The brouhaha over President Barack Obama’s address to school children on Tuesday is another disturbing sign that we’re just not very good at …
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The brouhaha over President Barack Obama’s address to school
children on Tuesday is another disturbing sign that we’re just not
very good at disagreeing anymore.
By we, I’m not talking just about the country in general. The
flap over this speech is a national story, but Colorado is one of
the states at the forefront of that story. Specifically, the
southern suburbs of Denver are at the forefront of Colorado’s
story. When I say we, I’m talking about people in this
Parents who were afraid that their children will be exposed to
what they see as this president’s socialist agenda are looking for
ways to take their children out of school or keep them from
watching the address.
Local school districts felt enough pressure about this issue to
address it in blanket fashion on the home pages on their Web sites.
Douglas County Schools had a downloadable opt-out form on the
district’s Web site before Tuesday’s speech. Littleton Public
Schools didn’t have the form, but made it clear that parents could
opt their children out of hearing the speech. Denver Public Schools
did something similar.
It’s not the school districts’ response to this that bugs me,
nor is it necessarily the idea that parents are taking their kids
out of school to not participate in something they disagree
What bugs me is that people are drawing a very hard line on an
issue as harmless as a presidential address. Why? Because they
disagree with him about matters that weren’t the focus of the
speech. This reaction speaks volumes about our polarized existence,
which is something that has worried me for some time.
More and more, intelligent disagreement is being replaced by
ideological intolerance. Rather than hear out the other side or
simply agreeing to disagree on certain things, people seem more
inclined to disassociate themselves from people with opposing views
If that’s the code of conduct for disagreement these days, we’re
in big trouble. We’re destined for a future of fragmented groups of
people who only allow problems to fester without ever moving
Some years ago, I had a conversation with then state Sen. Steve
Ward that illustrates how disagreement should work.
At the time, Ward was fresh off a series of public forums he did
with Joe Rice, a fellow legislator serving in the state House. Both
are military veterans who had served in Iraq and the forums were a
chance for them to share their experiences with their
What’s interesting about this speaking duo is that Ward is about
as conservative a Republican as you’ll find in these parts, which
is saying a lot. Rice, on the other hand, is an up-and-comer in the
state’s Democratic Party.
I remarked on the bipartisan nature of these speaking
engagements and Ward said something very interesting about partisan
“They need to build more parks,” he said of the partisan
political characters on the national scene.
He was referring to a time when he and Rice served on the city
council in Glendale, a level of government that is about solving
problems and providing services. Political ideologies simply
weren’t a concern when a city council was looking for money to
build a park.
Does Ward agree with Rice very often? I’m pretty sure he
doesn’t. Did that keep him from working with him? No.
The late author and Civil War historian Shelby Foote put it
another way. He said, “[Americans] like to think of ourselves as
uncompromising, but our true genius is for compromise. Our country
was founded on it, our whole system of government is based on
We shouldn’t lose sight of that. We shouldn’t allow
disagreements to force us back into ideological silos and bring a
stop to all discussion and progress. That leads us nowhere.
Jeremy Bangs is the managing editor of Colorado Community
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