a little devil's advocate-y and I apologize. If you set out to make a movie about troubled
kids, you're never gonna have a problem finding troubled kids to tell a story about. What
I'm wondering is, is it the case that this really is a large ongoing problem quantitatively,
or, or are really a lot of kids doing okay and we just have to do something else for
the handful of kids who aren't okay? Vicki: Thank you for asking that. That's a
very good point so let me just say I didn't set out to make a film about troubled kids.
I set out to make a film about the state of childhood and education in this country and
what we found is that the hardest part of producing this film was deciding on which
stories to feature because we didn't find any young people who the system was working
for, even as Bill and I spoke about outside that even for the handful of kids that look
like they can do what Jacqueline was doing, they're still paying a price and I will say
that they're paying a price in terms of lost sleep, health consequences now or in the future,
a very narrow mindset that we're losing opportunities to develop innovative, creative thinkers,
and you heard so many experts in this film. These experts have been talking about these
issues for 20 years. I think what's new about this film is we're connecting the dots. We're
connecting some of the leading thinkers in education, in child development, in medicine,
and then importantly giving the students and the teachers a voice and I think they're often
the last to be heard from in conversations around education. So I would say that I think
that we have an epidemic here and as we go and screen around the country, far beyond
the East Bay, even in the most unlikely places, small towns. We're hearing that these issues
are impacting every community and people are feeling alone, and they're really wanting
to come together as adults in the community and to protect their kids and figure out a
new way forward. And so that's one of the reasons, actually, that we haven't released
the DVD amongst others, but we are very focused on bringing people together to talk about
these issues and form alliances with one another and become advocates for change and I think
that we are stealing our kids' childhood and we're also risking their future by continuing
down this very narrow path that really isn't working for many kids, even the kids that
on the outside seem that it's working for. I would say there's still a price that they're
paying and that we're paying as a society. >> To just sort of address your comment, I
guess I would be called one of those kids it wasn't working for. In high school --
I'm sorry. I'm getting a little choked up. In high school I pretty much got straight
As and high school wasn't that hard for me. But my brother came behind me, three years
after me. And it was much harder for him because it was just all these expectations of, "You're
gonna be just like your sister" and my brother and I aren't the same person. He was much
better in sports. He was smart, just school wasn't his focus. And, for me, I was a perfectionist.
High school wasn't the issue for me. It was when I went to college -- I went to Stanford,
as my shirt says -- and I got my first C on just a test. It wasn't even a class. It wasn't
anything major. It was a test, and I lost it. I called my mom in tears. I was devastated.
I had to get counseling. That, for me, is when it became really, really hard because
in high school I never really failed, and so when I came to college it was suddenly
like I'm failing and it seems like no one else is. And I never really had the time I
think to actually be able to fail. So I mean, maybe for a while, it looks like you're fine,
it looks like you're working, but eventually it does catch up to you and I wouldn't call,
call myself troubled but -- sorry but just I wouldn't -- but, eventually, there is a
price to pay. Vicki: Right. And we want young people who
are willing to take risks, right? That's where where all the great thinking comes from in
this country, all the innovation and creativity. It comes from taking risks and failing a whole
bunch of times and so we wanna raise young people who are resilient and who aren't devastated
by a C in college, or an F in high school, or by a poor review in the workplace.
>> Hi. This film resonated with me on a lot of levels. I totally kind of had the same
experience in my own high school and college experience but the part that really hit home
with me was from the teaching side of it. I just taught for two years in New Orleans
in a very low-performing school in a very low income community. And what really resonates
with me is when you started going to No Child Left Behind in the film and then going to
changing the ideologies for education because what I found -- I taught first grade and I
was expected by my school, by my principal and my school district at the first grade
level – 6 or 7 years old -- from the first week of school, I was giving five tests a
week, paper tests, multiple choice, spelling, phonics, math, whatever, and giving them number
grades, not just satisfactory, unsatisfactory, but a 93 A, or a, a 60 F to six-year-olds.
And the reasoning behind it, because I questioned it a lot because I just couldn't really wrap
my head around that because I think first grade should be -- or the lower elementary
grades should be project-based, learning working in groups and creative, and I wasn't really
allowed -- I had very strict limitations on doing that. The reasoning was always, "Well,
in third grade they're gonna start the iLEAP, which is the standardized test in Louisiana,
and in fourth grade is the LEAP, and LEAP is high stakes. You don't go to fifth grade
if you don't pass the LEAP. So we need to start them in kindergarten and first grade
taking paper standardized tests." So I have obviously my own issues with No Child Left
Behind and I think just this push to place so much emphasis on these tests is really
-- Vicki: And I'm just curious, what impact did
you see on the young people? Because I mean we are every year it seems testing these kids
at a younger age. >> Yeah.
Vicki: And we are putting tremendous pressure on them and taking things that smack of fun
outside of school and outside of their daily lives.
>> Well, and the way that my experience is very different from a lot of what was seen
in this film is that my schools -- my whole school district was very low performing. As
you all know, Louisiana's now one of the lowest states and my district was one of the lowest
districts in the state. So the kids, it really -- with them instead of pushing them to go
above and beyond with a lot of them, they get so frustrated 'cause they are below level
a lot of the times and they can't, they can't even wrap their head around it and these standardized
tests are just -- it's too much for them. So all our school talks about all year from
the second the kids walk into the school is they say -- they teach the test. They say,
"Tthis is what you need to know." It's all test, test, test. It's all the kids think
about. It's all this pressure on them and most of them don't pass it. Very few -- I
mean, we -- when the LEAP scores come out it's like at the end of May. It's like the
biggest day of the year and, I mean, there were some small improvements in my school
but really when you look at the percentage of kids that are actually passing, it's clearly
not working. Vicki: Right. And it's not working in the
long term and that's why we're seeing so many young people who are dropping out of school
because after so many years of being told you're a failure, you're not measuring up,
I think they give up on going to school and we need to make school relevant for all of
our kids, engaging. I think kids have a tremendous amount inherently of intrinsic motivation
and our system is taking it out of all of them, both inner city as well as suburban.
So ... >> I come from a different time and a different
place but I could still connect to some of the issues that you show. So -- many Googlers
come from different countries and I'm sure they'll say the schools elsewhere are also
stressful. It's stressful to be a kid, stressful to be a teenager everywhere. What seems to
be different I think is the difference in cultures, is the overall obsession with following
law and following rules is I think way too much in the United States. And I think we
have to limit the law enforcement in the school and we should stop slapping kids for misbehavior,
slapping them for being late, this and that. I stopped doing my homework in eighth grade,
just flat out not doing it anymore and I thought, there will be a huge fallout but teachers
quietly let me do that without telling anyone else because I was all right elsewhere, on
other academic achievements. And it did okay at the end of the day. I think schools have
to be softer on the kids and don't let them be or feel in a very strict confines.
Vicki: Do you have anything to say?
Jacqueline: Yeah. I completely agree with you on a couple of those issues. I think that
it's important for -- every child, every student learns at a different pace. I mean, there
shouldn't be set rules for them to say whether their best may not be the best of the best
of the school and they should do what they can to do their best, and they should find
a way to show that, whether that's through whatever their passion or possibilities are,
whether they're artistic or really good at math, or whatever it may be. But the way that
the schools and the way that our society forms the ideas of what is excellent for students
is not perfect for every student. I mean, you need to be able to show what you can do
in a different way and so if, if you're passionate about one subject, and you don't need to do
the homework in that subject, and you wanna have more time to learn about it on your own,
then that should be the way that you should learn about it rather than learning what's
gonna be on the test, studying, memorizing, taking the test, forgetting it, and then moving
onto the next chapter because that's not -- that takes away the love of learning. It's
just memorizing at that point. Vicki: And I think what you're also saying
is to get rid of this whole carrot and stick approach that we have on our schools which
only encourages compliance and if we're looking to -- again, I keep going back to this. If
we wanna raise a generation of innovative, creative problem solvers, we need to move
away from a one-size-fits-all approach that is really just encouraging compliance. And
I would also say on the issue of homework whether -- if you, as a parent, sit with their
child and do it at night, we need to start looking at how the time is being spent during
the school day and then remember that our kids are already putting in seven or eight
hours during the day and they should be able to come home -- there are lots of learning
opportunities that happen outside of school, whether it's reading a book, playing in the
backyard, or having dinner with your family, and getting a good night's sleep. And that
holds true even for teenagers. They've done some great studies at various universities
and I wanna say it's a very small percentage, probably under 3 percent of our adolescents,
who are getting the nine and a half hours of sleep a night that they're supposed to
be getting and that's contributing to all kinds of health consequences as well as disengagement
with learning. Do you have something else? >> I actually agree with Jacqueline where
the students have to be -- they should have an opportunity to fail early and just say,
"Ah, not gonna work for me." Because there's nothing like a doctor who was dealing with
the carrot and stick through the medical school and then he sees you every morning and says,
"Ah, another sick guy." I mean, he doesn't want to do that. The only thing is it is for
him is the money. This is not kind of a doctor I'd like to see.
Jacqueline: That's very true. I mean, we're looking at the society nowadays that learns
from what's gonna be on the test can so when doctors are performing surgeries, discovering
new treatments for different things and they find something that's not out of textbook,
they don't know what to do and, I mean, that's not only in the medical field; it's in all
other fields. I mean, we need to learn how to fail and we need to learn how to pick ourselves
back up. Without doing that, we can't move forward and be innovative.
>>Host: Well, before moving on, I wanna wish one of our guests the best of luck starting
high school next week. So I hope that goes well. Do you have some words about that, some
thoughts? Jamie: Umm ...
>>Host: Having been involved in this film? Jamie: Nothing really with the film. I'm excited
I guess but I'm not really that nervous. >> Host: Good. That's good. Well, on that
note, we wanna thank you very much for coming. Vicki: Thank you for having us and I just
wanna ask all of you to spread the word. Join us on Facebook, Tweet about us. We are really
relying -- aside from the great film that you saw here tonight, which was a great team
effort, and also couldn't have been done without the courage of young people like Jacqueline
and Jamie -- we are relying on a grass roots effort to get this film out nationwide as
well as globally and we probably have requests right now from 25 different countries. So
this is, in my opinion, more of a cultural issue than an education system issue and if
we can shift the mindset and the philosophy of what makes for a good childhood, what kind
of people are we hoping to grow during those years -- birth through late adolescence --
I think that we can really make a big impact; and I think it's going to take all of us talking
to one another, talking to the educators, talking to our employers, and including all
of the stake holders in this conversation. So please join us on Facebook, on our web
site if you have any thoughts, feel free to give us a call. Thank you so much for giving
up your afternoon to be here.
>> [clapping]