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