We can work together...

Many years ago, my high school social studies teacher reminded my classmates and me that the United States is not a true democracy, as we do not vote on every law, budget cut, expenditure or decision at the local, state or federal level.

Instead, we elect representatives to make those decisions. At the time, which was 1967, we were debating the highly contentious and very unpopular Vietnam War. Since most in the class were facing the prospect of an imminent military draft, and some were only months away from visiting the jungles of Southeast Asia, the issue was relevant and the debate was lively.

Being an excellent teacher, he used this opportunity as a 'teachable moment' to discuss our system of government and decision making. He reminded the class that we did not get to vote on whether to end or continue the war, but instead had the responsibility to elect representatives to vote for us.

So, he asked the question, 'Is it your responsibility as a voter to elect the candidate who agrees with you, or is it your job to elect the candidate you believe will study this issue (or any other issue) and make the best decision based on the facts before them?'

Or put another way: Do elected officials cast their ballot on an issue based on the views of the majority of their constituents? Or, do they take all the information they have (which is more than the rest of us have since it is their job to study, research and discuss all the important background information) and make the decision they believe to be best for the nation, state, or community they represent -- even if it is not the most popular? That question has stuck with me a long time, and always comes back to me during election time.

I mention it here not to debate that there is a 'right or wrong' answer, but to remind people as we enter this election season, that we have an 'imperfect' system.

We continue to have more diverse opinions on a multitude of issues at the local, state and national level, and it has become impossible for elected officials to satisfy every constituent. Elections (and recalls) are an integral part of our political system, and I have the greatest respect for that system.

I would encourage everyone to participate in the process, as voting is one of the most important rights we possess and we should never take it for granted nor ignore it. I suggest that we use it wisely, and ponder how our community and our students will be best served.

At the heart of our democracy is the challenge for 'we the people' to be 'WE the people' even when we disagree. We can't and won't always get everything we want from our elected representatives, but we must continue to elect those whom we believe will serve us best.

One last thought: The phrase 'best for kids' has been used by everyone in recent board level discussions. The terminal optimist in me truly believes that this community wants what is best for the kids. My hope is that we, as a nation, and as a community, can learn to disagree on the issues without being 'disagreeable.'

So often when we debate, especially in this age of electronic communication, websites, and blogs, we attack the individual who disagrees with us rather than have the open and candid conversation about the issues.

It is not unusual for well-educated, caring, competent people to look at the same facts and come to different conclusions. It happens on many issues. It happens all the time. It happens in my own family, and maybe yours too!

We need to remember to discuss the issues with our neighbors, co-workers, and fellow citizens with the respect we expect to receive.

However, too often in our 'political' realm we go into 'attack mode.' This approach is often seen and used in state and national elections, and I fear it does not help us as individuals when we are trying to make an informed decision.

And it is even more difficult at the local level when we are working with our 'neighbors,' who are most often good people with whom we have more in common than we think.

Again, my dream is that we can once again return to working together - parents, students, teachers, administrators, business leaders, neighbors - to use the system we have to solve our problems and address our challenges.

I look forward to continuing our work together as we look for the best ways to educate our children. Thank you for your time, and thank you for the opportunity to serve this community.

- Editor's note: Dave Willard is the human resources director for the Forest Grove School District. The views expressed here are his own and do necessarily reflect those of the district.

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