Three years ago, I put my name forward as a candidate in the 2011 municipal elections.  I ran for the position of Trustee on the West Vancouver Board of Education and was honoured when voters in this community elected me to serve in that capacity.

My foray into electioneering also marked my social media debut outside the comfort zone of Facebook.

I dove into Twitter, a platform with which I’ve become very comfortable and which is now a part of how I absorb, consume, and contribute to media on a daily basis.  It has also allowed me to create an invaluable network of connections.

After a long time of saying, “I would like to start a blog,” the election also spurred me to start one which I called The Comfort of Why.  The best explanation for this title can be found in the speech I made at the first all-candidates’ meeting in 2011 where I said:

I take great comfort in the question why.  As long as I’m asking why, I’m thinking, I’m reflecting, I’m challenging.  I am looking for answers rather than assuming I have all the answers.  I’m seeking information rather than dictating the way that things ought to be perceived.

To me, this questioning is not about undermining a system and disregarding the work that’s been done.  It’s about validating what you believe, being responsive and  strategic — making changes when they’re needed, when they’re necessary, and making them at the right time. 

My first blog entry was posted on October 19, 2011, and it was comprised almost entirely of questions including this one:

Consider, too, that the BC Ministry of Education is pushing the concept of “personalized learning in the 21st century”.  Why?  What does it mean?  

My position at the time, in regard to this particular question, was as follows:

Well, I want to be at the table to make sure that if there’s an overhaul of the system it’s done well and it’s done right.  That it’s implemented in a way which benefits all students.

After three years of being at the table, I still feel this is a valid question and one that is not being addressed at a provincial level.

English Bay Sunset

I still want to have this conversation.  In fact, I feel we must have this conversation if we are to continue to offer our children the best opportunities to learn, to grow, and to find their way in the world.

While I recognize the valuable work that our Board has done in the past three years, in collaboration with the District Leadership Team, our education partners, our educators, and all our employees, I will not be seeking reelection in 2014.

Why?

There are a number of factors, but let me focus on three key points.

First, West Vancouver is a community with such depth of talent and with many actively engaged residents who are passionate about education.  The deadline for nominations is tomorrow and already seven candidates have filed their papers which means we will have a dynamic and substantive campaign featuring a diverse range of opinions from individuals who all have much to offer.

Second, the most recent job action was very instructive and there are many lessons to be learned in how it played out.  One of the most significant learning outcomes for me was to recognize that in order to move the provincial government into action on education, we need much greater direct engagement from the public.  That citizens’ voice has to be galvanized if we want to ensure that education is a prominent, if not THE, election issue in 2017.

Finally, education in British Columbia has become such a polarized — and polarizing issue — that what we don’t talk about is education.  This discussion — the conversation I’ve always said I wanted to see happen — has been drowned out by criticisms and accusations, by duelling press conferences and media soundbites, by job actions and political posturing.

It’s time that we, as citizens and voters, speak up and get what we want for our children, our society, and our future.

I have some ideas on how we might do just that.

Watch for Part 2.

Errare humanum est [To err is human]. – Anonymous: Latin

For to err in opinion, though it be not the part of wise men, is at least human. – Plutarch (46-120 C.E.)

I presume you’re mortal, and may err. – James Shirley (1596-1666)

To err is human, to forgive divine. – Alexander Pope (1688-1744)

Then gently scan your brother man,/ Still gentler sister woman;/  Though they may gang a kennin’ wrang. To step aside is human. – Robert Burns, Address to the Unco Guid [1787]

“Address to the Unco Guid’ makes the point that it is this natural sympathy and compassion that is important in society: not self-righteous condemnation.” – Juliet Linden Bicket

I remembered Alexander Pope’s words this week as I watched events unfold in the BC provincial election.  When I checked my copy of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations to verify them, the footnotes led me to other quotes on the same theme and to Google for the full text of the Burns poem where I found the comment by Bicket. 

And despite these wise words, which span approximately 2,000 years of human history, it would seem that in our time the motto has become “to err is human and to forgive is impossible”. 

Or maybe even more to the point, “to err is human and let’s make sure everyone’s mistakes are never forgotten”.  

And given our rush to judge others on this principle, it seems to me that the greatest disincentive to running for public office has become the process of getting elected.

Victoria Parliament

While this trend has been emerging over time, it seems to have bloomed with noxious fervour in this election.

We’re all on the lookout for “bozo eruptions”.  That’s the term applied to the actions of candidates who slip up in real time, but everything has become fair game: whether a word that’s said today or over 20 years ago, whether a misstep now or one from long ago.

And I have to ask what added value, if any, is there in this “new” way of doing politics.  Does it benefit voters? Does it allow society to progress?  Does it ensure the health and vitality of our democratic institutions?

Why?

Because we have made perfection a condition of holding office and yet no one is perfect.  It’s not human.

Because we have lost perspective. If anything from any point in our lives can be construed as a liability, then we lose the ability to distinguish between misdemeanors and serious crimes.

Because we have forgotten that living involves choices and that we sometimes make bad choices, particularly when we’re young.  But we learn and those mistakes do not necessarily or automatically make us incapable, incompetent, or untrustworthy for life.

Because setting up impossible standards for conduct and behaviour lead to unreasonable controls being implemented to maintain power once it’s been secured.

And that’s why we have a parliament full of men and women commonly derided as trained seals.

We have parliaments and legislatures which we denigrate and political representatives whom we disrespect. We have governments, political parties, and candidates who are more focused on slander and defamation, on digging up the dirt, than they are on policy and good governance.

And that’s an unforgivable mistake.

At first I lurked.  

I’d log on to Twitter.com and scroll through the streams, fascinated.  

I started to tweet in support of my campaign during the 2011 civic election and now it’s part of my daily routine.

With Twitter, I keep an eye on my community.  I get news from around the world. I read analyses of issues and events from different perspectives. I interact with well-known figures and people in faraway places, opportunities I may never have had otherwise.

Twitter is also ugly at times, “nasty, brutish, and short” in the words of Thomas Hobbes.  And while it is liberating to talk to so many so easily, Twitter is also constraining.

Why?

My Twitter account is a mirror of who I am as a whole person, but that whole person includes being a public figure. I have to be aware that although I am speaking personally, some may mistakenly take my views as those of the West Vancouver Board of Education.  I have to be aware that while I distinguish between the different hats I wear in life and the various roles I play, others may not.

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Which brings me to the Foundation Skills Assessment (FSAs), a test administered to Grade 4 and Grade 7 students throughout British Columbia.  

Twitter streams were on fire about the FSAs recently, but I kept mum. I felt that whatever I said in 140 characters could be mischaracterized.

Here’s some of what I wanted to say.  

As a parent, I had no objection to my child writing the FSA.  As a Trustee, I see value in the data collected because it can be used to align resources with demonstrated need.

Here’s the problem: what we want the FSA to do and what is done with the FSA results have diverged.

FSA data, in addition to use by the provincial government and by school districts, is used by a third-party organization to rank schools.  

The Fraser Institute rankings are myopic: they claim to present an overall picture of a school, but the rankings seem to be unduly weighted on one factor, FSA scores. 

Rather than the FSA, why not invest in developing literacy screeners for key grades, the results of which would be privately held and exclusively used by the school, the district, and the student’s family? I’m thinking of something like the early literacy screening used for kindergarten students in West Vancouver. 

And while I acknowledge that provincial measures are needed for accountability purposes, perhaps a better method of tracking student performance could be determined through a consultative process with key partner groups.

Perhaps by separating the two requirements — diagnostic and reporting — and by creating mechanisms for each, we would be spared the yearly rankling spectacle of school rankings.  

At our January public board meeting, Sandra-Lynn Shortall, District Principal – Early Learning, paraphrased a conversation she’d had with Dr. Stuart Shanker.  “Early intervention,” she said, “is not the answer to helping students address their needs, rather it’s continuous intervention and connectedness.”

Just as Twitter is not always the best mode of communication, the FSA may not be the best mechanism to match vulnerable or struggling students with the continuing supports they need to succeed in our public education system.

I think we can do better.

My name is Reema Faris and I’m running as a candidate for Board of Education Trustee in West Vancouver.

         Why?

I have a profound belief in the value of education and the benefits of learning as well as a passion for the public education system.

Consider, too, that the BC Ministry of Education is pushing the concept of “personalized learning in the 21st century”.  Why?  What does it mean?  Well, I want to be at the table to make sure that if there’s an overhaul of the system it’s done well and it’s done right.  That it’s implemented in a way which benefits all students.

Here are some of the other issues I’m thinking about:

      • how do we engage students so that they take ownership and responsibility for their own learning at all levels?

      • which programs and practices will best help students develop critical thinking skills, good study habits, and build character and resilience?

      • are we able to provide better leadership & communications training for administrators, teachers, and staff?

      • how do we manage technology in our curriculum and in the classroom, and how do we make sure that the Arts are not overlooked? 

      • what measures can we take to enhance community connections and make better use of combined resources?

      • which steps do we have to take to complete the French Immersion Review that’s been called for in West Vancouver and how do we ensure the implementation of the resulting recommendations?

      • how do we ensure that School District operations are as efficient & effective as possible?