Why Are American Colleges Obsessed With ‘Leadership’? | The Atlantic (2014)

Why Are American Colleges Obsessed With ‘Leadership’?; Tara Isabella Burton; In The Atlantic; 2014-01-22.
Teaser: What’s wrong with being a follower? Or a lone wolf?
Tara Isabella Burton is on a Ph.D. track as a Clarendon Scholar at Trinity College, Oxford; in the areas of theology & literature.

tl;dr → Because they can; because they need more “data.”  The English system is better, they’ve got this figured out already.  Europe, look to Europe for the answers.

Separately noted.


  • Common Application
  • Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT)
  • Academic Culpability Test (ACT)
  • anti-intellectualism
    American anti-intellectualism
  • Universe (who cares?)
    • Columbia
    • Harvard
    • Tufts
    • Wesleyan
    • Yale
    • Counterpoint (who doesn’t care?)
      • Oxford
      • The English “public” school scheme, writ large.
  • Opposition
    • contributor, participant → bad (a C-)
    • leader, tangible merit → good (A, A+)
  • Attributes (of a successful supplicant)
    • Generally
      • warmth of personality
      • sense of humor
      • energy
      • concern for others
      • grace under pressure.
    • Harvard
      • maturity
      • character
      • leadership
      • self-confidence
  • Definition of Leadership, as a <quote>a broad church of qualities</quote>
    • maturity
    • concern for others
  • Opposition
    • self-confident leader
    • contra
      • natural follower
      • natural team player
      • natural lone wolf
  • Claim:
    The categorical Leadership is culture-specific.
  • <quote>[leaders] will—implicitly—manage those others who are not [leaders].The implicit message behind the rhetoric of leadership is that learning for learning’s sake is not enough.[Leaders are] People who make it to the top. People who can climb the greasy pole of whatever hierarchy they decide to attach themselves to.</quote> attributed to Robert J. Sternberg, College Admissions for the 21st Century



  • Kingman Brewster, President, Yale
  • William Deresiewicz; ex-admissions, Columbia.
  • Emmi Harward
    • director of college counseling, The Bishop’s School, La Jolla, CA
    • Executive Director of the Association College Counselors in Independent Schools
  • Janet Lavin Rapeleye, dean (of admissions?), Princeton.
  • Robert J. Sternberg, Dean of Arts and Sciences, Tufts University.


In The Atlantic:

Via: backfill.

The Organization Kid | David Brooks (2001)

The Organization Kid; David Brooks; In The Atlantic; 2001-04.
Teaser: The young men and women of America’s future elite work their laptops to the bone, rarely question authority, and happily accept their positions at the top of the heap as part of the natural order of life.

tl;dr → 13,000 words


  • (Introduction)
  • The Origins of the Organization Kid
  • The Moral Life of the Organization Kid
  • Compelled by the Knightly Spirit
  • “Love and Success and Being Happy”
  • (Wrapup)



  • Harvard
    • Teddy Roosevelt
    • John Reed
  • Princeton
    • Hobey Baker
    • Allen Dulles
    • Adlai Stevenson
    • F. Scott Fitzgerald


  • Jeffrey Herbst, professor, politics, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University
  • Fred Hargadon, ex-dean of admissions, Princeton
  • Brainerd Alden Thresher; College Admissions and the Public Interest,, a booklet, 1966
    • poetic frame of mind
    • prudential frame of mind
  • Dave Wilkinson, professor, physics, Princeton
  • Robert Gamble, tennis director, some camp, New Hampshire.
  • Kathryn Taylor, class of 1974, administrator, alumni affairs, Princeton
  • Aaron Friedberg, “teaches,” international relations Princeton.
  • Kathleen Deignan, dean of undergraduate students, Princeton.
  • Robert Wuthnow, unstated, a sociologist.
  • Robert George, professor, politics, Princeton.

Via: backfill.

Why Are Palo Alto’s Kids Killing Themselves? The Pains of Being Perfect | San Francisco Magazine

  1. Why Are Palo Alto’s Kids Killing Themselves?; Diana Kapp; In San Francisco Magazine; 2015-05-22.
    Teaser: A panicked town struggles with a wave of suicides.
  2. The Pains of Being Perfect; Diana Kapp; In San Francisco Magazine; 2015-05-17.
    Teaser: Why are Palo Alto’s teenagers killing themselves?

tl;dr → to make it stop: the pressure from the school, enforced by the parents, backgrounded by cultural expectations.  6600 words.

There are two presentations of the same text.

Diana Kapp (bio)
  • former Palo Alto resident
  • a Stanford alum
  • three young children


Predates the presentation for the East Coast media.  Rosin’s opus is substantially a copy of Kapp’s, but with different vignettes & exemplars.

The Silicon Valley Suicides; Hanna Rosin; In The Atlantic; 2015-11-16; commentariat; separately noted.
Teaser: Why are so many kids with bright prospects killing themselves in Palo Alto?

Postdates, by a week, a less extensive, more personal testimonial-type essay on the same subject:

Sarah Eisner; Training for Discontent; In Her Blog, on Medium; 2015-05-13; previously filled.
Teaser: The Doublespeak of Parenting and the Double Blade of Ambition in Silicon Valley


  • Palo Alto
  • Caltrain
  • East Meadow Drive
  • Gunn High School
  • Alta Mesa cemetery.
  • Science, Technology, Engineering, Math (STEM)
  • Suicide Clusters
    timespans not given
    • Palo Alto, California
    • Fairfax County, Virginia.
    • University of Pennsylvania.
    • Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
    • Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, South Dakota.
  • immigrant culture
  • (upper-)middle class culture
    stable ranks of the upper-middle class
  • culture of unbounded striving
  • Stanford duck syndrome
    (calm on the surface, furiously paddling unseen below)
  • <quote>Depression is effectively “glorified,” because it attracts attention.</quote>, attributed to an anonymous Gunn senior.
  • Palo Alto Weekly
    • various reportage, 2011; uncited
    • Ken Dauber’s campaign
      We Can Do Better, Palo Alto
  • Project Safety Net (PSN), 2009.
  • Titan 101; (reuqired) course, Gunn High School.
  • <quote>The bulk of school counseling is still carried out by unpaid interns—master’s students, mostly—who typically stay just one to two years, undermining the larger goal of tight relationships between providers and kids. </quote>
  • Changes, at Gunn; are recited
    • more difficult than planned
    • undercut by students
    • zero period
    • desire for stronger classes; AP-level courses; students, parents, etc.
    • cheating culture
    • cell phone use
  • Save the 2008
  • Oracle, student newspaper, Gunn
  • attributed to Madeline Levine.
    • <quote>The schools blame the parents. And when they are together, they blame the universities,</quote>,
    • <quote>Communities like Palo Alto may tout their Hallmark-ready battle cry of “We’re all in this together,” but all too often, there is little coming together on anything. “Where are the parents? How do they tolerate four hours of homework? Since when are kids making multiple trips to the ER? It starts to be a mass delusion. That’s what this feels like to me. What’s that book where all the girls become hysterical—The Crucible? That is what this feels like to me.</quote>
    • <quote>[fears for this generation of kids] who don’t come out and say ‘Screw you.’ Where’s the rebellion? These kids have no sense that they could change something.</quote>
  • Stanford Psychiatry Department, commenced a study, a “psychological autopsy” of the suicide cluster; WHEN?
    Did not conclude, no work product was produced.
  • <quote>The problem is that Palo Alto, in my experience, is a community with something of a tin ear, many denizens seemingly hearing only what confirms their preexisting worldview. Some of that tone deafness is understandable, given the complexity of the issues besetting the town. But some of it may be due to a general muzzling of suicide-related speech.</quote>, attributed to Diana Kapp.
  • “Listening to Youth Voices”, a panel, 2015-03(?)
  • My Voice Matters, a blog, On Tumblr.
  • Palo Alto Weekly, cited as patrolling the (language) commentariat on their articles.
  • Andrew Liu; a blog post, uncited
    inflammatory prose & diagram

    • a Venn Diagram: (Palo Alto, Asian, Male)
    • <quote>It seems, that the demographic most at risk are Asian (Chinese) males in high school (hey, that’s what I am!).</quote>
  • Denise Herrmann, Principal, Palo Alto High School
    • 3-year accrediation plan, presented to the School Board
    • priority: “expanding the cultural definition of success beyond traditional metrics.”


  • Joe [no last name]; exemplar, (temporarily) missing teen.  A search party is deployed.
  • Ian Cramer, exemplar; might have been missing, but was found.


substantially in order of appearance

  • Daniel Saal, parent. psychiatrist
  • Lauren Saal, daughter; junior, Gunn High School.
  • Martha Cabot, age 16
  • Lisa Hao, student
  • Denise Herrmann, principal, Gunn High School
  • Roni Gillenson, program director, Adolescent Counseling Services, Gunn High School
  • Shashank Joshi
    • director, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Fellowship Program at Stanford
    • consultant to the Palo Alto Unified School District
  • Ian Cramer, wrestling team, Gunn High School
  • Erika Drazan, pediatrician, Palo Alto Medical Foundation (PAMF)
  • Carolyn Walworth
    • junior, Palo Alto High School (Paly)
    • student representative to the School Board
  • Cezanne Lane, sophmore, Paly.
  • Olivia Eck, sophomore, Gunn High School
  • Gaby Candes, sophomore, Gunn; 2x parents, faculty, Stanford.
  • Hayley Krolik, junior, Gunn.
  • Ken Dauber
    • resident, Palo Alto
    • father
    • school board member
    • software engineer, Google
      <quote>the techie with a sociology PhD</quote>
    • married to Michele Dauber
  • Michele Dauber
    • married to Ken Dauber
    • professor, law, Stanford
  • Kevin Skelly, ex-superintendent, Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD)
  • Kathleen Blanchard, parent.
  • Max McGee
    • (current-)superintendent, Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD)
    • arrived in 2014
    • ex “head” (headmaster?)
      • unnamed school, a math and science academy, Princeton, New Jersey.
      • unnamed school, a math and science academy, Aurora, Illinois.
  • Marc Vincenti, English teacher, retired Gunn.
  • Madeline Levine
  • Anna Barbier, student?, Gunn.
  • Bill Johnson, publisher, Palo Alto Weekly.
  • Andrew Lu, senior, Paly
  • Jessica Luo, senior, Gunn.


Via: backfill.

West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional School District, New Jersey, Eases Pressure on Students, While Baring an Ethnic Divide between Asian-American and (sic) Americans

New Jersey School District Eases Pressure on Students, Baring an Ethnic Divide; Kyle Spencer; In The New York Times (NYT); 2015-12-25.

tl;dr → Divided by immigration in the proxy of observable regional origin & named by their race, those doing well in the system want more of it; those not succeeding want a different system. School district administrators try to <quote>avoid becoming another Palo Alto</quote>.  The stewards & stakeholders debate the pros & cons, with emotion & emphasis in public spheres as school policy is modified in situ.  Student population & individual behavior, feelings & attitudes are not surveyed; with the understanding that all is compos mentis therein.

Original Sources

Letter to the Community; Dr. David Aderhold; West Windsor-Plainsboro (WW-P) Regional School District; 2015-10 (undated in the text, dated on the filename); 16 pages.

  • There will be change.
    The changes are outlined.
  • Core Values
  • Whole Child, Every Child
    <snide>what bright & colorful names!</snide>

    • Whole Child, Every Child!
    • No Student Left Behind!
    • The Race to the Top!
    • Headstart (the grandaddy of them all!)
  • Mission Statement
    <quote>The mission of the WW-P school district is to “develop passionate, confident, lifelong learners.”</quote>
  • Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD)
    • Whole Child Initiative
      • started 2007
  • Whole Child Tenets
    large longish sentences with mission statement gravitas, embedding the adjectives:

    • healthy
    • safe
    • engaged
    • supported
    • challenged
  • Six Compenencies Framework
    1. Collaborative Team Member
    2. EffectiveCommunicator
    3. Globally Aware, Active, Responsible Student/Citizen
    4. Information Literate Researcher
    5. Innovative and Practical Problem Solver
    6. Self‐Directed Learner.
  • Quoted, cited
    in order of appearance

  • Programs & Practices
    The changes already made, the changes yet to occur.
    selected; see pages 6-15.

    • 1:1 Learning Initiative, uses Chromebooks
      (snippet reading, animations, videos, multiple choice tests; mouse & keyboard work; ho hum)
    • No midterm, final exams; continuous & constant grading.
    • Option II; a State of New Jersey program for credit granted for activities performed outside of school.
  • Argot
    • assessments (grading); somehow different than testing.
    • Basic Skills
    • Common Assessments
    • eduspeak
    • excessive stress
    • external program review
    • parental overrides
    • social-emotional development
    • stakeholders


  • <quote>face the prospect of becoming another Palo Alto, Calif., where outsize stress on teenage students is believed to have contributed to two clusters of suicides in the last six years.</quote>, attributed to David Aderhold in verbal statements at a meeting.
  • West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional School District, N.J.
    • is “near” Princeton, N.J. whatever that means in a state the size of New Jersey.
    • <quote>bout 10 minutes from Princeton and an hour and a half from New York City,
    • Abbreviation: WW-P
    • Two cities
      • West Windsor
      • Plainsboro
  • <quote>At a packed meeting of the school district’s Board of Education held shortly before the winter break, a middle school cafeteria was filled with parents, with Asian-Americans sitting on one side and white families on the other.</quote>; unclear if Kyle Spencer, the reporter, witnessed this, experienced this, or was told of this by others.


Apparently due to the Kyle Spencer, the reporter, and the editorial staff of The New York Times (NYT).

Categories of Persons
  • Asian-American
    euphemism to characterize 0th generation (at least, the parents)

    • Chinese
    • Indian
    • Korean.
  • white (lower case)
    Everyone else.
  • <quote>Both Asian-American and white families say the tension between the two groups has grown steadily over the past few years, as the number of Asian families has risen/quote>
  • <quote>The district has become increasingly popular with immigrant families from China, India and Korea. This year, 65 percent of its students are Asian-American, compared with 44 percent in 2007. Many of them are the first in their families born in the United States.</quote>


  • David Aderhold
    • Ed.D.
    • superintendent, West Windsor-Plainsboro (WW-P) Regional School District, NJ.
    • tenure
      • 2.5 years as superintendant
      • 7 in WW-P
  • Catherine Foley
    • parent; son, daughter; ages circa elementary school, middle school.
    • former president, Parent Teacher Student Association (PTA)
  • Mike Jia
    • <quote>Asian-American professional</quote>; cited as exemplar of the genre.
    • parent, no further details.
    • moved to WW-P after 2005.
  • Helen Yin
    • (represented as) Chinese; i.e. born in Chengdu, CN
    • a parent; kindergarten, 8th grade
    • something about “pursuing” a masters degree in chemistry
      [still working on it?  she didn't finish it & has abandoned the quest?]
  • Karen Sue
    • (represented as) Chinese-American; i.e. born in the U.S.
    • parent; 5th, 8th graders


Not Interviewed

  • David Aderhold
    lots of quotes about what he has said in public fora; but (apparently?) he was not actually interviewed for the piece; nor were any school district press relations personnel at all.



Via: backfill.

The Silicon Valley Suicides | The Atlantic

The Silicon Valley Suicides; Hanna Rosin; In The Atlantic; 2015-11-16; commentariat.
Teaser: Why are so many kids with bright prospects killing themselves in Palo Alto?

tl;dr → 8900 words; big-name writer breezes in from New York, stays with friends in San Mateo; recites the material, does some interviews, off-site interview with a survivor of the milieu. Eats, shoots, leaves. No new information.  Graphic descriptions of street-level Caltrain for sound & mood; graphic expandable pictures of the grieving parents. Tour of the bestsellers. Not helpful. Generalized schadenfreude..


Substantially “the same as”

Why Are Palo Alto’s Kids Killing Themselves?; Diana Kapp; In San Francisco Magazine; 2015-05-22; separately noted.
Teaser: A panicked town struggles with a wave of suicides.


  • U.S. News & World Report, university ranking scheme.
  • STEM schools
  • “a culture of affluence,” Suniya Luthar.
  • unethical Tiger Mothers.
  • Metaphorical devices
    • Panopticon, Jeremy Bentham,
      due to Taylor Chiu (attributed below)
    • Automaton, Henri Maillardet, 1800,
      due to Hanna Rosen, an artistic & intellectual flourish.
  • The children can no longer have fun, can no longer play.


  • Kathleen Blanchard.
  • Taylor Chiu, a former Paly student, San Francisco, an interview, a testimonial.
  • Ken Dauber, a school-board member, PAUSD; software engineer, Google
  • Kim Diorio, principal, Palo Alto High School.
  • Denise Herrmann, principal, Gunn High School.
  • Glenn “Max” McGee, Superintendent PAUSD
  • Chloe Sorensen, sophmore, Gunn, a survey
  • Carolyn Walworth, 2014, was a junior, Paly student representative to the PAUSD School Board.


  • Avi Assor, professor, psychology, Ben-Gurion University, IL.
    Something about the effect of reward systems for adolescents.
  • Frank Bruni. Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania
  • William Deresiewicz, Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life; also The Atlantic
  • David Lester, professor, psychology, Stockton University, NJ
    cited for statements in a podcast(!!!)
  • Madeline Levine; The Price of Privilege
  • Julie Lythcott-Haims; How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success
  • Suniya Luthar, work product unclear; circa “late” 1990s.
    Concept: “a culture of affluence.”


As cited, but not interviewed.

  • Suniya Luthar, assistant professor, psychiatry, Yale Univeresity, circa “late” 1990s
  • Julie Lythcott-Haims, ex-dean of freshman life (or such), Stanford; a parent of 2.
  • Roni Gillenson, Gunn mental-health program since 2006.
  • William Deresiewicz; contributor, The Atlantic; ex-professor, Yale.
  • Madeline Levine; a child psychologist who practices in the Bay Area.
    Unclear if she was contacted or her published works are merely being cited.


A bit murky who was actually interviewed & who was cited from topical but wholly unrelated written or recorded oral recitations.

  • Carolyn Walworth, senior, Paly student representative to the PAUSD board.
  • Ken Dauber, a school-board member, PAUSD.
  • Taylor Chiu, a former Paly student, San Francisco, a testimonial.
  • Kathleen Blanchard.
  • Kim Diorio, principal, Palo Alto High School.


  • The Overprotected Kid; Hanna Rosin; In The Atlantic; 2014-04.
    Teaser: A preoccupation with safety has stripped childhood of independence, risk taking, and discovery—without making it safer. A new kind of playground points to a better solution.


Palo Alto officials brace for story in The Atlantic magazine; Elena Kadvany; In Palo Alto Online; 2015-11-16.
Teaser: Piece on youth suicides to publish online Tuesday, Nov. 17


  • Denise Herrmann, Principal, Gunn
  • Kim Diorio, Principal, Paly
  • Brenda Carrillo, Student Services Director, Paly (or Gunn?)
  • Max McGee, Superintendent, Palo Alto Unified School District
  • James Keene, City Manager, City of Palo Alto
  • Claudia Keith, Chief Communications Officer, City of Palo Alto
  • Shashank Joshi, child and adolescent psychiatrist, Stanford.
  • Steven Adelsheim, child and adolescent psychiatrist, Stanford.
  • Meg Durbin, pediatric and internal medicine, Palo Alto Medical Foundation (PAMF).

Via: backfill.