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Ep. 143: Esther Wojcicki - The Secret to Raising Successful People

March 23, 2021 Sucheta Kamath Season 1 Episode 143
Full PreFrontal
Ep. 143: Esther Wojcicki - The Secret to Raising Successful People
Full PreFrontal
Ep. 143: Esther Wojcicki - The Secret to Raising Successful People
Mar 23, 2021 Season 1 Episode 143
Sucheta Kamath

The true meaning of empowering children is to help them claim the rights to their own life so that they can lead with a sense of confidence, clarity, and courage. The key is to trust  children to make their own mistakes while trusting yourself to resist the temptation of wanting to do everything for them. 

On this episode, leading American educator, author of the book How to Raise Successful People, Vice Chair of Creative Commons, journalist and mother of three accomplished daughters, Esther Wojcicki, discusses how to raise and teach children to become independent thinkers and self-reliant learners. By handing more control over to children, adults are likely to promote the growth of their pre-frontal cortex and inadvertently strengthen their Executive Function for life.

About Esther Wojcicki
Esther Wojcicki is famous for three things: teaching a high school class that has changed the lives of thousands of kids, inspiring Silicon Valley legends like Steve Jobs, and raising three daughters who have each become famously successful. What do these three accomplishments have in common? They are the result of TRICK, Esther’s secret to raising successful people: Trust, Respect, Independence, Collaboration, and Kindness. Simple lessons, but the results are radical. Esther Wojcicki is a leading American educator and journalist. Mother of YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, Fulbright scholar Janet Wojcicki, and 23&Me founder Anne Wojcicki, as well as a teacher and mentor to James Franco and Lisa Brennan-Jobs, Esther is widely heralded as the most successful parent and educator in the United States.  Esther offers essential lessons for raising, educating, and managing people to their highest potential. She is the author of Moonshots in Education (2014) and best seller How to Raise Successful People (May, 2019).  She is co founder of Tract.app (2020) an innovative way to empower students using a peer to peer model.



Helpful Articles:

About Host, Sucheta Kamath
Sucheta Kamath, is an award-winning speech-language pathologist, a TEDx speaker, a celebrated community leader, and the founder and CEO of ExQ®. As an EdTech entrepreneur, Sucheta has designed ExQ's personalized digital learning curriculum/tool that empowers middle and high school students to develop self-awareness and strategic thinking skills throug

Support the show (https://mailchi.mp/7c848462e96f/full-prefrontal-sign-up)

Show Notes Transcript

The true meaning of empowering children is to help them claim the rights to their own life so that they can lead with a sense of confidence, clarity, and courage. The key is to trust  children to make their own mistakes while trusting yourself to resist the temptation of wanting to do everything for them. 

On this episode, leading American educator, author of the book How to Raise Successful People, Vice Chair of Creative Commons, journalist and mother of three accomplished daughters, Esther Wojcicki, discusses how to raise and teach children to become independent thinkers and self-reliant learners. By handing more control over to children, adults are likely to promote the growth of their pre-frontal cortex and inadvertently strengthen their Executive Function for life.

About Esther Wojcicki
Esther Wojcicki is famous for three things: teaching a high school class that has changed the lives of thousands of kids, inspiring Silicon Valley legends like Steve Jobs, and raising three daughters who have each become famously successful. What do these three accomplishments have in common? They are the result of TRICK, Esther’s secret to raising successful people: Trust, Respect, Independence, Collaboration, and Kindness. Simple lessons, but the results are radical. Esther Wojcicki is a leading American educator and journalist. Mother of YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, Fulbright scholar Janet Wojcicki, and 23&Me founder Anne Wojcicki, as well as a teacher and mentor to James Franco and Lisa Brennan-Jobs, Esther is widely heralded as the most successful parent and educator in the United States.  Esther offers essential lessons for raising, educating, and managing people to their highest potential. She is the author of Moonshots in Education (2014) and best seller How to Raise Successful People (May, 2019).  She is co founder of Tract.app (2020) an innovative way to empower students using a peer to peer model.



Helpful Articles:

About Host, Sucheta Kamath
Sucheta Kamath, is an award-winning speech-language pathologist, a TEDx speaker, a celebrated community leader, and the founder and CEO of ExQ®. As an EdTech entrepreneur, Sucheta has designed ExQ's personalized digital learning curriculum/tool that empowers middle and high school students to develop self-awareness and strategic thinking skills throug

Support the show (https://mailchi.mp/7c848462e96f/full-prefrontal-sign-up)

Sucheta Kamath: Welcome back to Full PreFrontal where we discover the hidden powers of the brain's CEO that supervise and guides the rest of the brain to achieve goal directed success. Stanislas Dehaene, one of the cognitive, the neuropsychologist, says that executive function is the most important 21st century skill. And the mature and well developed frontal lobes help produce strong executive function, which are the guiding principles that help us manage our goals, take important decisions in a careful way, stop, reflect, and then maybe think again, about your own approach to life. I'm your host Sucheta Kamath. And my hope is through these meaningful and deep conversations, thought provoking stories, we can gain clarity and lead more effective and productive lives. And there are a lot of people who help us in this journey. Some people have hacked their frontal lobes, and they have devise strategies to hack other people's frontal lobes. And there are some who have wisdom and clarity with which they share their important journey so that others can benefit and that's why I am so honored today to have the most amazing, and this inspire fabulous, inspiring, fabulous woman with me. Welcome to the podcast, Esther Wojcicki. She is a leading American educator, journalist and a mother. Her approach in blended learning and integration of technology into education is what she has taught us how to rethink approaches to education. She is the founder of media arts program at Palo Alto High School, where she built a journalism program from a small group of 20 students in 1984, to one of the largest in the nation, including that includes our currently creates access to 600 students, five additional journalism teachers and nine award winning journalism publications. And by the way, those are amazing. Everybody must check out this young, budding journalist writing these amazing inspiring stories. Esther serves as Vice Chair of Creative Commons and has previously worked as a professional journalist for multiple publications and blogs. She blogs regularly for the Huffington Post. Another little feather in her cap, of course, she is a very celebrated author, which we will talk about her her books, but she is one of the most a celebrity Mom, you can say. And I'm really excited to talk to her about three children who are highly accomplished. And I'm very curious, without putting any pressure, how did they turn out to be so amazing. And lastly, I am really hoping that all of you will take Esther's words, as golden words, words of wisdom, because she is going to probably compel you to pause and think about your own relationship with your approach to parenting if you're a parent, your approach to educating children. And lastly, your approach to thinking about your own thinking. So welcome to the podcast, Esther.

Esther Wojcicki: Thank you so much for this incredible introduction. I'm very honored to be here with you. And I'm very excited to talk to everybody. So it's great. 

Sucheta Kamath: Oh, we are honored. So let me start with this question. Because we are going to talk about self reliant children are raising to become a self reliant children. Do you mind sharing with us? What is your personal journey as a child? What made you self reliant where you are self reliant child? And one of the things that strikes to me is your clarity about how to stand up for yourself, how to advocate for yourself, how to question authority. Some of these are bold skills of boldness. So what was in your environment that made you so bold?

Esther Wojcicki: So the long story is in my book, and it's the first few chapters of the book, I talked about my childhood, but for your readers, and for your listeners, I will make it a little bit shorter, abbreviated version, you know, Cliff Notes.

Sucheta Kamath: Please do. It's a great story. And everybody's going to really love that. Yes. 

Esther Wojcicki: I think the main thing that my child, the main thing that my childhood gave me was a lot of independence. And the reason that I got so much independence as a child was not because my parents were trying to make me independent, but was more because they were poor. They didn't have a lot of money. Yes. And I was part of the team. And I was expected to do a lot of things I just remember, just as I'm talking to you right now that I used to do the laundry for the family, I was about, I don't know, eight years old, or so. And in those days, we used to have washing machines that had ringers. And so you washed all the clothes. And then you had to put the clothes through the wringer. And I was tasked with doing this. And the main, main thing that you had to worry about was you don't want to put your finger in the wringer because then you know, you would end up in the hospital because you and the clothing would both be stuck. So I mean, it's kind of amazing that I was an eight year old child, given this responsibility, and I was doing things. I mean, literally everything from clothing to sheets, and you know, towels and oh my god, but my parents, they showed me how to do it. And then they just expected me to do it. So I did it. And I never thought that any anyone else couldn't do it. Other than my brother, my brother ended up being a somewhat of a pampered child. And so he never really did any of those things. was a younger to you, and he's younger, you don't get five years younger. And so that's, you know, and I guess in that five year period, they changed their philosophy. But what I ended up doing is being so empowered by all the things that I did around the house, that I felt like I could pretty much tackle anything. And then if you read in the book, I had an unfortunate tragic experience in my childhood where my younger brother died. And I realized then, that it was a mistake of the people that had long titles. I was just 10 years old at the time. And all the people that made all these mistakes were very distinguished. And I thought to myself, well, this is an opportunity for me to protect myself and to be able to understand things myself, and not just rely on people, just because they have a long title, that seems very impressive. So that really propelled me to be as independent as possible. And it you know, a lot of kids might have thought that they were, you know, treated badly, because they had didn't have a lot of support. But I realized that I could do it. And so I did it. And I mean, that included, paying for my own college education, my parents didn't pay for anything. And, you know, I applied to college, without a lot of support. My parents were both immigrants from Russia, so they knew nothing about the American education system. And I lucked out, you know, I persisted. That was one thing that I think and I tried to help our parents remember that you really want your child to persist. And even if they're persisting for something you don't like, I mean, you want to encourage the persistence, to be honest, because in today's world, it's called grit. And you want your kids to pursue things that they care about. And that is how I ended up more or less the way I am today, because I had this childhood, that if I didn't persist, I don't know where I would be today. I probably, you know, my parents wanted me to get married at 18. And I was like, what? This is not exactly my idea. And they had already lined up a whole group of people that they thought were good candidates. And it's like, Nope, not gonna get married. And they, they thought this was a bad idea. Because, you know, in those days, this was the beginning of the 60s. You know, a woman's self worth was based on her husband, you know, women didn't have a self worth your self worth was if someone married you. Yes. Really. And you know, there was this game that everybody used to play called Old Maid, that game is gone. But it was a card game, you know, and you never want it to be the old maid. That was the person that no one wanted to marry. So terrible. But, but anyway, so I just was like, I am going to be, you know, I'm going to direct my own life. I'm going to do my own thing. And luckily, I managed to get into the only school I applied to one school, UC Berkeley, oh, to get in. And not only that, I got a scholarship, I was just shocking. Everything sort of fell into place. But I, you know, as a college student at UC Berkeley, they don't they provide the essentials, right? Yeah, place to stay, you know, you get a little bit of food. And that's it and everything else you have to do on your own. So I had to work while I was going to school, it wasn't just a little bit of work, but all the time I was working. And so I realized the importance of having a college education. And I was so bent on getting that degree that I took all these extra units at the same time. And I ended up being able to graduate in three years, oh, my God, nobody graduates from Berkeley in three years, you know, actually, I look back on it is like, My God, what was I thinking? But I was just, I just wanted to have that degree. And, yes, so that's what happened.

Sucheta Kamath: What strikes me, thank you so much for taking the time to go through that story. Because it's so much better coming from you than me describing that, I think what your story is of persistence, resilience, and grit. And, and I think I really am glad that you mentioned the backdrop of poverty, and I don't mean backdrop of poverty, but forefront of poverty. And I think you're right about that, you know, the resilience, we know from trauma based interventions, talking about students with with grit tend to do better in spite of their trauma or traumatic experiences or poverty or, or other adversities. And you are kind of talking about that. So let me start by, by setting the stage for this idea of self reliant child, who is the most self reliant child, and why is it so important to you that as an educator, and as a parent, you share this with, with the world with a great sense of urgency. You know, I've, I've read books, like Wendy Mogul's, you know, Blessings are Skinny, then also the Free Range Kids. And I cannot believe we have to now talk to parents about liberating their kids. You know, so what, what, what's the what's the urgency here that you're sensing?

Esther Wojcicki: Well, I think that the urgency that I sent is that we have gone the other way. It's, and it's not just in the United States as worldwide. And the reason is, because we have more capability to, quote, help our children, and we have technology to help them, we can keep track of them on their phone all the time, we know exactly where they are, you know, you can check their homework because it comes to you the parent first, before it comes even to the child, we we have much more capability of being in control. And what does that do? That disempowers your child. And they really, we have an epidemic of helicopter parents. And I also call them snowplow parents. They Clear the way. And so when this child gets to college, and they get to be an adult, what happens? Well, I'll tell you that those parents are still there. And I have a friend, Julie Lythcott-Haims who wrote a book, How to Raise an Adult. She was the Dean of Admissions at Stanford. And the theory of her book is, hey, parents, could you please not come to college with your kids? That's what was happening. All these people were moving to Palo Alto to be next to their kids. And

Sucheta Kamath: We're gonna give you a quick story, which is ridiculous. Oh, my God, my children went to Columbia. And when I dropped off my first one, and because I'm in this interest, my interest in the executive function, I work with a lot of college kids. I went to the Department of Student Support just to chat with them and see, do you see this executive function? They're like, let me tell you what I see. One example just bowled me over. So one mom had the audacity to show up on campus and said, you know, Johnny is a brilliant child, he's gotten in, The only trouble you're going to have you, Columbia, you're going to have just has a lot of trouble getting out of bed. So can you send somebody every morning so that he can get out of bed? Not just not just that, but the audacity for the mom to go to the learning support to ask for that. Can you imagine if this was my mom, she would first of all kick me, but never happened. To your point. 

Esther Wojcicki: This is just symptomatic of the crazy things that parents are doing. And UC Berkeley has a course now called Adulting.

Sucheta Kamath: Yes, of course.

Esther Wojcicki: Okay. So you know what they teach, they teach kids like, Oh, yes, because they don't learn at home, how to do your laundry, how to use a credit card, how to boil an egg, you know, all these things that you're supposed to learn growing up, you don't learn. And so these kids don't know how to do what they don't know how to take care of themselves. And it's all a result of this philosophy that the more I do for my child, the better off he's gonna be the happier life, he's gonna lead. He'll do all these new things that I never had an opportunity to do. And my philosophy is just the opposite. Just I want to tell all your listeners, the more you do for your child, the less empowered they are. Period, they won't be able to do anything for themselves, not make the bad not cooked dinner, nothing, they'll just be expecting you to come along to college and do it for them. 

Sucheta Kamath: So I'm glad you're not talking about your philosophy. So before? Before you talk about your trick method, which is fantastic. By the way. Can you address one issue that I often see, which is basically after reading your book, I concluded that everybody needs to develop emotional courage, emotional courage for things to go wrong, and be okay with them, because they're temporarily wrong. So what is your advice to this lack of control? Which is making people anal retentive? Or control freaks? Or just this incredibly fear based approach to life? What is your suggestion? Like? How can they undo that grips of fear?

Esther Wojcicki: They are, the whole country is in the grip of fear right now, everybody is so upset, because their children are not getting the same curriculum to memorize that they used to get when they were in class and under the control of the teacher. So now kids don't have to be there. You know, we have kids that are putting pictures up them themselves on their zoom call. And you can see the kid but you don't know that he's not alive. It's a 40% of the kids are not going on these zoom calls. Well, it's just awful. It's hour after hour lecture after lecture after lecture, I wouldn't go on the zoom call, either. You know, it's ridiculous. So we need to, we need to give kids more control of the learning. That's where this new company I started. I don't know if you saw that. It's called track.app.

Sucheta Kamath: Yes, please tell everybody what that is.

Esther Wojcicki: What that is, it's a kids, ages 15 to 20 are creating what we call learning paths for younger kids so that they can do things, learn about things that are exciting and fun for them. And that it is, you know, so like one kid just did, I'm kidding, a whole learning path on how to make a string out of grass. And he is one of these kids who knows how to live out in the wilderness. And he's gonna do all of these different things, on how to survive with nothing. And, but these are amazing teenagers who are motivated to help younger kids who are stuck in these zoom calls where they are emotionally dying. Let's put it that way. You know,

Sucheta Kamath: This reminded me of a story of a behavioral ecologist, who actually was doing not doing that. And he had to make a road trip to transport his car, from his parents to his place. And he travelled all the way from I think New York to Arizona or something, I forget the journey. But he got so exhausted while he was driving. And so he pulled it by the side of the road, and he lay, and he went into the little bit of the, you know, forest or whatever, and lay there. And this was his first time he was 22. The first time he actually heard sounds in the forest. And he says, sounds in the forest? what? That changed his entire career path. He became this ecologist who now studies he's the first one to analyze sounds that we don't even know exist. So I love this story that organically arriving to this area of life where you don't even know what you are made of or what you're all about until you have exposure. So I love this attract path that you're talking about. Right?

Esther Wojcicki: So I what I'd like to do is you know all these parents that are so worried I want to make them feel better. They just need to read this book called Educated by Tara, I think Westover. Okay, so Tara, yes, yes, she couldn't even get an education until she was like 12 or 13 years old, because she was part of a Mormon group that didn't believe in the American education system. So this poor kid was trying to learn to read by going in the bathroom and reading the Bible. And it was crazy. I just want you to know, if she didn't have any education for years, and she turned out fine. Your kid is only missing education for what, one year at the most. So we can all calm down, I'm sure they'll be fine, because basically all education in most of the schools today, it's called memorization, not learning. And so just imagine, so they didn't memorize all those days from 1865 to 1900. So what not going to make a big difference, they can easily figure it out later on, and you can, they can also go back in school later on. So the only thing they're missing in school, I just want you to know, there's just one major thing they're missing their friends, that's it. All the kids miss the social interaction, but they don't miss anything else. Maybe they miss lunch.

Sucheta Kamath: I mean, still not part of the academics is what you're saying.

Esther Wojcicki: Lunch after school and their friends.

Sucheta Kamath: So let's start start with your your five part methodology of how to raise successful independent children. And one thing that I, I really was blown away by this, the first part which you talk about trust, and and it's such a two way traffic. And and I want you to explain this, but but trusting your children requires a wonder if you have thought about this that does that require the parents to have received that kind of trust from their own parents, or in their own life? Somebody trusted them to do things? You know what I mean? I feel like where is this fear, not willingness to trust, because these little people have no capacity to make any decisions is how sometimes parents may look at children. So walk us through those five steps.

Esther Wojcicki: So the five steps, it is its tricks. And the first one is trust, as you mentioned, second, respect, then independence, collaboration, and kindness. And that's how my book is organized. And so I'll walk you through the first one trust. So a lot of parents did not experience any trust when they were growing up. So it's very hard for them to parent a different way. Because you tend to parent, the way you were parented. It's very hard. So I suggest that you put it on a conscious level, you say to yourself, that's why I developed the acronym so you can remember all the time. Am I trusting my job? Or am I not trusting my town? So just like I'm telling you in my chop up the sense of competence, I in myself, because they trusted me to do so many things. So I think it's important for everybody to realize that you no matter what your childhood was, like, you can change and make sure that your child experiences trust. Can you imagine what happens when a child feels good about themselves when they feel trusted? You see these kids? And you say to yourself, oh my god, whose kid is that? How did that happen? You know, you want a child that's going to be able to say, you know, hello to you when you walk in smile. You know, there are the other kids who do just the opposite. You know, someone comes in the house, and they run and hide somewhere. They the child that is greeting you and the child that is saying, Can you know, can I get you something to drink? That's a child who feels good about themselves, who feels competent, that feels that they can help other people. And they only get there because you trusted them? You gave them that opportunity.

Sucheta Kamath: I love that and how would you envision that? And you write write a lot about this. So if you don't mind sharing, how do you envision this working out in the classroom? How can a teacher express their trust in their students?

Esther Wojcicki: I was really an unusual teacher and I let me just tell you, a lot of my philosophy spread to the Palo Alto schools, which is good. So I just give you an example of what I did that I trust. So first for every child, that one of the main things kids do Be tardy, right? And so what can the teacher do? So I said to the kids at the beginning of the class of the beginning of the year in September, you know, I'm going to trust that if you are tardy, it was a good reason. You had to go the bathroom, you know, you had some other issue, the teacher from the other period kept you with too long, something. So I'm not going to embarrass you, and humiliate you when you come in late, which is what happens in all the classes. By the way, did you know that kid comes in late and they they get humiliated and embarrassed by the teacher? So that's the method they use to control tardies. So I said just the opposite. You come late. You don't have to explain it. I trust you. Guess what? No one was late.

Sucheta Kamath: Wow.

Esther Wojcicki: It was or if they were late, there was one penalty if you were late, consistently. Sounds crazy. But it worked. If you were always late, and then I talked to you about it. And you were still late, then you had to buy cookies for the whole class every time you were late. just loved it. Oh, my God, he's two minutes. He was late. It was so effective.

Sucheta Kamath: I love that I love

Esther Wojcicki: it is really, yeah, it was crazy. But so it starts with that, then I also did other things. Like for example, the teacher is responsible for taking role in class every day. So you know, this is a big responsibility. So I would pass that around, kids got the whole week where they got to take roll in class, and act like they were in charge, and do everything. Then the other way that I built into these slowly, so these are, you know, small steps. I was teaching writing. So I taught English, I taught journalism. And so I put the kids in charge of editing each other's work. That was after they had had some training, of course for me. But that was I'm trusting them to be able to give proper feedback to each other. Love that you and I'm telling you. If you look at the publications, and the other publications coming out of Palo Alto High School journalism, you'll wonder who wrote those? As matter of fact, how could they be like so intelligently written? It's all the kids because they are it belongs to them. They own it. They feel a sense of responsibility and caring, and the publication's are outstanding. We win on a regular basis, something called Gold Crowns from Columbia. And gold with I guess the lowest one we've ever won is a Silver Crown. Oh, wow. But I really am so impressed and proud of them. So how did we cope in this pandemic? Let me just tell you, you know how everybody hates zoom calls. This is the easiest way to make them all love the zoom calls, put the kids in charge of the zoom call.

Sucheta Kamath: Oh my goodness, tell us more.

Esther Wojcicki: How would that look like know what that looks like? So I have five editors for the newspaper. There's about 60 kids in the class. The five editors are in charge of the zoom call. They all take turns and love that. And let me tell you, everyone shows up, because they want to see their friends. And they will. And by the way, no one is muted. Because the number one thing teachers do is they go on the call, and then they mute everybody right away. So you're muted, can't say anything. And then that's where the kids put up pictures of themselves, right instead of that.

Sucheta Kamath: So what what's striking about that, if I may interject here, is you are okay with mess. You're okay, with little ruckus, you're okay. If this is not highly structured and going like a, you know, marching band, that's like a well oiled machine. You're saying, Yeah, we are working progress. We were tightening some parts, we are letting loose some parts That's beautiful.

Esther Wojcicki: It produces outstanding products and outstanding kids. So if you take a look at the number of students of mine, that have become amazing, you'll be shocked because of lots of that's how I got that title, Godmother of Silicon Valley because so many of my students and leading companies. I mean, they get a lot of practice in my class leaving me That's right. It's chaos. You come in and you would see, you don't see kids sitting in rows quietly. You see kids talking to each other words. Working groups running around, you know, even eating whatever you know, it's like, but then look at the product and look at the how happy they are.

Sucheta Kamath: I was really touched with you that there are many stories that you tell, or one of the funny stories I thought was the story of the school board member with mustache and horns that when accidentally got published. Do you mind sharing that because that is such a great story of you. First of all, again, you're also a good at demonstrating your sense of calm, and you're a chilled person and nothing fazes you. But you're also saying to them, I trust you so much, that you're not a bad person, or this is not wrong. And because only then that can facilitate some problem solving.

Esther Wojcicki: That's right, absolutely. So this is what happened. or putting together the newspaper. And at those days, it was a layout, it's he had to lay it out in hardcopy, and on a light table, and there was somebody running for the school board, and the kids did not like him. And so what they did is they took his picture and put horns on it. And and I said, you know, you better make sure to get rid of that before we publish. Because the last thing we want to do is publish that. So I didn't, I didn't supervise I just said let's do it. Lo and behold what happens the paper comes back, and the horns are still there. Can you 3000 copies and the horns are on? So I went out to Target or I forgotten one of those places, and I bought like 50, black felt pens. And Okay, you guys, you're going to black out the whole thing, because we've got to distribute these papers and he cannot have horns. So you're gonna have to get rid of them. That is what we did. They all all the kids did it. We just said we're sorry. But there was a, you know, the picture was not complimentary. And so we wanted, we didn't want to say you had horns.

Sucheta Kamath: You know, what I love about that story is one. You as a teacher didn't say anything, any judgment about like, what's wrong with you? or How dare you know, there was no like authoritarian, like wrath that I'm sure that you might have been irritated, but not. Secondly, I think you yourself shifting gear into problem solving probably was a such a modeling to the kids that okay, we we have a oopsies or we have a glitch, let's do something about it.

Esther Wojcicki: Yeah, let's fix it. I mean, the other thing we could have a lot of people would have just thrown the issue away. It's like, No, we can't do that. worked really hard on that. So anyway.

Sucheta Kamath: That was another very important part I felt, which is your constant, like really shaped, you know, safeguarding the effort as well as cost money being value, very sensitive to the value of things. I love that approach to so talk us through the respect, what does that look like at home and in classrooms?

Esther Wojcicki: So well, I just finished in classrooms, since that's where I was just leaving off. So respect, you know, teenagers, they come up with very unusual ideas, let's put it that politely. And some of those ideas, you know, it's like, oh, my God, are we really gonna do that. So I always felt it was important to respect their ideas. And one of the ways the publications come up with stories is they come up with story ideas, and some of the story ideas. Oh, my God, I don't know what I'm gonna do with this story idea. But you know, I never really said anything, I respected their ideas. And that gave them the opportunity to be even more creative and come up with more ideas. And what I discovered through all those years of doing this, is that they will filter out the crazy ideas themselves, if you give them the opportunity, if you don't tell them what to do. And I've let a lot of really unusual ideas go. That's how I ended up with so many publications. Because one of the publications was started in 2012. And it was in response. The kids wanted to write more feature stories, and I said, Well, we don't have enough room in the feature page. We just don't have enough. It's not big enough. So like, Well, why don't we start a magazine? And I was like, really, we already have another one. We have a lot of magazines, like well We need another magazine. And the main purpose of this magazine is going to be to teach people how to braid their hair. Like this is really a little too much. And there was a whole group of them that's like, well, it's hair braiding recipes and fashion. It's like, I don't think we've ever seen a magazine like that. So anyway, I let them do it. I can you imagine I did it. And this turned out to be one of the most popular magazines, and today it's won a Gold Crown from Columbia. You know, you just have to give them a chance to try out some of their ideas. It's an innovative publication. And so that's respect in the classroom. And the same thing is well respected home. I actually, I thought it's a little easier when you have only three kids as opposed to 60. But like, for example, one of the big things that we used to face is, you know, you want to take a trip on the weekend. And you know, you've got three kids, we didn't have TVs in the back. We didn't have phones, we didn't have anything. There's three cranky kids in the back of a car we'd like what do you want? So one of the things I did let them plan the trip, where are we going? How are we going to get there? What are we going to do when we get there? Where are we going to eat, everything, you plan it. Boy, there was no complaining. No crankiness. No, are we there yet mom kind of crap. You know, it worked out really well. So I respected all their ideas. And I respected their ideas decorating in the house, I think I gave that story in the book. dear old Susan pick the carpet for her bedroom. Oh, my God. She picked hot pink shag carpet, which we then had to live with for a long time. Because it was wall to wall installed. Oh my god. 

Sucheta Kamath: Well, what I was about to say about that is, I think, you know, feelings and decisions ahead of fashion. And I think that no compromise about the values. I think that to me that speaks so highly of what the value is as of the family that we respect. But once you take the decision, the chance of you standing behind your own decision is going to be greater. And and that's going to give you some empowerment to manage your own emotions about it. If you don't like the carpet after two months, too bad. You've chosen it.

Esther Wojcicki: And it's not only Dad, it's locked down on the floor here. There's no way we're getting rid of that. But it's interesting for me to see my daughter's doing the same thing with their children. So, you know, I, I came over to one of my daughter's houses. And I noticed on the wall somebody had written in crayon on brand new wall painted white, right? I love you, mommy was so sweet with the heart. So you know, listen, she didn't have the heart to say to him, you don't write on the wall, you know? So that's still there. It's still on the wall.

Sucheta Kamath: Yeah, and actually, I was going to ask you this question. It's a little sidebar from what we were talking about. But what is it? How does it feel to raise? Or maybe? How does it feel that you have raised three beautiful girls, and now they are the most highly successful young entrepreneurs and leaders in the country? So how does tell us a little bit about your journey as a parent of these who have become super, super humans? And people, and I'm so glad you kind of bottle the secret and actually put it in book so people have access to it. But do you look back you probably were not expecting this. But how do you process all that you have these incredibly successful children? Tell us about your children?

Esther Wojcicki: So my Yeah, my children are really successful. I'm very proud of them. So my oldest daughter, Susan, is the CEO of YouTube. And my second daughter, Janet is a professor of pediatrics at University of California, San Francisco, focused on the obesity epidemic and try to help parents in advanced before their child has a problem. And then my third daughter and is the CEO and co-founder of 23andme. It's personal genetics company. God And so they all got to do, they got to pursue what they personally thought was important to them. And it was all through their childhood, and, you know, through their lives, and even now, you know, with everything. And what I find interesting is that they let their children do the same thing.

Sucheta Kamath: Unbelievable. And I'm really interested in this question because you, you are a child of immigrants. I am an immigrant, and my children are first generation immigrants. So your daughters are a second generation children of immigrants, I guess. And, and I think this ties in really beautifully with your third point, which is independence. What? How? So first of all, I don't think you are trying to do anything, you're just being this way. And you live that in that space as a teacher and a parent, which is so beautiful. And you just now retrospectively wrote about it. So it's not that you're trying to follow a recipe, you are just creating this wonderful value based system that you lived, how to? How did your children become so independent? Can you give some examples that you talk about in the book, particularly what interests me is the way they came to your own car buying situation that you described in the work about, you know how your dad got the car, and then you now were able to fix the car whenever needed in your neighborhood when, eventually people couldn't believe that you know anything about cars. But even your daughters started as young people. Before they graduated from high school, they had held jobs, they tried to innovate in that space. Where, how is that? independence? How does that look like? As a parent, if somebody is listening to this podcast? Who was a teacher in a middle school or ecologist or parent from middle schooler? Where do they shape that the children are not only asked to do these things, but given an opportunity to explore what will I be doing as a job? You know, before I go?

Esther Wojcicki: It's a great question. Um, I think one of the problems that people face today is that they've been helping their kids too much all along. So it's hard for kids, young kids, you know, 10, 11, 12 years old, they are more reluctant to try new things, because the first question they have is, am I doing it right? And, and so one of the things I faced in the classroom, as a journalism teacher, I said to the kids, I want you to come up with your own feature story idea. At the end of the semester, they said that the hardest part of my class, I did an evaluation was coming up with your own idea. Why? And I think and then they said, is because they never have to do that in other classes. They're always given a choice. You know, here's three topics, pick one, you know, or here's three books, you can read pick one. And so I just had I opened up the whole world, and I was like, No, you have to pick what you want to do. And and then the main thing they were worried about was, is this an a topic? I was like, don't worry about you know, so I got rid of the whole grade pressure, no grades, you all all you have to do is revise in this class, you'll get an A No problem. Love that. And so but I think with parents also, I think it's important for kids to feel that if they make a mistake, with a lot that all learning happens as a result of mistakes, by the way. I love that. Yeah, treat them with kindness, because there's a lot of mistakes that kids make. And don't get too mad because they're worried about you getting mad and then worried about you holding a grudge. And a lot of parents hold grudges. That's what's so bad. No, I never ever did that. I mean, my kids did a lot of things that, you know, you could get mad about, but I likewise. Try not to get it well. You know, there were a lot of depends on which age you target, but give us a few. How well one of them, you know, teenage years. You know, we left them alone. I think this story is in the book. We left my three my three daughters alone. While we went away for the weekend. We were just gone one night. And somehow rather Of course I told them in advance. It's like yeah, we take care of the house. Of course we'll do everything mom and I came back and the house was like spic and span beautiful. I was like I've used Then all weekend cleaning the house or what's been going on? I just don't know. Oh, Mom, we're so happy that you like it. There's so forth. It was like, Oh, wow. But you know, I had a sense something was not quite right. Then Monday morning, I went to school. And I noticed across the class first period class, a girl wearing an outfit, and I was like, Wow, that looks just like my outfit. I have the same thing. Where did you buy it? She's like, got it in your closet. I couldn't believe this. Actually. I just could not believe it. And she's like, Oh, yeah, there was a big party at your house on Saturday night. Oh, my God. Anyways, I got home. You can imagine I was at this point a little bit. You know, have you ever seen the parent was smoke coming out of their ears? Well, like, Hey, you guys, do you want to tell me what was going on in our house on Saturday night? Anyway, that unfolded? They had a massive party. And yeah, well, fortunately, nothing really happened. Except I did lose that outfit. And what she did get back later. But the other thing is, of course, the policeman knew where our house was, because they were called. Too much noise. But after that, I didn't leave them alone. Again, I figured that was just too tempting. They were teenagers. And so if we wanted to go away for the weekend, I was like, okay, we're gonna have this adult in the house, you know, and I tried to pick some grandmother like person, you know, that would like, instilled some kind of fear of some kind. But anyway, that was a no, nothing terrible really happened other than I was a little ticked. 

Sucheta Kamath: Yeah, I think whats so again, interesting about your stories, first of all, such good memory. So, but I think that again, to me, what strikes is, there's a some sense of ease about you that you're like, Yeah, okay. You know, there's no like, wrath. Like, there's no, like, incredible judgment on the kids have failed, you have failed us. So, it just so important.

Esther Wojcicki: I didn't, I might theory as been that, if you get really angry about anything, or really stressed, you can't think, yes. And so that's what I've always tried to tell my daughters and, you know, to always demonstrate even for my students, is that, you know, if there's a problem, you want all your faculties to be able to function to solve it. And so if you get diverted, because you're so angry, then you can't think clearly. And that's been my philosophy all along. And, I mean, even in this pandemic, you know, I'm stuck in this house, like everyone else, you know, but I'm trying to do as much as I can, from the house, try to make it an exciting life for myself, in the house. So I've been baking, and my husband is just really, it's going to get back on all my cooking. My dog is very happy, you know. So all those kinds of things, it just, it was not going to last forever, even though it feels like forever. But I think and then all the parents out there that are so upset. That's why I tried to help the parents, get your child to help you be part of the team, instead of you serving them. Because as you serve them, and as you do all these things for them, you are disempowering them. And you might think you're helping them but you're doing just the opposite. You want them to be self reliant. This,

Sucheta Kamath: I think, the what, what really, the approach I have taken is, when I work with parents, I tell them, that pandemic is a curriculum. So please take that curriculum. It's like AP emotions. Yeah, take it seriously, which means the regular curriculum is on the back burner. So but you need to really understand that it is here to teach you so many valuable lessons about how to and if you don't take that curriculum seriously and go after some silly activity in math and some assignment in science and some paper in English you will be losing your mind about what how to align yourself.

Esther Wojcicki: Right. Absolutely. This is an opportunity to learn other skills and, you know, I that's why I said to a lot of the teachers and a lot of the teaching programs I've been involved with, is give kids more of an opportunity to do things, in pairs online together projects, instead of lecturing to them all the time. You know, this is an opportunity to do different things. And that's where tract comes in. Because this gives kids an opportunity to try out new things that they might not have ever encountered. And they might want to, it's empowering, it gets, it's all about the world all about learning all about empowering kids, to make them feel more, happier, more capable, and better problem solvers.

Sucheta Kamath: So about the last two, which is collaboration and kindness, and I love that you included kindness, because I think sometimes hyper focusing on achievement almost gives this impression that it, you have no time to be kind, because it's a cutthroat competition, there is world out there, there are wolves out there. And somehow, to survive the attack of the wolves, you have to be brutal. So talk us through these two points.

Esther Wojcicki: So collaboration at if you just think about it, if you collaborate with somebody, they have input into what your decision is, then they're going to follow it. And I just did that in the classroom all the time. All the rules were collaborative, kids built the rules. So they followed the rules. It's very different than a situation where you are a dictator, and you tell people what to do, then you have to, you have to be a policeman in the classroom and that I just didn't work with my philosophy. And the same at home, you collaborate with kids on, you know, we have certain goals in our family, what are the goals? And how are we going to reach those goals? And what can you do to help reach those goals? And if you think about that, you know, kids are very capable. And we don't take advantage of that. And we always we see them as you know, in capable because of course, you know, they were when they were born but they grow you have to remember that. So it's it's important to collaborate with them on decision making. On I mean, even like, what to make for dinner this week, let them come up with the recipes. Let them go online and find out what you want want to eat. Let them help cook. You know, let them do a lot of things that you personally think are in your realm as a parent, they can do a lot. I mean, I was just at my house. Like one of my daughter's houses. I was Susan the other day. And there was a huge mess on the floor. And all of a sudden I saw the five year old come out with the vacuum. I'm not kidding. She's five. I said to Susan, really? She's like, yeah, this is her pandemic job. She's in charge of vacuuming.

Sucheta Kamath: That's so amazing.

Esther Wojcicki: And she bought this vacuum You know, it doesn't have a cord. cordless, so the kid can carry just because all around the house vacuuming up everything. Like, don't vacuum up my jewelry.

Sucheta Kamath: This is like a human Roomba.

Esther Wojcicki: Yes. Let me tell you, she's very proud of her skills. So cute. 

Sucheta Kamath: But that's exactly what you want. And I love that what you said is I think we as a family have goals and and how can you be part of that those goals? And can you help us achieve those goals is such a good way rather than the parents have goals for their children. So right there, there is no collaboration as looking. And secondly, I think I see often that parents are only discussing when the kids never didn't get on board. Like I say I'm a clinician so I see people coming into the office, and it is not the child's idea. How are you? So I said you're not dropping a car off that you will pick up after a few hours.

Esther Wojcicki: It's that way they do need to tune up, tune her up. She's done. I'll pick her up.

Sucheta Kamath: So I have actually when I right after we begin I have a I have the students or the client create a contract, what are you willing to do? And what am I willing to do and is this agreeable to you? And who at what are the parents going to do because if this is not a collaboration between three of us then maybe this is not a good idea. I am not going to do anything to you. We are going to work together to look at some solutions that you're struggling with, I'm happy to be a guide. So as we come to the end, and, you know, you, you kind of frame everything from a perspective of a grid, and you say that, that, you know, grittiness is needed, even when it's time to back down gracefully. It's the skill that gives us the strength to make a change. And I love that because grid grid is the power source, but grid can also be part of the break. Because sometimes it's wrong to pursue something that is not going to go anywhere, there is no need to show off how determined you are to persist. cannot talk about that before we end.

Esther Wojcicki: Yeah, it's so important. So you have to be it's okay to make a mistake. And then to say, Okay, this didn't work out, and I'm going to try a new path. And you the first person you have to forgive is yourself. And it's so important to treat yourself and all those around you, you know, in a way that that shows respect, and kindness. And so, yes, I think there's a lot of a lot of people out there that get so angry, and they don't really understand their own anger. But they are really angry at themselves, but they don't even know what.

Sucheta Kamath: Well, this has been the most amazing, inspiring and reassuring conversation for me, I am going to ask you to recommend some couple of books for our listeners. But what another quote that I really love where you said when you your child is courageous, be sure to acknowledge it. That is such a beautiful way to relate to your child. Because that is a skill. To be courageous is a skill.

Esther Wojcicki: It is really a skill. Yeah. So I'm very excited that you are that that is something that you think is important.

Sucheta Kamath: Yes. So as we end, Esther, what are your two favorite books that have influenced you or you feel will make a big change in people's perspective if they read it?

Esther Wojcicki: Well, I think those are different that I can just tell you that one of my favorite books is one that you mentioned briefly, and it's about the Skinned Knee.

Sucheta Kamath: Oh, you do love that.

Esther Wojcicki: I think she did a great job. And now I love that. Yes. I love that book. And Wendy Mogul's Okay, Wendy Mogul. Yeah, so I think we can recommend her book. And I'm just thinking out loud. You know, it just depends is a parenting book. I think that we want anything

Sucheta Kamath: that anything you felt that kind of shifted your perspective about life. I had Maggie Jackson, a she is a journalist. And she recommended which I had not read was about Rosetta Stone. It's a very old old book about Egyptian history and beginning of Rosetta Stone or impact of Rosetta Stone. And I just picked it up and read it. So it's something she said she keeps going back to that book, even after so many years, and she's read it like 10 times.

Esther Wojcicki: Well, I would say that one of the things that has really impacted my life, but I read it many years ago. And it's not a not a heads up philosophical book is The Prince. Yes.

Sucheta Kamath: Beautiful book

Esther Wojcicki: Yeah, Machiavelli and because, you know, it was written like 500 years ago. But the principles that he stated in that book are still relevant today.

Sucheta Kamath: Well, thank you for that's a fantastic book recommendation, by the way. And and I, just a quick sidebar, another neuroscientist, wrote a book called Evil. And it talks about how so there's a book called Science of Evil, which I read, I'm very interested in these lack of empathy, lack of, you know, imagination for the human condition, and what kind of psychological and neuro. What does neuroscience Tell us about that? And so there's a science of evil and then that this new book came, which was about just evil and she presents a different perspective on understanding evil so psychology of those who end up being evil. And one of the references she makes in this book is this Mecca Valley, Machiavellian approach, self serving, self directed, benefiting the self at a cost of harming others, you know, that kind of thinking requires so much check, like you need to keep those things in check. Because if you don't, then it's going to be great trouble for humanity, not just yourself.

Esther Wojcicki: That's right. Well, that book really is something that everybody should know about. And should take your opportunity to read it. And if you don't want to read it, you know, the whole book you can read, you know, an abbreviated version and then point so the most important thing

Sucheta Kamath: Well, Esther, thank you so much for being here with us today on Full PreFrontal, you are so charming, and it's delightful and your stories keep me coming back to them. I actually made notes of all your stories so that I can recall and tell my friends and, and my children even. And thank you for all the projects you're working on. I really look forward to keeping in touch and it's it's utter joy, what you have done for our children and what you continue to do for our teachers. So thank you very much.

Esther Wojcicki: All thank you again for this great interview. I really enjoyed it. And I wish you all the best in 2021

Sucheta Kamath: Thank you. That's all the time we have. Please keep in touch. If you love what you heard, share it with as many friends as you can. And yes, they stay close to your family. Follow all these amazing pieces of advice that Esther shared and until next be well