A quick Google search returned the following definition of groupthink: “the practice of thinking or making decisions as a group in a way that discourages creativity or individual responsibility.”

Listening to OPRF High School board members “vote their conscience” on how best to finance Project 2 should not make us mad. However, it should make us sad. Sad for our community and sad for the soul of OPRF High School. Groupthink and conformity continue to permeate our schools, crushing creativity and limiting critical thought.

It was clear that, in the past, at least two board members believed that some form of referendum financing is the best long-term solution for our community. However, when asked to stand up for our community, our families, and in what they believe, they suddenly chose to go along with the crowd.  

For other board members, the slow grip of groupthink was gradual. Some “expert” members decided to try the dramatic TV lawyer bit, bringing up emotional pleas at the 11th hour to trick themselves into believing it was OK “this time.” It did not trick the critical thinking of Oak Park and River Forest community members.

Speaking of critically-thinking citizens, our board leader suggested we don’t understand this complicated school financing stuff and actually said, “Everyday taxpayers don’t understand the workings of the finances.” Maybe our board should have taken the issue to a referendum, a process that promotes transparency and further discovery, to help us simpletons better understand. This “we know better than the folks we represent” is not a good look when we are your neighbors and friends. 

Over the last several years, our board members and school leaders have acted as if they believe our taxpayer-funded schools belong to them and not us. Some will say, “Hey, they won the election so they must represent the community”. Well, our voter turnout is unfortunately low, and Trump won an election too (yes, only one), and thank goodness there are guardrails in place. Schools have no such guardrails, particularly when administration and board members are in “perfect” alignment.   

Please note, the recent board vote was not about the actual Project 2 work, as the scope was already approved. All of us believe our kids deserve better spaces than past leaders have provided. The recent vote was about community, the future and sound financing principles. Our board failed to stand up for future community members for the sake of wanting to belong. To belong to what?

As a kid, when I would make poor decisions (and there were plenty) I would say, “but Mom, all the kids were doing it.” And she would say, “OK, but if the kids were about to walk off a bridge, would you follow them?” That lesson always stuck with me. Succumbing to groupthink and not thinking critically has long-term consequences. 

Go Huskies.   

Ross Lissuzzo is an Oak Park native and current River Forest resident.

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