Confrontation generally is described using particularly strong adjectives that imply physical harm or destruction. But the confrontation of ideas can be the most powerful and serious encounter we have with each other.
What is being played out in Washington right now is about a disagreement about some very important foundational ideas about the role of government. Try explaining the government shutdown to high school students without making politicians sound petty, destructive and malevolent. Conflict about ideas is sometimes carried to extremes that make solutions as difficult as surviving an old Western gunfight on Main Street.
Ideas do have consequences and, in our forefathers infinite wisdom, they thought that ideas put forth should be discussed and voted on by the people whose lives will be affected. Makes perfect sense, but what happens when an idea is passed into law and the people who are being affected don’t like it very much?
Students understand that confrontation occurs when a good idea is put into law but carries with it some unintended consequences. Adults understand the concept as a natural law because we have experienced unintended consequences in our lives and live with the ramifications.
So how do we settle our confrontations about ideas of such weighty magnitude as affordable health care or Second Amendment rights? It’s not easy and seldom plays out as quickly as we would like, but if it’s important, should it be solved as quickly as ordering food from the drive-thru at McDonald’s? We live in an age that demands solutions quickly and results even faster, but ideas of important consequence generally require more time.
I try to get students to realize and understand that confrontations about ideas help them clarify what they think or believe about issues. One student was heard to say at the back of the classroom, “Can’t we all just get along?”
Fortunately, most of the students realize that just getting along is not what made the USA such a great country in which to have confrontation about important ideas that affect so many.
At least that’s what I think.