The main problem I had with this doc is that the meat of the problem, the issues in that area, all the factors kids deal with in a hyper-competitive situation, just never really coalesced. Watching this is a very frustrating experience. Perhaps it is an editing problem. Hard to say, but it wasn't said well. It's not terrible, just never got over itself and to the point. Feels very long and slow. Amazing that they have kids speak for themselves so much yet they didn't get to say what I know they could say, because I went to college in Silicon Valley, too, worked in Palo Alto and in tech in Silicon Valley.
I was set up for excellence from day one. All 3 of my parents came from poverty or near and were the first to graduate or even go to college in their families. They were a Harvard surgeon, an engineer, an RN who turned down a full ride to Baylor Medical School (a woman, in the early 1950s!) due to my arrival. All some of the smartest people I know. I was expected to at least meet their achievements and was educated about how easy life is when you go that route. And it was, esp then, the American collect $200 and pass Go over and over forever dream and here's a couple hotels thrown in for graduating and your "potential".
But I had other dreams and passions (and a business!), but I had to give myself over to their dreams and I floundered and dropped out after a little over a year of college. But I eventually rose to own my own software company. I made more than all my friends with degrees. For a while, in the early PC bubble.
Fast forward to the 90's, age 43. Realized a dream and moved to the Bay Area. My friends who had gone out were all new millionaires from software startups. It was heady. The average IQ there was amazing. I quickly learned that the Valley didn't want women (esp middle aged, no matter how young I looked or acted) software engineers and had a narrow view of experience outside their own bubble. Silicon Valley is up and down and was in a down, so I decided to go back to college and get that degree. Thank god I had good scores on my ancient SATs! Without a prep course or really any thought to them, but that was the 1960s.
All the expectations of my youth returned. My perfectionism, obsession with a 4.0. It is so unbelievably competitive out there, even if you aren't at Stanford or Berkeley. I went to a local UC, after a bad taste from Berkeley during my visit, about being an adult transfer and hearing about the competitiveness of it. I knew it would kill me. My school was on the quarter system, which is like compressing everything into summer school. When you are taking lots of math and theory, there is just not enough time to really absorb anything. You were behind the first day. I had one day off about every 3 months. I was competing with students who had just had AP calculus, computer science, etc. I struggled to relearn and test out of elementary math. I went to comp sci orientation and a professor asked us our plans for our degrees and then told us that we would be nothing and no one with getting at least a master's degree. That wasn't in my plans for finances and I had done well with NO degree, but still, her words echoed and chafed. Why would you sabotage and discourage students before classes even start? But this constant hazing and challenging and arbitrary difficulty is part and parcel of education today. This doc never got near this fact.
I was made fun of if I showed any frustration. "You don't get that?", "Wow, that's so easy!", "What's wrong with you?". By both students and professors, although I generally related to profs more, being an adult, but took my share of abuse. The women's bathroom in one of the main engineering buildings always smelled like vomit. I put two and two together and soon I "caught" bulimia. 80% to have some, any control over my life beyond planning perfectly, being perfect and 20% to be thin and fit in. I pigged out on Friday night, while working on programming projects and the usual studying, because there was no end to my week. I started seeing a school therapist a little, but she couldn't save me from the relentless schedule and difficulty or the bulimia (I stopped fairly soon after graduation, thank goodness). It was not about learning, although I loved being in college as an adult. You can relate to the subjects so well and for me it was like being in a wonderful documentary all the time. To a point. In the upper levels, it was just math and theory and projects and papers and thesis and standardized tests and GREs. Plus I tutored in the computer lab, graded thousands of pages of math and comp sci homework, and did private math tutoring groups. I had to have tutors of my own as well. You had to have the "right" summer internships, which were hard to get and usually low on the quality of life meter, or you wouldn't be able to do anything with "just" a bachelor's degree. I was floundering. So much for the 4.0, but I managed to do well and graduated with honors in the major, on my sr. thesis, and my college. I had job offers from a huge computer company and a local startup 2 quarters before graduation. I picked the startup. Gonna be rich soon! Dot.com boom times!
But working in Silicon Valley is as competitive as school. I was called "stupid" and other unflattering things. I was bullied, I was discriminated against, I was set up to fail, I was ridiculed, I was actually threatened. It's a boy's club. Young boys. White boys, Asian and Indian boys with a smattering of Europeans. That's it. Little diversity. It's still that way, overwhelmingly male.
By the time dot.com turned into dot.bomb, at the turn of the century, it was all over. My startup failed, I was laid off (before all the do-nothing guys, mind you) and other offers withdrawn as hiring freezes went into effect. So I left and came "home", very sadly, for as hard as it is out there, it is also a large bit of paradise. Here, women in tech have it much easier, it's where I grew my business. I don't like this city but life is like that. But I'm not completely overextended all the time, constantly questioning myself, and being treated like the complete idiot I am NOT. It has taken a couple of decades to recover from my Silicon Valley experience. I am glad I at least enjoyed the state of Calif and all it has to offer. The engineering buildings at school were in an old growth redwood forest, just a stunning piece of heaven, on a hill overlooking Monterey Bay. I used to call it "Deadly or Dangerous Beauty" as I walked to yet another class or appointment.
No, not writing a book here, but did want to say all these things the doc didn't. I imagine the high school kids at Gunn, and other places, go through all I just described BEFORE college, in high school, but still have to face college, perhaps at an unforgiving ivy league school, far from home, without the benefit of age and experience to help them, like I had, and I still rode the edge too, too closely. I'm just lucky I survived.