"Group Think" at Latin: How Did We Get So Polarized?


Jessica Kubert In the past few weeks, Latin has become a microcosm of the political conversation throughout the rest of America. This election year created a major divide between parties by shifting what it actually means to be a “conservative” or a “liberal.” According to dictionary.com, conservatism means “holding to traditional attitudes and values and cautious about change or innovation.” That has nothing to do with attitudes about diversity and equity, so why is it often said that being a conservative means you’re close-minded or even racist? On the other hand, liberalism means, “open to new behavior or opinions and willing to discard traditional values.” Neither one of these ideals is better nor worse; they are just different notions about how to approach change. I’d like to acknowledge my own bias as a liberal who believes in change and progress wherever it is needed, but I’m going to do my best to respect a whole range of opinions and not point fingers at one side or another. Because that’s what seems to be causing much of the argument in the first place. When sides are taken surrounding a conflict, group think and group polarization automatically come into play. Group think is a psychological phenomenon that “occurs when a group makes faulty decisions because group pressures lead to a deterioration of “mental efficiency, reality testing, and moral judgment.” Group polarization means that “when placed in group situations, people will make decisions and form opinions to more of an extreme than when they are in individual situations,” especially if they are surrounded by people that share their point of view. I’ve seen this happen with students, teachers, and parents on all sides of the issue. We all feel so strongly about our opinions that, when someone disagrees with or questions us, we immediately become defensive. This attitude prevents any and all successful discussion or conflict resolution from happening because no one is listening to the others ideas, just trying to defend their own.   Myriad studies have been done in the social psychology field about how to resolve conflicts and reduce tensions between opposing sides. The two most prominent studies are Osgood’s GRIT and Sheriff’s Superordinate Goals. GRIT stands for Graduated and Reciprocated Initiatives in Tension Reduction. An opponent works to de-escalate a situation by making a small, one-sided concession on their stance. The other side is then supposed to reciprocate this concession. The opponents go back and forth making concessions so they can work together to find common ground. A small concession helps build trust between sides and allows each group to hear what the other is saying. I don’t feel that we should concede what we believe in, but I do believe that the only way we can get anywhere is if we aren’t so polarized. Members of the Latin community share a huge range of beliefs about how to best approach social justice, diversity, and education at our school; however, the loudest voices are often the most extreme, centering the discussion around one side versus the other. Superordinate goals are defined as goals which are compelling and appealing to both groups but which cannot be attained with the resources and energies of one group alone. In effect, they require the groups to work together. We, as a community, share a common goal and desire for excellence, integrity, and community. It would be difficult for one to argue that conservatives or liberals, or anyone in between, disagree with this superordinate goal. So why are we opposing each other so much instead of working together for a mutual end? Diversity, equity, and inclusion are not partisan issues; they are issues for everyone, no matter your political ideology. By assigning one set of beliefs about diversity to a political party we have created a strong divide in our school and greatly exaggerated the tension. Latin needs to become a cohesive community once again, where everyone feels safe, heard, and respected. Arguing over Facebook or spreading rumors in the hallways is hardly the way to communicate about such an important and emotional topic. The first issue of business should be clarity; a lot of the fear and upset, at least for me, is coming from gossip about some action the administration is taking, or what the board is doing, or how the parents feel. A lot of the most alarming news doesn’t even end up being true, and I think the students deserve to know what’s going on in their school. Hopefully someone on the administration can help us to better know the truth around this issue and quell a lot of the gossip I’ve been hearing recently. After we know what’s actually going on, then we should be given the opportunity to discuss what is bothering us in an open, productive, and supervised forum. I hate that my last few weeks at Latin have been fraught with, what I’d call, civil unrest. We all want the same thing but can’t help feeling strongly about our opinions and viewpoints. Hopefully, in the near future, we can listen to one another and engage in the intellectual conversations I know we are capable of.]]>