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On fear of speaking up in public

November 20, 2011

Every community has a culture that governs what people feel comfortable talking about publicly (“Silence grips La Cañada Unified,” Nov. 13). La Cañada Flintridge is so much different from the open culture of the New York suburb where I served as a member of the board of education. That school district was similar in size and demographic makeup (financially and politically), and real estate values also were linked to the blue-ribbon status of the schools. However, people there were not afraid to speak up, and readily expressed their likes and dislikes about the district schools.

Here, anyone daring to utter a negative word about the schools can be easily censured by a heads-in-the-sand society that insists that anything negative said by anyone will affect home values. This is nonsense and very un-American. The current controversy over the alleged remarks of a math teacher is a case in point. No one can be sure if Gabrielle Leko made the derogatory remarks that prompted a complaint. The point is that anyone who dares to demand a full hearing is likened to someone cursing in church and labeled a troublemaker.

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What is very frightening, along with this reluctance to speak out, is the dismal turnout in this just past election. The La Cañada Valley Sun’s Carol Cormaci, in an excellent column on Nov. 10, said it most clearly. It seems the two go together and equate to a dangerous apathy coupled with fear that keeps La Cañada Flintridge residents peer-pressure-stifled and self-muzzled. Therefore, they are simply reluctant and afraid to get involved. The same can be said about anyone who dares to utter a negative word about the governance of our city and the leadership of the City Council. Saying anything negative about our community leaders will gain you a back seat in our society and label you as “not a nice guy,” as if always being nice ever gets anything done that needs to get done.

Sure, things are good in our city, but there is lots of room for improvement, and developmental opportunities will never be identified until people have the guts to shine a big light on what they perceive to be in need of change. Until this happens, we will continue to reject new voices for the school board and City Council who represent viewpoints that differ from those of the embedded establishment that has ruled this community since its inception.

Change for change’s sake is not always desirable, but change when needed requires that people have the courage to stand up and be heard and not fear that they will be ostracized and marginalized for having an opinion that differs from the powerful entrenched folks who seem to have a following of people who fear rocking the boat by critiquing these lions of our community. Perhaps these are the people who are too lazy to vote and are happy allowing others to determine their destinies. That’s not what our Founding Fathers envisioned for our great nation.

Al Restivo

La Cañada Flintridge

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