Playing it Safe

There was a big to do a couple years ago about how best to deal with the aging and, frankly, embarrassing, condition of the schools where I live. For one high school, which is now over 100 years old, it was suggested we build a new school a few miles from the current location. The new location would have ample room for parking, athletics, and it would come with the latest in everything from HVAC systems to plumbing and electrical. It would also have more than enough room for future expansion.             

It all sounded great until there was an uproar from some residents about the need to keep Central High School, “central”. So, in the end, the city abandoned its plan for the new location and caved to the demands of the citizens, who after all would be funding the whole project through higher property taxes.           

What was missing from this decision was an acceptance that our city, our habits, our kids, are not the same as they were when the original school was built. More kids drive to school now, for one. Our public transit system is far superior to anything we could have dreamed of when the original school was built (in fact it’s one of the most respected in the country), and the city has expanded over the past 100 years meaning the boundaries have changed with it. As a result the definition of “central” has also changed.           

People have problems with new ideas and change in general. Our brains are wired to recognize and seek patterns because it’s “safer”. This mindset served us well for thousands of years but what was once an asset has now become a liability. We can change it, but it requires some work because it’s in our genetic code.            

How the decision was made on where to build the school is an example of being stuck in the past. It’s a belief by some that maintaining the status quo and hanging on for dear life to the old is more important and safer than embracing the unknown of something new. It’s the same thought process used by those who believe tablets and laptops in schools are somehow a bad thing. The world has changed and we must change with it or be left behind, like it or not.           

In the end, it was agreed the school would stay in its current location, surrounding lots were purchased and renovations have already begun. A few years from now the school will undoubtedly be better than it is now. But it’ll be far from perfect. Then again, it’ll be recognizable and comforting to those who decided playing it safe was the best option.             


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