A few years ago, a school staff member remarked in frustration that compared to other towns, Medfield is “so complacent.” That comment struck a chord because I had been feeling the same way myself. Sitting at a school committee meeting when you’re the only attendee (other than invited speakers) has a way of making the “Who cares?” question pretty darn relevant. And while events of the past year have thankfully resulted in more parent engagement in school issues, I can’t help but wonder how long it’ll last now that one particular problem has been tackled.
Seeking perspectives that might help answer the original question, “Why do so few people care?” I uncovered a fantastic book, “13 Ways to Kill Your Community,” by Doug Griffiths and Kelly Clemmer, who pegged No. 12 as “Complacency.” They note that one cause of complacency is actually success, which is certainly relevant in a town like Medfield.
“The community grows and builds, and people begin to feel confident and secure. Eventually, and almost universally, that security and confidence (i.e., status quo) becomes the dominant sentiment,” note the authors.
So how does this relate to education? In a school system that has been high-performing for so long, it’s easy to see how complacency can set in. For years, school committee races were uncontested, and as my own experience showed, so few people attended committee meetings. Even the local media stopped coming. As a result, changes and decisions were made under the radar, impacting everything from music and art, class sizes, recess, schedules, policies and budgets — all without meaningful stakeholder input.
Of course, it’s human nature for people not to sit up and take notice of changes until they’ve personally felt the impact. I was certainly guilty of that four years ago, but today my eyes are wide open, and shutting them is no easy task, especially when children are involved.
In all my years working in youth mentoring, with students, in community affairs and in communications supporting CEOs and other senior executives, I learned early on that understanding and tackling important issues head on with key stakeholders is the way to make true and lasting progress. Divergent views, new perspectives and thoughtful questions are critical to the process, and I’ve had the good fortune to work for (and with) amazing leaders who encouraged all of it.
I may be making waves in our quiet town of Medfield, but if our community is to succeed over the long term — and we want our youth to be part of that progress here and elsewhere — we have to overcome complacency and pay closer attention to how decisions are being made. If we want real and sustainable change, each one of us has a responsibility to the next generation to model advocacy and active citizenship.