Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Alberta School Trustees Seething Mad About Bill 44

I spent yesterday with over 250 Alberta School Trustees discussing matters of governance in public education. It was more than a might ironic given the government of Alberta imposed closure the night before on Bill 44 in the face of enormous opposition from teachers, trustees, superintendents, parents and students.

My message to Schools Trustees was that they lost political power a long time ago. What they have now is political influence, just like the rest of us. Since they are still elected they have more political authority than the rest of us. The role they play in promoting, protecting and preserving our public education system gives school trustees a real reason and a duty to reach out to the disengaged and cynical citizenry on public education issues. It is hard not to see how public education does not have a connection to just about any issue in society today.

School Trustees are the lowest order of elected governance we have. They are the Rodney Dangerfields of Alberta democracy. They are also persons elected by local communities and we entrust the education of our kids and future generations to their care. They are elected as individuals and not hampered by partisanship. People can relate to them easier and more openly but the problem is nobody knows who they are.

We have a serious and growing democratic deficit in Alberta. It will only get worse unless citizens take back their responsibility to participate in the political life of our province. My message to School Trustees was they are the closest to the people in their communities BUT they have to reach out and join the communities, not wait for them to come or expect them to come to the school system.

As a practical example of what I am talking about, here is a link to one of Sue Huff's blog posts on the passing of Bill 44. Sue is a first term Trustee in the Edmonton Public School Board. She was not in Red Deer this week but I will be sure she get a copy of my remarks.

The way to do this is by engaging in conversations in real life and on the Internet, using social media. I showed them some social media sites and put them in some context about how to use them to create and participate in personal and group conversations about meaningful issues to citizens. This it their role to help get Albertans to return and take up the role of citizen at the centre of our "democratic" society.

Bill 44 is the catalyst to regain the energy for public policy and political participation in Alberta. School Trustees are the best positioned to help influence individuals and communities to re-engage in civic life and to take back the political power that is at the core of our democratic system. I hope they earn the respect of their constituents, friends and neighbours. They deserve it but it will not come to them. They have to go out and get it and show the rest of us what a responsible, resilient and respectful democracy is again.

As Red Green would say "Get your stick on the ice. I am pulling for you."