Help an asthma sufferer, get suspended

Mandy Cortes complains that her son, Anthony Ruelas, was suspended for helping a classmate.

When a girl collapsed from an asthma attack at a Killeen, Texas alternative school, a classmate who carried her to the nurse’s office was suspended for leaving class. The teacher had told students to remain seated while she waited to hear back from the nurse.

Anthony Ruelas, 15, said his eighth-grade classmate was wheezing and gagging for three minutes. According to the teacher’s referral, the girl fell out of her chair.  “Anthony proceeded to go over and pick her up, saying ‘f—k that we ain’t got time to wait for no email from the nurse.’ He walks out of class and carries the other student to the nurse.”

His mother, Mandy Cortes, is considering home-schooling him.

Also in Texas, an honor roll student was suspended — and may be sent to an alternative school for 30 days — for sharing her asthma inhaler with a classmate who suffered an attack during PE class. The other girl also was suspended and faces alternative school, the automatic penalty for sharing controlled substances.

Teen suicide in Silicon Valley: Why?

I raised my daughter in Palo Alto. The public schools educated the children of high-tech engineers, entrepreneurs and Stanford professors. It was competitive — but also fun to put out the newspaper or compete in Mock Trial with so many smart kids.

In The Suicide Clusters at Palo Alto High Schools, Hanna Rosin tries to understand a series of suicides in 2009-10 and again in 2014-15.

Most of the kids who killed themselves stepped in front of a train.

For the most part, these students were doing well in school, had plenty of friends, seemed to be normal teens with normal parents. One girl had just gotten into the college of her dreams. A boy had just tried out for varsity basketball.

Adolescent dysfunction has a U-shaped curve, writes Rosin. Wealthy teens are doing as badly as poor teens, researchers say.

The rich middle- and high-school kids (Suniya) Luthar and her collaborators have studied show higher rates of alcohol and drug abuse on average than poor kids, and much higher rates than the national norm. They report clinically significant depression or anxiety or delinquent behaviors at a rate two to three times the national average.

Successful parents set high expectations for their children. High school students believe there’s one path to success — get into a “good” college — and little room for mistakes.

Many of the Palo Alto suicides were Chinese-American or had some Asian ancestry, writes Rosin. Was it Tiger Moms and Dads?

In addition to pressure to excel, “affluent kids felt remarkably isolated from their parents,” Luthar found. They got lots of parental attention — all that helicoptering — but didn’t feel close.

In the end, nothing really seems to explain why these adolescents ended their lives, concludes Rosin.

Nationwide, the adolescent suicide rate has “dropped dramatically since the 1990s,” perhaps because of better anti-depressants and suicide-prevention campaigns, she writes. But, in the past few years, teen suicide is on the rise again.

Zuckerberg-Chan will start free private school

“Hoping to counter poverty’s toll on children,” Facebook mogul Mark Zuckerberg and his pediatrician wife, Priscilla Chan, are starting a tuition-free private preschool and K-8 school, reports Sharon Noguchi in the San Jose Mercury News. The Primary School will provide free education and health care to children in East Palo Alto, a low-income, minority community.

Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg are expecting their first child in a few months.

Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg are expecting their first child in a few months.

 Zuckerberg and Chan donated $100 million to improve Newark schools in 2010. That paid for controversy and political turmoil.

“Those children in high performing charters are better off. But those in the district schools are not,” says Dale Russakoff, author of The Prize.

She “concludes that Zuckerberg neglected to understand the complexity of public education, failed to talk to people on the ground and approved top-down changes that provoked outrage and resistance,” writes Noguchi.

By starting a private school, the couple will have total control of their project, which is inspired by the Harlem Children’s Zone.

The new school, which will serve 700 children and their families, will be a multi-million-dollar commitment.  A local health clinic “will provide comprehensive health care from prenatal care through medical, dental and mental-health services,” reports Noguchi. The Zuckerberg-Chans already have donated $5 million.

Chan tutored in inner-city Boston as a Harvard undergrad. “It became evident I could do all I wanted, but there were much bigger problems that were preventing these kids from succeeding in school,” she told Noguchi.

Chan taught science at a San Jose private school before going to medical school. She now treats indigent patients at San Francisco General Hospital.

Lunch goes organic, non-GMO

Only organic, non-GMO lunches will be served at the two schools in the Sausalito Marin City School District, north of San Francisco. The district contracts with Turning Green, a nonprofit, to provide the meals with the help of The Conscious Kitchen.

The Conscious Kitchen prepares a lunch at Bayside MLK Jr. Academy. (Photo: Turning Green)

The Conscious Kitchen prepares a lunch at Bayside MLK Jr. Academy. (Photo: Turning Green)

Turning Green claims schools have seen a drop in disciplinary problems and truancy since the schools piloted the organic meals.

I ate a Turning Green lunch once at a conference. It was better than the average cafeteria food — a low bar — and fresher. Lots of greens. But I missed my GMOs.

Judy Blume: Teens ‘jump straight into sex’ 

Author Judy Blume, known for writing frankly about adolescent sexuality, wishes teens wouldn’t jump straight into sex, she tells Celia Walden, a  Telegraph reporter.

Judy Blume Photo: Jay Williams, Daily Telegraph  Pix by Jay Williams, Bristol, pix@jaywilliams.co.uk, 07770 576076 Pic shows Judy Blume at the Hay Festival, Hay-on-Wye, Powys today Sunday 1-6-14

Judy Blume Photo: Jay Williams

“Rather than jump right into intercourse . . . I wish they would go through all the stages that we used to go through,” says Blume. “It’s really, really good to go through those stages: the hours and hours of ‘necking,’ ‘making-out,’ ‘kissing,’ ‘touching’ and going to the different ‘bases’.”

Blume had planned to be a teacher, but turned to writing when she was raising her two children.

Her teenager daughter Randy asked her mother to write Forever – or, as she put it: ‘A book where two nice kids do it and nobody has to die’,” reports Walden.

“The thing is not to be afraid, but to be ready,” she says. “If you wait until your kids are feeling those sexual feelings, it’s too late. Sex education should be an ongoing thing that starts with the very first question.”

In Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, the main character craves information about sex, notes Walden. Now “youngsters are swamped with it, thanks to the internet – and most of it pornographic.”

Blume is fine with “porn for grown-ups,” but says “it sends an awful message to young men and women. . . .  I think all you can do is talk to young kids and that isn’t happening enough.”

I’m too old to have learned about sex from Judy Blume. (Chapter two of The Group was very educational.) I enjoyed reading the Fudge books when my daughter was young.

‘Smart’ pill is safe, but is it fair?

A new “smart drug” can improve planning, decision making and performance on complex tasks, concludes a study  published in European Neuropsychopharmacology.

Modafinil is approved to treat sleep disorders, but the research paper concluded it improves “executive function” in people who aren’t sleep deprived.

The drug improves “the ability to analyze new information and make plans based on it” and “people’s ability to focus, learn and remember,” according to the researchers, reports Science Times.

Modafinil is “a hit among college students as a study aid,” writes Elizabeth Nolan Brown on Reason’s Hit & Run.

It’s a Schedule IV controlled drug and prescription-only in the U.S., but Americans buy it online from foreign pharmacies.

In the new review, researchers said the drug “appears safe for widespread use,” calling it “one of the most promising and highly-investigated neuroenhancers to date.” But that might not persuade federal officials, writes Brown.

Many people — including the researchers — see ethical problems in a improving human performance by taking a pill.
If a “smart pill” is safe and effective, is that a problem?

Healthy lunches = more veg in the trash


Before/after photos of lunch trays show vegetables often end up in the trash.

Federal school lunch rules require that children take a fruit or vegetable. Kids aren’t eating healthier, according to a new study. reports the Washington Post. Most of the healthy food ends up in the trash.

“The basic question we wanted to explore was: does requiring a child to select a fruit or vegetable actually correspond with consumption. The answer was clearly no,” Sarah Amin, the lead author of the study, said in a statement.

This salad, featuring raw green pepper and croutons, is supposed to contain chicken.

This salad, featuring raw green pepper and croutons, is supposed to contain chicken. Photo: Hans Pennink, AP

Children took 29 percent more fruit and vegetables after the rule went into effect, the study found. But their consumption of fruits and vegetables declined by 13 percent.

Food waste went up. In many cases, the researchers wrote, “children did not even taste the [fruits and vegetables] they chose at lunch.”

Last year, a Harvard study using a different methodology found students ate the same amount of fruit, but 16.2 percent more vegetables. However, students threw out 40 percent of fruit on their trays and 60 to 75 percent of vegetables.

Too much homework? Or too little?

Kids have three times too much homework,” reported CNN, citing a study in Providence, Rhode Island. In kindergarten through third grade, children spend more than the recommended 10-minutes per grade level.

The story was misleading, responds Tom Loveless at Brookings.

First, the sample — parents visiting pediatrician’s offices — was not random, he writes. It appears to be skewed toward large, Spanish-speaking families.

Beyond that, the report ignores the apparent fact that fourth through 12th graders do too little homework, writes Loveless.

“High school students (grades 9-12) spend only about half the recommended time on homework,” according to the study, he points out. Twelfth graders, most of whom will go to college in a year, spend less an hour of homework per night. That could explain why so many never earn a college degree.

Instead of lockers, laptop charging stations

Lockers have been replaced with laptop charging stations and benches at Albemarle High School in Virginia.

Benches and laptop-charging stations have replaced lockers at a Virginia high school.

Benches and laptop-charging stations have replaced lockers at a Virginia high school.

“They’re putting in the benches, there will be outlets on both sides and in most areas there will be a white board so kids can spill right out into the classroom, they can sit out here and work quietly on a bench, they can plug in too if they need to because they’ll have their laptop,” says Principal Jay Thomas.

Via The 74 Million.

Schools are removing lockers to save money and increase safety, reports USA Today.

Keys to Safer Schools, an Arkansas-based safety training and advocacy group, recommends removing lockers to prevent violence. “It gives kids a place to hide things,” said Mike Nelson, co-founder of the group.

Some students are carrying fewer textbooks, thanks to e-books and laptops. But many are lugging very heavy backpacks around all day.

Crybabies on campus

What do students learn in college? Increasingly, they’re learning to be big babies, write Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt in The Atlantic.  “Trigger warnings,” “microaggressions” and the zeal to “scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense” are threatening students’ mental and emotional health, they write.
Campuses are supposed to be “safe spaces” where “young adults are shielded from words and ideas that make some uncomfortable.” Never is heard a discouraging word and the skies are not cloudy all day.

Students expect college authorities “to act as both protectors and prosecutors,” they write. It’s a continuation of the message delivered by helicopter parents:  “Life is dangerous, but adults will do everything in their power to protect you from harm, not just from strangers but from one another as well.”

A campus culture devoted to policing speech and punishing speakers is likely to engender patterns of thought that are surprisingly similar to those long identified by cognitive behavioral therapists as causes of depression and anxiety. The new protectiveness may be teaching students to think pathologically.

Today’s college students are more likely to suffer from “severe psychological problems,” according to a 2013 survey of campus mental-health directors. Surveys also show students report high and rising rates of emotional distress, write Lukianoff and Haidt.

Cognitive behavioral therapy tries “to minimize distorted thinking” –such as overgeneralizing, discounting positives, and emotional reasoning, they write. People learn to recognize when their thinking is distorted, “describe the facts of the situation, consider alternative interpretations, and then choose an interpretation of events more in line with those facts.”

When people . . .  free themselves from the repetitive irrational thoughts that had previously filled so much of their consciousness—they become less depressed, anxious, and angry.

The parallel to formal education is clear: cognitive behavioral therapy teaches good critical-thinking skills, the sort that educators have striven for so long to impart. By almost any definition, critical thinking requires grounding one’s beliefs in evidence rather than in emotion or desire, and learning how to search for and evaluate evidence that might contradict one’s initial hypothesis. But does campus life today foster critical thinking? Or does it coax students to think in more-distorted ways?

Freshman orientation — now devoted to warning students not to offend others — should teach them this kind of thinking, Lukianoff and Haidt suggest. Students can learn to deal with offensive words and ideas without mommy, daddy or the dean of students.