Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, Ph.D.

I study people, technology, and the worlds they make

Tag: Peninsula School (page 1 of 2)


Peninsula School, this afternoon, via flickr

[To the tune of Tzimon Barto, “Preludes: Prelude No. 6 in B minor (Assai lento),” from the album Chopin: Preludes & Nocturnes (a 3-star song, imo).]

I may need to watch this just for the Peninsula School connection

The newest franchise in the Real Housewives of Wherever— Beverly Hills this time, folks!– is out, and Troy Patterson has a review:

“This town runs on status.” This remark inspires a sincere query: Are there any towns that don’t run on status? Bodie? Chernobyl? Maybe—maybe—Lego Town? Evading such questions, the RH of BH intro speeds to a comment on evanescence and an assertion of supremacy: “It can all go away in an instant, but if you can play the game, there’s nowhere better to live.” Come off it. What of Santa Monica? Malibu? Lego Castle?

Normally the reviews of shows like this are enough for me, but then I caught this:

Next comes Camille, the wife of Kelsey Grammer. “It’s time for me to come out of my husband’s shadow and shine,” she declares. This she does, not unlike a distress flare or, given her recent estrangement from the actor, an exit sign…. Then we have the sister act of Kim and Kyle, former child actresses, each of whom appeared in Escape to Witch Mountain [ed: Kyle has an uncredited appearance]. Kim racked up further credits on The Love Boat, Magnum, P.I., and CHiPs (“Ponch, I’ve hurt so many people!”), a resume she believes qualifies her as an “icon,” which is cute. I much prefer Kyle, impressed that she has gracefully aged into a luxury-shopper deft at negotiating quid pro quos with the man holding the purse strings. “Let’s make a deal,” says her husband, crying uncle. “For every $1,000 you spend, I play an hour of golf.”

For those who don’t know, the orphanage in Escape to Witch Mountain was Peninsula School. My wife was there when they shot the movie. The place looks pretty much the same.

[To the tune of The Doors, “Light My Fire,” from the album The Doors (a 5-star song, imo).]

The chicken chant!

A few days ago, my daughter took part in the traditional Egg Drop at her school, in which the fifth graders build containers to protect eggs thrown off the balcony of the Big Building.

She took a cardboard box, filled it with Peeps, and then decorated it to look like a chicken. When the crowd saw it, here’s what happened (captured on my iPhone):

Unfortunately the egg didn’t make it, but still it was very amusing to watch.

Huge rain this morning

The rain today is pretty amazing. So is the thunder.

Rain this morning
via flickr

At Peninsula School, I’m told by my informants (aka my kids) that the kids have stopped calling the Big Puddle the Big Puddle, and are now calling it the Little Lake.

The Little Lake, formerly the Big Puddle
via flickr

They have a point.

[To the tune of Patti Smith, “Changing Of The Guards,” from the album Twelve (a 3-star song, imo).]

Peninsula Craft Fair

Today was the Craft Fair. Each year Peninsula has a fair in early December that’s part fund-raiser, part school marketing, and part social event; it’s one of my favorite events for the same reasons I like things like biking and travel. This year, as usual, we were over there during early set-up: my daughter had a table this year, and was selling handmade jewelry. (She did pretty well, too, and we had some interesting conversations around pricing: in particular, whether you should charge people more for pieces that actually take you longer to make when you’re just learning, or whether you give people a discount because your early work isn’t necessarily as good as your later work.)

Craft Fair
setting up the front porch, via flickr

After helping my daughter get settled with her stuff– which basically involved making sure she had the boxes that she needed, and that he’d connected with her fellow Girl Scouts– I walked around and took pictures. I always like the school right before these events open: it’s like being backstage before a show.

Craft Fair
turning the play space into a cafe, via flickr

Of course, since its a progressive school, Peninsula has always had a pretty active arts and crafts program, though the specific offerings have varied depending on the interests of the teachers, tradition, etc.. (Though by varied, I mean decade by decade: my wife’s weaving teacher arrived at the school during the Roosevelt administration, and left sometime in the Reagan years.) For a long time, I regarded it as an interesting part of the school culture, but more recently I’ve come to form a theory that it serves an important role balancing the other parts of the school curriculum.

Craft Fair
our renovated auditorium, via flickr

It’s a bit of a stereotype about the school that Peninsula kids spend a lot of time learning interpersonal stuff, getting in touch with their feelings, etc.– typical flaky California educational stuff. Like some stereotypes, there’s a grain of truth to that, at least in the lower grades: certainly the nursery kids are explicitly taught how to behave, how to deal with disagreements and bad feelings, etc.. I think for the older kids it’s more implicit, in part because most of them have been through years of training already, but also because they all kind of realize that they need to be civil because they’re all going to be living with each other for the next several years.

There’s nothing wrong with this, but even for someone who writes, teaches, and designs events for a living, it seems a bit… insubstantial. But after reading Matthew Crawford and Richard Sennett, and especially the way craft standards support the rough, blunt communication about success and failure, I started to see the crafts at Peninsula in a new light.

Karyssa Miller's amazing weavings
karyssa miller’s weavings, via flickr

For while it’s important to get along with other people, and to be creative, it’s also important to know that some things absolutely have to be done in certain ways, and that beyond a very basic level, expression can’t happen without mastery of your medium and cultivation of talent. The kids start off on very simple looms, and progress over time to more sophisticated ones: it’s a big thing to move to the floor looms, or to graduate from rope pots to the potter’s wheel. Further, the loom doesn’t give a damn whether you’re imaginative, or you get along with your friends: it needs to be handled a certain way, and it requires you to have a feel for your materials. The utter impersonality of craftwork forces you to learn things that you don’t in more egalitarian and human contexts, and the fact that the school provides both is a good thing.

Soup heroes
soup heroes, via flickr


My son has started tutoring in reading. He’s not as strong a reader as we’d like, or as strong as he’d like. So twice a week we take him to a reading expert. She’s a former Peninsula teacher, and is actually someone my wife had as a child.

His enthusiasm is striking, because when I was a kid, getting tutored was a Bad Thing. Certainly you didn’t look forward to it, or expect it to be fun. I don’t know if this is a general change in kids’ attitudes, or something specific to this area, or an extension of their general Peninsula-bred love of school. My kids look forward to Monday coming around so they can go back to school, and my daughter and her friends always complain about the end of the school, so those attitudes probably influence their attitudes toward turoring. And my son has known Marion (her tutor) for ages, and that made him more excited to be working with her.

And while I haven’t done any surveys, my sense is that a lot more of my kids’ friends are doing that in an earlier age might have been seen as remedial, and not talked much about. At least two or three of my son’s friends have worked with Marion, which goes a long way to normalizing it. And for kids who already are taking music lessons, are in swimming clubs or little league, or doing lots of other scheduled things, tutoring or speech therapy probably doesn’t seem like anything out of the ordinary.

So he’d better be reading Tolstoy by September, or I’m going ask for my money back.

Tyrolean zip line

For the kids, one of the high points (no pun intended) of the Spring Fair is the zip line, which runs from the Big Building to a couple hay bales near one of the classrooms.

Daughter on the zip line
my daughter on the line, via flickr

The first year we came to the Spring Faire, my daughter was interested in the zip line, but didn’t feel ready to try it herself. The next year, though, she went on it, and every year since. This year, she eve won a free second ride.

On the Tyrolean zip line
me on the zip line, via flickr

My son’s bolder: he went on it at a younger age than his sister, and this year went on it half a dozen times (not cheap, but this is a once-a-year thing.

Recently I’ve been thinking about how parents and children are connected, and how watching children can illuminate aspects of ourselves, let us see capabilities that we don’t normally pay attention to. I see myself as more of an athlete than I used to, after watching them in the pool at the Y; I also suspect I’m a more social animal than I believed myself to be (or in the immortal words of one of my daughter’s friends, “I’m not an introvert. I’m very extroverted. I just don’t like you very much”). It’s not all positive stuff: when I deal with my son’s outbursts, I know exactly where he’s coming from, because I recognize his temper in myself, and the only difference is that I’ve managed to discipline it, but not eliminate it.

However, it’s good to see your kids do something brave or impressive, and to believe that they might have inherited that talent from you. Of course, it’s just as likely that they inherited it from their mother, or that equal measure of environmental and genetic factors shape their personalities. Still, it’s a useful way to think about your own interests and capabilities, to give yourself the freedom to try out (and succeed at) new things, and to assume that you have a natural ability to this new thing. After all, if the kids can do it, so can you.

Ghosts of Spring Fairs past

I realized tonight that we’ve been going to the Fair for a number of years now.

me and my son in 2003

It’s interesting for me to reread what I wrote about the Fair in years past: I tend to see it as a concentrated dose of Peninsula culture, or an event that I can subject to an amateur thick description– a ritual that shines a light on a whole world. And of course, there’s face paint.

my son in 2005

I’ve long appreciated the amount of time parents put into organizing and running it, but what strikes me this year is the degree to which the kids are also involved in putting on the Fair. My kids have always enjoyed going to the fair, but this year they were enthusiastic about going the day before to help set up, and of course going back the next morning. It seemed unthinkable to them that we wouldn’t do setup– which of course is just what made our going inevitable.

from 2006 (hmm, does this extra weight make me look fat?)

The school spends a lot of time talking about its distinctive culture, and arguing about how much we can (or should try to) describe it; however, what’s missing from these discussions is a recognition of the basic fact that while the parents (and adults more generally) are indispensable to the running of the school, we may not actually be central to its culture. It’s the kids who really own it. That’s a slightly radical idea, especially for a bunch of intelligent of often pretty egocentric grownups who are used to creating and controlling things (welcome to Silicon Valley, where pride is our favorite of the Seven Deadly Sins). Certainly if you take an active, performative view of culture, we’re but the chorus; and factor in the tacit knowledge that circulates among and is shared by the kids but never makes it to the grownups, and parents become rather peripheral.

Setting out signs for the Spring Fair

Sunday morning my kids got me up before 7 to… go to school.

The day before, we had been at Peninsula (at their insistence), setting up for the Spring Fair. My daughter was invited to come back the next morning to set out “no parking ” signs around the neighborhood.

This is actually a nontrivial thing. One of the most important things any private school in the area has to do, from what I can tell, is not alienate the neighbors over parking. Every school seems to go to great lengths to make sure that clueless parents don’t park in the neighbors during back to school night.

So the next morning I drove the kids over to school at 7:30. I had visions of dropping them off, making sure they were fine, then heading to a Starbucks. I didn’t have any coffee before we left.

Of course, it didn’t work out that way. First, we got the signs loaded into the truck, a battered old Toyota that looks like it’s served the school about as long as internal combustion has been in existence. Then the kids climbed into the back, and after getting some friendly but very clear safety instruction, we were on our way.

Setting out signs
via flickr

We drove up and down the streets, stopping occasionally to set out signs. The kids would hand them over to the parents, who’d then set them up.

Setting out signs
via flickr

The kids really enjoyed being in the truck, of course: they don’t often get to ride around in vehicles like this, and when they weren’t working, they were trying to touch the trees as they passed.

Spring fair setup
via flickr

At some point, jogging behind the truck, it occurred to me that I probably looked like the personal security detail for the first family of a Third World dictatorship, or a “freedom fighter” on my way to liberate a radio station in my nation’s second-largest city. Though I left my AK-47 at home.

Setting out signs
via flickr

Of course, the kids had a fantastic time. Not only was it cool for them to drive around and throw things out of a truck; it was cool for me to see how readily and willingly they gave up their Sunday morning to work. I don’t think they’re motivated by loyalty, or the kind of impulse that sometimes moves me to do alumni interviews for my alma mater; it’s something deeper, that doesn’t involve as much calculation. With luck, they’ll find other places in their lives that deserve this kind of investment, and reward it.

And I never made it to Starbucks, but it was okay. They had coffee at the Big Building.

Ah, coffee at last!
via flickr

Stuffie cafe

Last week my daughter’s class held its annual Penny Carnival. The Penny Carnival is one of the cooler things that Peninsula does, and is a great example of how school events bring together the older and younger kids.

In the penny carnival, kids from the lower school come to the fourth grade class to do activities, like face painting and petting animals. They also bring their stuffies, and leave them in stuffie day care.

I noticed that one of the stuffie day care areas was something she had made at home a few days before: a little stuffie-sized cafe.


I asked how she chose a cafe. She explained that they wanted something global. “We had the London Eye, and an Eiffel tower from Paris,” she explained. “But we also wanted something American. So I made a cafe.”

When I was growing up, cafes were things we read about in travel books. Now, they’re so ubiquitous my daughter (who’s spent plenty of time in them, thanks to me) can consider them quintessentially American.

She later added that this particular stuffie cafe is located in New Jersey.

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