United we aren’t; divided we compromise?

In an effort to engender educated conversation, the Opinion staff will debate pressing election topics.  Future debate topic idea?  Email Zach Brown at zbrown@samford.edu.

Positions are determined by coin-flip.  Stated opinions may not necessarily reflect an individual columnist’s view, but are crafted for rhetorical exercise.

Do teachers’ unions make public education better or more effective?

To see Adam Quinn’s response to this question, click here.


United we aren’t; divided we compromise?

By Taylor Burgess

There is a reason I don’t cover politics: they are messy, and—if you are any sort of just, evenhanded person—the moment you reach a confident conclusion on any issue, you are immediately struck with a nauseating doubt that you’ve overlooked some nuance in the argument, which you usually have, causing you to go back and revise your opinion again. If you’re like me, that is.

Which, beneath the layers of rhetorical circles, most politicians are. They can talk a hard line on any partisan issue (read: the debates are just a pseudo-rational cabaret, folks, so seriously, shut up about them), but they will eventually revise their stance in what we call a compromise. As compromise, dear reader, is the only way positive national movement occurs. Ever. Professional politicians understand this, but, in order to gather any support, must put on a slick, polarized show for the masses who don’t.

However, this facade will crumble if pressed publicly and persistently. Unions exist for this very purpose: to unite savvy citizens in pressing leaders to reveal their compromising core, knowing full well all their demands will not be met, but some inevitably will—and a little positive change is better than none.

This logic governs the ongoing Evergreen Park, Ill. teachers’ strike, which, as of October 11, has yet to reach such a compromise, despite constant negotiations between teachers and the Evergreen Park School District 124. The Union’s demands are broad and optimistic, — “At issue are wages, changes to health insurance benefits and length of contract . . . There is also a dispute over how to use a $16.2 million reserve fund, and whether it will be used to help pay for any new agreement,” reports The Huffington Post—but positive (we’re discussing the efficacy of unions here; if you’d like to argue that teachers deserve low salaries or poor healthcare, we can take it outside).

Still, evidence suggests that compromise will come soon. The most recent negotiation, in which “the school board and teachers union failed to accomplish much during a nine-hour meeting,” according to The Chicago-Sun Times, indicates a frustration that will lead to both parties folding; after all, it is the fifth meeting in just a week. All involved, on both sides, realize the stakes of this particular strike—these aren’t TV writers, and the consequence is lost time in the classroom, not ultimately inessential entertainment—and will, in all likelihood, wrap up the debating shortly.

Actual length of the strike aside, the sacrifice of a few school days or anything of equal importance is compromise of another sort; unions’ willingness to do so is yet another affirmation of political reality. You cannot create a forum for ideological compromise unless you first do something that raises red flags, something that temporarily relinquishes a principle or ceases a practice. You must compromise to compromise.

We can only fix our deeply flawed public education system with methods that acknowledge and, further, embody compromise. Individuals have nothing of real significance to sacrifice; unions, however, have leverage, and can crack political barriers with the weak strength of give-and-take, push-and-pull—or, to compromise, compromise.

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