Monday, September 9, 2013

"What the Thunder Said . . . ."

This morning I was greeted with the good news that Russian president Putin is leaning on Syrian president Assad to give up his chemical weapons and play nice on the world stage.  Hey, I'll happily let Putin claim the next Peace Prize when he pulls this off, saving all of us from a wider conflagration, especially the Syrian people.  I mention this amazing turn of events because today marks a new era in some indescribable way, as though we have passed the halfway point in our race, as though we have reached a tipping point, and in many ways, we have:  The American people have overwhelmingly spoken out AGAINST an attack on Syria and, by extension, against war, not only because we are tired of war and of the billions of dollars that drain away into its big black hole, but also because we are FOR peace--and most dramatic of all, we have ignored party lines to make this statement.  We are FOR humanity, and for a peaceful resolution through negotiation, and for policing of chemical weapons by the United Nations.  We are FOR a resolution for Syria that does not create more death and suffering and that, ladies and gentlemen, is a huge step forward for America on the world stage.  

I am encouraged by the appearance of such forward thinking organizations as YES! magazine, which this week featured a cogent article by its executive editor, Syria: Six Alternatives to Military Strikes, an article that I have made my family read, enumerating the steps all of us out here on the ground
have been talking about all week, as though someone has finally heard us.   Such is the power of the alternative media to report what is really going on outside the rarified enclaves of New York and Washington and other media hubs.

At the same time today, I received a notice from A World at School, a new international organization committed to education for every child, everywhere in the world, following the work of the heroic Pakistani girl who stood up to the Taliban and survived their attack, Malala Yousafzai.   Having already been recognized by the United Nations, the organization will on September 23rd present their plan for funding education for the 1.9 MILLION children between grades 1-9 who have been displaced by the ongoing Syrian civil war.  This is activism on a united, global level, unprecedented for a grassroots campaign anywhere in the world.  What each of us can do to help is enumerated, including a petition to sign and a well structured plan that you can read on PDF.  Their plan is brilliantly called Education Without Borders and nothing could be more important to the achievement of real and lasting world peace than this new effort to unite children through a commitment to their education.

These and many other signs--the Occupy campaign, Elon Musk's cutting edge technology, the joining up by the millions of people all over the world through the internet, the proliferation of global businesses that further shrink the world into a malleable size--point directly to the new millennium's dawning at long last.

Having fought our way through thirteen years of horror, war, violent political infighting, a glut of bad movie remakes and comic book heroes, we seem just about to walk through a new door, at the end of that tunnel of light forming at the edge of the world.  But don't be afraid.  It is the door we've been seeking for hundreds of years or perhaps millennia, where our intelligence and our emotional commitment are finally mature enough to create real change in the real world, the moment when the universal pendulum stops going backward into the past, pauses at this exact moment of time, and begins its forward swing again. 

For decades I have been saying Forward to the Future as the antidote to the reactionaries who drew public education Back to the Basics and began a forty-year downward spiral of American education and of American intelligence on the broadest level.  I am happy to proclaim that, at this moment, the forces of good, humanism, intelligence, and compassion seem to be pushing back the darkness and making it possible for the voices of the people, all over the world, to be heard.  All of us are now charged with the responsibility of continuing this movement, of extending and expanding this change of consciousness, and of speaking up at every opportunity to change the world into that dream that each of us holds in our heart of hearts.   It is ALL possible!

As for me, I am taking a long break from years of web posts, newsletters, radio interviews and all the other ways I have tried to drop new memes into the zeitgeist so I can concentrate on writing my second novel, which will, indeed, be all about those changes of consciousness that change the world.  If you haven't read my first novel about a school leader's death and the corruption of public education, ANGEL PARK, I hope you will buy it and read it soon, since it tells the true and fully fictionalized story of what's really going on in our schools and the mystery the heroine solves to discover her own new world.   Yes, I have called it a philosophical mystery at times, and here are the acclaim and awards it has won, along with the responses of real readers on Amazon and Barnes and Noble sites.  In the meantime, you may be interested in what I have to say on my website, which will be staying as is for now, showing the many ways that Changing the Schools Can Change the World.   You will find a wealth of articles and links to point you toward ways you can take part.  I'll be back next summer with a completed manuscript in hand (I say, urging myself forward) and we'll see how the world is doing then . . . . "Shantih.  Shantih.  Shantih."

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Education Gold Rush is ON . . . .

I keep thinking that I'm going to be leaving education behind and writing another, more inspirational novel, and I'll probably do that, too, but I just can't turn my back on the biggest single issue on my mind:  If we don't lead toward the future and prepare the way for an EVOLUTION OF CONSCIOUSNESS, then what will become of the Earth and all its people, what will become of the American experiment, what will become of all our hopes and dreams? After all, the whole world is watching how we handle our appalling gun problems, our political infighting, our racial divides, our growing levels of poverty while the rich get richer.  What are we doing about human progress?

The answer to this urge for evolution lies solidly within what we give to and leave future generations, and right now, we're just not doing a very good job for them, either in their education or in the example we are setting (for rational debate, for good decisions, for helping others, you name it!).  Thus, the SCHOOL issue, the educating of our children, continues to hold a central place in my imagination as the ONE PLACE where a change of mind can change the world. 

To that end, I offer this article from The Washington Post, on Valerie Strauss' "The Answer Sheet," an article by a teacher who learned about the complexities of changing education and drew some conclusions based on actual research.  Read "Five Basic Lessons on Public Education" and notice the MUCH different story it tells about the viability of the public school system.  I could quote voluminously from the conclusions reached here, since nearly every one is informative, but let me just point out the biggest inequity that makes the system as a whole appear to be failing: Children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds continue to regress as they go through school based on outside factors that hamper their lives. POVERTY is the real problem, and people who listened at the time know THAT is the issue that Martin Luther King was ultimately talking about.

This is not to condone the current industrial paradigm under which public education operates, of course, merely to point out real information that gets glossed over in the corporate drive to BUY PUBLIC EDUCATION--from the wily testing companies to the privatizers to the now-legion creators of online "textbooks" that they say will revolutionize schools. Right. Yes, the kids need to be online, so their personalized computer programs can track their responses and adjust for them, but we were doing that with stand-alone programs in 1980 and no one was very impressed. 

What we do NOT need is a public education system that becomes a subsidiary of techno-world, where every developer and his brother is now rushing to promote his program to the multibillion dollar education industry--the biggest untapped Mother Lode since the gold rush. FOLLOW THE MONEY, and speak up!! We need to save our kids not only from faceless bureaucracy but also from mindless corporatization and economic exploitation.

The issue here is that we cannot allow the politicians and CEOs to call the tune.  We cannot allow the privatizers with dollar signs in their eyes to raid our school budgets.  We cannot allow yet another round of new "textbooks"--online this time--drain our money and homogenize our kids' brains and fit so neatly into ever-useless "standardized tests."  Somewhere in this mess of mass media manipulation (such GREAT alliteration, yes?) is the real story:  We need talent in our teacher pool.  We need a  growth model that supports our talent.  We need creative approaches that focus on real work in real time so our kids don't drop out from sheer boredom.  We need to lift the bureaucracy off the backs of teachers, students, and parents and create a nurturing environment for the good of those involved as well as the rest of the world and the planet.  All of this moves us toward the aforementioned EVOLUTION of CONSCIOUSNESS which will take us racing into a better future, leaving the old paradigms and old arguments and older wars behind.  Speak up, about a world worth working for . . . .

Thursday, March 14, 2013

A Texas Superintendent Takes on the Legislature

Every once in a while, someone will make a speech that transcends its direct purpose and speaks to a universal need and a common understanding.  That is the case in a speech made in a rally held last month to Save Texas Schools, by a superintendent with whom I have corresponded, the leader of a small Texas school district beset by the financial and cultural issues that are strangling all of our schools right now.  His name is John Kuhn; remember it.  You will be hearing it again, because he truly understands, as an educator, as a taxpayer, and as a parent why PUBLIC schools (despite all their warts and deficiencies) must be saved.  They are one of the only touchstones left of the American way of life and even of the American Dream, the dream that you can become what you dream, that you can make it real.  John is talking to an audience of Texans, who have a proud history of standing and fighting, and that's what he encourages them to do . . . parents, teachers, kids, all together, fighting to save our heritage and our future:

John Kuhn's Rally Speech
By John Kuhn - Supt

Are there any teachers in this crowd?

I want to say something to teachers that our lawmakers should have said long ago: Thank You! Thank you for keeping our children safe. Thank you for drying their tears when they scrape their knees, for cheering on our junior high basketball players, for going up to your room on Sundays to get ready to teach my kids on Monday. Gracias por cuidarlos! As a dad, I thank you.

Coaches, thank you for fixing little girls' softball swings and for showing our boys how to tie their ties. Thank you for getting our children safely home on the yellow dog after late ballgames, marching contests, and one-act plays.

Thank you for buying all those raffle tickets, hams, pies, discount cards, Girl Scout cookies, insulated mugs and pumpkin rolls, for buying more playoff shirts than any one person could possibly need and on top of all that spending your own money on pencils and prizes and supplies for your classroom.

There are those poor deluded souls who say you take more than you give, and I disagree with them with everything I am. Don’t let them get you down. They wouldn’t last a day in your classroom. You are NOT a drain on this economy; you are a bubbling spring of tomorrow’s prosperity. You’re a fountain of opportunity for other people’s children. As educational attainment goes up, crime, teen pregnancy, unemployment, and prison rates all go down. Squalor and ignorance retreat. Social wounds begin to heal. Our state progresses; our tomorrow brightens. What you do, teacher, is priceless. You don’t create jobs. You create job creators.

Some people don't understand why you do what you do. They think merit pay will make you work harder, as if you're holding back. They don’t understand what motivates you. They think the threat of being labeled "unacceptable" will inspire you to care about the quality of your instruction, as if the knowledge that you hold the future in your hands on a daily basis is not incentive enough.

Maybe these sticks and carrots work for bad teachers, but they only demoralize the great ones, and there are thousands and thousands and thousands of great teachers in our public school classrooms today.

Some people have forgotten that good teachers actually exist. They spend so much time and effort weeding out the bad ones that they’ve forgotten to take care of the good ones. This bitter accountability pesticide is over-spraying the weeds and wilting the entire garden.

You stand on the front lines of poverty and plenty, on the front lines of our social stratification. You are the people who shove their fingers into gushing wounds of inequality that our leaders won’t even talk about, and you aren’t afraid. You’re the last of the Good Samaritans, and you aren’t afraid, even as they condemn you for trying but failing to save every last kid in your classroom. You aren’t afraid, and you keep trying, and you haven’t faltered. You deserve to be saluted, not despised. You deserve to be acclaimed. You deserve so much more than the ugly scapegoating that privatizers peddle in the media and our halls of government.

Teacher, bus driver, coach, lunch lady, custodian, maintenance man, business manager, aide, secretary, principal, and, yes, even you superintendents out there trying to hold it all together—you serve your state with skill and honor and dignity, and I’m sorry that no one in power has the guts to say that these days. History will recognize that the epithets they applied to your schools said more about leaders who refused to confront child poverty than the teachers who tried valiantly to overcome it. History will recognize that teachers in these bleak years stood in desperate need of public policy help that never came. Advocacy for hurting children was ripped from our lips with a shush of “no excuses." These hateful labels should be hung around the necks of those who have allowed inequitable school funding to persist for decades, those who refuse to tend to the basic needs of our poorest children so that they may come to school ready to learn.

They say 100,000 kids are on a waiting list for charter schools. Let me tell you about another waiting list. There are 5 million kids waiting for this Legislature to keep our forefathers’ promises. There are 5 million children, and three of them live with me, and they’re all waiting for somebody in Austin, Texas, to stand up for them and uphold the constitution. There’s a waiting list of 5 million kids and this government says they can just keep waiting. How long must they wait?

If you support public schools I want to tell you about a new website. Go to and add your child's name to the public school waiting list, the list of kids waiting for this government to provide adequate school funding. That's

Our forefathers’ promises must be kept. We want fair and adequate resources in our kids' schools. We want leaders who don't have to be dragged to court to do right by our children.

It’s not okay to default on constitutional promises. It’s not okay to neglect schools until they break, to deliberately undermine our public school. These traditional institutions have honorably served their communities for generations. It’s not okay to privatize a public school system that strong and generous people built and left to us; it's not okay for Austin to confiscate buildings built by local taxpayers and give them away to cronies and speculators.

These buildings aren't just schools, they're touchstones. They're testaments to our local values. The Friday night lights that have illuminated our skies for decades, the school gyms that have echoed with play since the Greatest Generation was young—these aren’t monuments to sports. They’re monuments to community. They’re beacons of our local control, of the togetherness we cherish in our hometowns and city neighborhoods. We don’t want education fads imposed on us by Austin or, even worse, out-of-state billionaires.

What we want is simple, tried, and true. We want what this state promised in 1876. And to those who want to take away that promise, I know some moms and trustees and local businesspeople who will say what brave Texans have said before: “Come and take it.”

Two years ago I asked state leaders to come to our aid; they responded by cutting school funding by billions. But help did come: it came from you. The people of Texas are the cavalry that will save Texas schools. Two years ago may have been the Alamo; but this year may well be our San Jacinto.

I will end by saying this to the advocates who are bravely defending public education: thank you. And one more thing: do not go gently into that good night. Stand and fight, and save our schools.

Thank you.

(Ed. Note:  Yes, I thought the same thing that you are thinking now . . . Why can't we have a Secretary of Education like John, who actually BELIEVES in public education as a philosophical construct and who is not selling our entire system to the most vocal billionaire?   We need massive improvement, modernization, reorganization--all true--but at the end of all that, we need a strong PUBLIC education system that stands for EVERY child.)

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

What Ike Taught Us . . . and We Promptly Forgot

Why in the world, you ask, would anyone care what Ike taught us, and not a few of you would ask, "Who is Ike?" Indeed. I only came to this thought the other day when I happened upon this graphic, quoting from a speech made by President Dwight D. Eisenhower (oh, that Ike!) sometime in the halcyon days of the 1950s when I was a little kid.  I knew vaguely even then who he was because my father loved telling war stories (World War II, that is) and General Eisenhower figured in some of them.  Back in that day, the Republicans were honorable people who thought that, well, people, were important; the Democrats were the hard-to-sell intellectuals, as Ike's long-suffering but brilliant opponent, Adlai Stevenson, demonstrated. 

:Those days are long gone, of course, but take a look at the photo at left and read carefully the words and, when your amazement abates, compare those thoughts of a reigning General and conservative commander-in-chief with what the recent election told us the Republicans and Democrats stand for now.  No one among them would dare to voice this anti-military idea in today's world.  It was also Ike who warned us, in his farewell speech in 1961 to beware of the military-industrial complex that would sap our resources and take our money and our attention away from what the people need: hospitals, schools, roads.  These days, the consequences are even more dire:  People right here in America need food, housing, medical care, and still the schools.  Yet the military-industrial complex is thriving, having created such powerful lobbies that the U.S. government is hiring defense contractors, security consultants, yes, even mercenaries, to do what the regular armed forces used to take care of themselves: Take a look at the top twenty defense contractors in this article from Defense Systems, noting that with even a 10% cut (the austerity measures from the Pentagon in 2010), defense contracting would still be the largest market in the world  (Those numbers in the right column are BILLIONS, by the way.).  And that's not counting the tertiary market of arms dealers who spread the "wealth" to developing countries where tyrants and dictators make war on their own people (read a history of Africa for apt and recent examples).
Don't get me wrong.  I am glad to be protected by brave men and women; I'm happy that they have the equipment they need to do that.  I am a patriot of the old school.  But, somehow, over the past half-century, America has witnessed a slow but inexorable slide to the Right, keying off our most horrific decade, the 1960s.  Shortly after Ike's farewell speech, John F. Kennedy was sworn in and all of us who were young then, even if we couldn't vote yet, were enthralled with his optimism and his call for taking action to change the world.   Yet, after the terrors of one assassination after another, JFK, Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, a stunned populace faded gently away from enthusiam for change and public service and became enthralled with an emerging narrative, skillfully controlled by those with the money.  (Please read this excellent essay by the prolific history professor Akim Reinhardt, who calls himself The Public Professor, "America's Move to the Right," for a detailed accounting of this trend.)
For those of us who lived through it, the decade of assassinations will always be the critical turning point of the 20th century, in ten years turning a nation thrilled to be moving forward and making change to a nation listening to the Big Lie Technique so well used by Richard Nixon and pretending that things would turn out all right anyway.  The narrative of the ensuing decades became a slow discrediting of "liberalism" (or concern for social programs) and a rapidly escalating celebration of money, culminating in the deification of an actor as the hero of the modern world, President Ronald Reagan.  Again, having lived through it, I am amazed every day that Reagan, who gave us the travesties of conspicuous consumption, the absurdities of "trickle-down economics," and the idiocies of rockets in space can be imagined to have been a great President and a great statesman.  Nothing is a greater testament to the ability of money to control the narrative than Reagan's ascendancy and climactic role as the savior of the free world, an image carefully crafted by multimillionaires who used the simplified world of television to sell messages that made us all feel good about keeping our heads down and spending lots of money.
The point is this:  Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat oversimplified ideas from spinmeisters.  When we talk about the "dumbing down of America," it is not the schools which are to blame, but the facile work done on our minds by 40 years of television and its insatiable need for sound-bites and imagery.  Those who have the money determine what people will see--and ingest and believe.  Thus, more and more these days, I feel like one of the characters from the ending of Ray Bradbury's novel Fahrenheit 451, one of the people who became books, each memorizing a particular text to save it for the world, a scene scarily immortalized in the 1966 Truffaut film of the novel.  In my case, however, I am alone on the desolate shore, telling and retelling my history of the America I experienced, mumbling to myself, no doubt, but looking through the mist for other Baby Boomers and our elders who lived through it all, hoping they will also be saying, "Really, we were there." 

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

P.S. : The Last Last Word

“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”
--William Butler Yeats

In a nutshell, this quotation inadvertently capsulizes the conflict between quantitative and qualitative measures of learning. Students in the U.S. are told and retold by the numbers on their erroneously named "standardized tests" that their pails are nearly empty and they need to work harder at filling them with such drivel as "how to take tests," "how to get into a great college by upping your SAT scores," and other slogans of the corporate culture. After all, if it's not about numbers or the "bottom line," how can it count at all? This is the absurd end result of the corporate double-think that has consumed what we used to consider "public" education, once one of our most treasured institutions. (Read all the details here: "How the Corporate Culture Warps Our View of School Reform.")

Teachers who used to love their work because of their ability to "light a fire" and watch the lights go on behind a student's eyes are now bludgeoned by national policy to narrow the curriculum, follow the party line, find a way to explain this absurdity to parents, and stop spending time on "frills," i.e. music, drama, art, discussion, experimentation, group projects, peer feedback, coaching, and all the other ways that excellent teachers make valuable contact with students and parents every day.

Thus, as the infographic in the previous blog entry (The Last Word on "Testing") aptly demonstrates, the corporate culture that spawned our current love affair with numbers as measures of "worth" is enriching Pearson and the other Big Five testing companies (and their lobbyists) while draining both the spirit and the funding away from real learning. THANKS, designers and Accredited Online Colleges for helping us visualize what is really a complex argument in a very elegant form. I will be posting it on my Facebook page to promote its message and help disseminate your illuminating work!

P.P.S. After being gone from the online scene for a couple of months while relocating from Southern California to Central California (giving up the ocean for the foothills at the doorway to Yosemite, a good trade, all things considered), I am delighted to see that more and more people are becoming smarter and smarter about how to approach the testing question and how to create positive change in spite of the education bureaucracy that wastes money so lavishly. Please take a look at for the latest and most authoritative information on high-stakes testing, and do sign their resolution (click on the first bullet point at the above link) to abolish these punitive testing practices in our schools. School is not a business, not a numbers game, and it's about time we all got together and SAID so!

The Last Word on "Testing"

Thanks to a design group dedicated to linking visualization to learning, Accredited Online Colleges was able to put up a fabulous graphic on their blog, detailing the effect of testing, retesting, and overtesting on U.S. schools. Take a look at the elegant use and display of the statistics below and the overall impact of the concise information presented in this infographic to get a real answer to all of those naysayers who keep denying the detrimental effects of "standardized testing." Just follow the money, of course, as noted below: Pearson and its cohorts in the Big Five of national testing companies are making BILLIONS from state and national policy while the kids, teachers, parents, and communities that support and work in our public schools remain underfunded and underloved.

Check it out for yourself:

standardized testing infographic

Thanks to Allison Morris and the rest of the design team that provides these infographics for Accredited Online Colleges and other resource sites. The clever way they have combined easy reading, visual cues, and sourced statistics demonstrates the precise method for teaching that suits the 21st century learner: quick, one-stop assimilation that shows CONNECTIONS among ideas. Hey, we're ALL visual learners now!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

What the Activist Said . . .

In a new online feature, and a clever idea by communications entrepreneur Jocelyne Rohrback, VENTURA 101 spotlights real people and gives them the opportunity to tell their real stories.  Here's VENTURA 101's latest interview, with a local school activist (that's me!):

"When it comes to K-12 education, at least one thing can be agreed upon among teachers, unions, legislators and parents; change is a necessity. Depending on who you ask, how to best execute that change in our schools vary significantly. This week as part of Ventura101′s 10 Questions with a Ventura County Local, we speak with someone who has not only dedicated most of her professional career to public education, but to advocating change within the system as well. Patricia Kokinos (pronounced ko-keen’-us), is a Ventura resident who believes that how we choose to educate our children speaks volumes about what type of society we want to become. We talk with her about what she means by “exploding the paradigm” and developing a “New Vision,” how she paved her own way in self-publishing her book ANGEL PARK, and what parents can do to improve the homework experience."

Patti's Career Summary, in her own words:

A few years ago I took a break from being an educator so I could write a novel, which became ANGEL PARK, a book that was very well received by reviewers and won several awards. Early on I gave lots of talks at the local Barnes & Noble and spent many hours making presentations at Clarey Rudd’s Bank of Books on Main Street in downtown Ventura. In fact, a friend and I did a whole series of workshops at Clarey’s store about self-publishing that resulted in several of the participants completing their manuscripts and getting published. Recently, a local radio host, Kelli McKay, who does a great job with Locals Only on KVTA-1520, told me that ANGEL PARK seemed so radical only five years ago, but now it’s practically mainstream. That seems to be the story of my life, just about five years ahead of the curve so I always feel a little bit out of it, but still determined to lead the way!
Now, my self-publisher, iUniverse, has put out a second edition of ANGEL PARK on their own dime, as part of their STAR program, complete with an interview with the author (that would be me) and discussion questions. The authenticity of the book, which readers and reviewers immediately notice, comes from 25 years of hands-on experience as a teacher, school administrator and devoted change agent in both California and upstate New York. Scarily enough, the plot of the novel is based on actual events that happened to me during my long dance with school change–as well as the deep realization that we have to do much more than tweak the system if we want to make improvements that count!

This has become an important and popular attitude over the past few years, so I have done lots of radio all over the U.S. and Canada, talking about deep school transformation and offering both new ideas and practical help about the kinds of changes we need to make in our thinking to create schools that nurture and empower kids, parents, teachers, and communities.

People from all over the world have joined in the discussion on my Facebook page, representing Australia, New Zealand, Canada, England, India, Norway, Spain, Turkey and many other areas. But the whole idea of what I think we need to accomplish and what I think is coming, not only for schools, but for our society, and, in fact, for the world, is the progress talked about on my website–HUMAN progress.

Jocelyne asks: You have spent over 25 years of your professional life advocating for, and making change in public education as a teacher, school leader, and curriculum expert. Many educational advocates were raised by educators or by parents who truly valued the prioritization of education. Is this true for you? Did you grow up with parents who “brought home” this important message?

Daughter Lynn Campbell
and Aunt Artemis Kokinos
Quite the opposite, actually. My Dad always told me that I didn’t need to go to college because I was just going to get married and have children. Plenty of us women who grew up in the 60s got that same message and had to fight for every scrap of advancement we earned. I found my way to UCLA on scholarships and only after getting my Bachelor’s degree in English/journalism did I get married and have children (pretty much a requirement for my generation!). My teaching credential, my two Master’s degrees and my work in school administration all happened after that point. But I think it was my aunt, Artemis Kokinos, a long-time elementary and reading teacher for Fresno City Schools, who influenced me most. She had me reading by the age of three or so and by the age of five I was helping her “mark papers” for her second graders. I actually started out as a journalist, never intending to be a teacher, but after I had kids and got involved with their schools and their friends, I knew I had to help make some changes, however I could. Teaching turned out to be a genetic imperative, after all!

In your opinion, what’s the largest challenge public educators face or are forced to overcome?

The largest challenge facing educators today is the same one I faced 30 years ago and the same one we’ve all been struggling with for the past 40 years: The system itself is set up to separate, isolate, and keep people in line, as well as to shove kids into pigeonholes already determined by their race, gender, and socioeconomic status. Our 20th century drive to educate everyone was a noble effort, but by the 60s we realized that everyone was not getting an “equal” education, and that realization certainly continues today and fuels the raging debates on how we need to reform our schools.

Teachers who manage to circumvent the system by creating collaborative, creative, personalized experiences for kids are the heroes of today’s school wars. It isn’t easy and the bureaucratic, corporatized system–especially now with our small-minded emphasis on test scores–burns out good teachers and allows mediocre ones who don’t make waves to keep going on and on. That’s why parents are screaming about bad teachers, homeschooling, and charter schools–when what we really need to do is change the STRUCTURE of public education so it allows us to educate all kids at a highly intelligent level and to support teachers, parents, and communities at the same time.

There’s been a recent push for the implementation of privatizing public libraries. In your opinion, why or why not is this a good idea?

Like the idea of privatizing the education system, privatizing libraries is another attempt to solve by corporate means a problem that needs to be part of a restructuring of society and our expectations for new public institutions. Over the past 30 years in particular, more and more money has been squeezed from social programs and funneled into military and corporate coffers so that we are no longer adequately supporting institutions that serve our social and personal needs. The better solution will be to reorganize our priorities and change our minds about what is important in our 21st century world. I am optimistic that this is exactly what’s going on now with nationwide and even worldwide movements to change the balance of power and to return to communities the funding to support essential public services, such as public schools, public libraries, public parks, and more. We have to stick up for our libraries if we want to save them, the same way we have to stick up for our schools! National Library Week (April 8-14) is a good chance to thank a librarian for protecting public knowledge and to explore what the library has to offer these days.

Finish this sentence. “I can’t start my day without _______________.”

I can’t start my day without an hour or so of silence (and coffee) when I can write in my journal, all by myself.

Your book, Angel Park, is a fictional tale that explores a new vision for public education reform. Can you explain what that new vision encompasses?

First of all, ANGEL PARK drops the reader into a specific place and time where the inner life of schools is exposed as a compelling human dilemma. I decided to write my ideas about school and life as fiction so the reader could be emotionally involved with a process that has become more political and more adult-oriented than we ever intended. As the heroine, Constance Demetrios, fights the system, she begins to realize that we have created a factory where kids are moved down a conveyor belt, filled with information, and pushed off at the end, ready or not. When she escapes her absurd situation, she discovers just how deep these antiquated ideas about learning really go, right down into the roots of Western civilization. That’s a LOT of mind-changing we have to do to catch up with the new millennium.

Those specific ideas about change, that new vision of exploding the paradigm and creating a new STRUCTURE based on a new SYSTEM of human interaction are discussed on my website, particularly on the “New Vision” page and in the numerous articles and the video by Sir Ken Robinson on my “Articles/Video” page. We will only make effective changes to school, and to our whole society, by CHANGING OUR MINDS and coming to more progressive expectations of what we want our schools to accomplish. That’s really the theme of my Facebook page, which I hope everyone will join. As it says there, “How we educate and treat our children determines what we want our societies to become. To change the world, we can begin by changing our schools, into the human-friendly, creative, collaborative, supportive venues they need to be . . . .” How to do that in specific terms is further elaborated in the “campaign manifesto” on both that Facebook page and on the New Vision page of my website.

When you welcome people from out-of-town, what do you suggest they see, do or eat before leaving the county?

The beautiful beach, all the way from the Harbor to the county line, is my favorite feature of Ventura; we love Emma Wood beach and walk there often, despite some pretty scary erosion over the past decade. I also want to make sure people go downtown because Ventura actually has an historic main street, with the Courthouse and wonderful old buildings that have been beautifully restored. I like to say that Ventura is one of the last small California beach towns, which is what makes it so great!

What’s your opinion on homework? Do you think elementary school children should be doing more than an hour of homework per night? Why or why not?

Homework is as much an outdated concept as test scores, and kids are experts at determining what is useful and what is merely “busy work.” Elementary school kids need to be PLAYING during their time away from school and certainly doing some practice with their computers, including the huge number of learning games that are available today. The problem with my concept, of course, is that all kids do not have access to computers, so this is the first aspect of public education that must change. Let’s figure out how to get a notebook, at least, into the hands of EVERY child in America (then we can work on the rest of the world). That way, “homework” can serve some useful purpose, especially if it is working with friends or parents on a school project that has some meaning to the students. I read a statistic the other day: “The Pentagon is buying 2,443 F-35 joint strike fighters, sleek, $133 million supersonic jets for battling a weapon that hasn’t been imagined by an enemy that remains unknown. If we bought just seven fewer F-35s, we could buy a handheld computer tablet for every first-grader in America.” And this is from the usually conservative opinion section of the AARP Bulletin, surely a major sign that times and priorities are changing!

If Aladdin gave you one wish to enact any change at our local public schools, what would be your wish?

Frankly, our local public schools in the City of Ventura are the best run I have seen in a long time, thanks to excellent leadership and creative development. That is not the case for a lot of other school districts in Ventura County, however, or for most places in the rest of the nation. I would ask Aladdin’s genie to give us new, open spaces for learning with all the latest technology for every teacher and child. This alone would change the dynamic between teachers and kids and require everyone to adapt to a new, more open, more personalized, more collegial, and more transparent approach to learning. At the bottom of my website page entitled “Be An Advocate” is a chart of BEST LINKS, including a place called DesignShare that shows how architecture can shape and change what goes on in schools.

If you had not spent most of your professional career in education, what would you be doing?

I originally thought I would be a foreign correspondent, helping to change the world, but kids came along and that idea went out the window. I have been and would have continued to be a journalist, I think, but my latest dream is to be a novelist–you know, actually to make money selling fiction, beyond the serious commentary of ANGEL PARK. I am the world’s greatest defender of fiction as an instrument of change, simply because it opens our minds to new ideas in engaging ways and helps us exercise our emotions in a safe environment. So, I am working, slowly, on my next novel, moving my protagonist on to her next big adventure. Tom Clancy, that mega-military-best-seller, of all people, says it best: “The difference between reality and fiction? Fiction has to make sense.” But my favorite quote is from the king of absurdity, Franz Kafka, who said, “A book should serve as the ax for the frozen sea within us.” Thus, change happens . . . .