Importance of compromise, from Congress to the classroom


Naomi Yaeger, Staff Writer

By February 1 of this year, Congress had reached its debt limit. Put in place by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, the debt limit, also known as the debt ceiling, is the amount of money that the government is allowed to borrow to pay for its existing obligations. If Congress fails to raise the debt ceiling by June, our country will be forced to default on its debts. This unprecedented act in American history could lead to much higher interest rates for all types of loans and a worldwide recession.

Despite these stakes, Congress and the President have been unable to agree on a solution. Biden and his top advisors have refused to engage in any negotiations with the Republican party to reduce government spending, instead pushing for an increase in the debt limit. At the same time, some Republicans, such as Representative Tim Burchett from Tennessee, have vowed not to raise the debt ceiling under any circumstances. This reluctance to compromise is not only foolish and childish, but inconsiderate, as every decision that the government makes has implications for millions of people. 

Here at Horace Mann, students also struggle to compromise on political issues. If one student holds a controversial opinion, instead of reaching out to that student with compassion and the desire to reach an understanding, they are alienated from their peers. When more conservative students speak in a history class, their peers tend to shrug off their points, claiming, “well, they are just a Republican, so they must be wrong.”

Due to this refusal to listen to students with different perspectives, everyone becomes more close-minded. Instead of engaging in thoughtful debate on complex issues — debates with no “right” and “wrong” answer — liberal students assert they must be correct because their answer is morally right, and anyone that disagrees with them is not only wrong politically, but also a horrible person. Conservative students, on the other hand, often end up believing that their peers will always see them as the “bad guy” in political conversations, making them more defensive.

Discussions about foreign policy, economic decisions, and education in history and English classes should be chances for students to think, talk, and grow. However, due to this tense political culture, those conversations sometimes erupt into tense exchanges that a well-meaning teacher has to shut down to keep the classroom productive. For example, last year, one of my teachers had to end a conversation about transgender athletes because it became “too heated.” The topic is a difficult one to talk about, and it’s not surprising that tempers can flare. A callous opponent to transgender participation in sports could drift into offensive or even dehumanizing language about transgender people. At the same time, the issue is important to discuss. If teachers do not trust that students will have these discussions respectfully, it is impossible for this discourse to even begin.

Horace Mann does not exist in a vacuum, and I am not so naive as to believe that this inability to listen to one another is a problem unique to our school. On the contrary, this phenomenon is mirrored in almost every part of American life, all the way up to the government. For example, the inability of our Congress to compromise is why the U.S. government shut down for 35 days at the end of 2018, the longest government shutdown in American history, which stopped millions of Americans from getting their paychecks for over a month.

While the stakes in classrooms are much lower than they are nationally, once students grow up and become leading thinkers, politicians, and advocates, as I am sure many will, compromise becomes essential. At that point, an inability to compromise means having little regard for someone else’s life.

To lead our country better than the politicians currently sitting in Congress, we have to start learning to compromise now, in school, when we still have teachers to guide us and friends by our sides. If we all jumped at this opportunity and used our years in school to become more kind, open-minded, and willing to listen to others and change our minds, we would leave Horace Mann ready to make the world a better place.

Instead of creating divisions, I urge the student body to come together and work to compromise. Instead of jumping to conclusions about someone else during a class discussion, we should all do our best to give them the benefit of the doubt and listen to their ideas without immediately resorting to judgment. In casual conversations, when a friend, intentionally or unintentionally, reinforces the “us versus them” narrative by labeling a classmate as a typical liberal or conservative, we can remind them that the world is not that simple, and people do not fit into nice little boxes. It is only once we realize that we need each other that we can move forward.