That History Day Guy

October 15, 2007

What does Compromise Mean?

Filed under: Uncategorized — historydayguy @ 5:07 pm

So the question is, “What is a Compromise anyway?”I had the great pleasure of spending a Friday at the Rockland County BOCES with an hd teacher who I differed with. She has been doing New York State History Day longer than most and has a power house school. She also has the patience of an I.T. person.We were having the discussion of what constitutes a compromise. When I suggested she look at the compromises we have made as a Nation in major decisions: Truman’s Decision to Drop the Bomb, Animal Testing for the Benefit of Humans, Did FDR know that Pearl Harbor was coming and did he decide to do nothing, interning Asian and German American’s. All these bring our moral and ethical baselines into question. When faced with a war, we throw out the civil liberties (Hmmm, is this happening now?) of citizens based simply on National origin. Isn’t this a compromise of everything we stand for as a nation?The teacher said that is “Psychobabble” and “That isn’t History.” She also says that 13 year olds can’t conceptualize these grey areas. To this I offer these teaching examples:

  • The Atomic Bomb. The Ends justify the means. Thousands of innocent children and adults would die, but thousands more would live an s a result of the war.
  • Animals will suffer because they are helpless, but we will smell good and perhaps be healthier for it.
  • We will sell all your possessions, lock you up, and use racial slurs in popular media, but the store keeper won’t help plan another sneak attack.

I know we often think of compromises as treaties or peaceful endings to situations. This can be true. We should talk about this. Demonstrate how treaties have needed wars, how political unions have avoided conflicts, and how some people overlooked personal differences to achieve an end goal. But when I think of compromise, I think of giving up. I think of getting something, but giving up something I know better than to give up like friendships, ethics, personal safety.Kids understand that. They know its fun to stay up all night, but they know they won’t be able to perform the best at the soccer game the next day. I just don’t think it is that much of a stretch to demonstrate how torture is wrong even if it means getting the information we need. Ask your 13 year old students if they can think of an instance where they let down their responsibilities to one person, or thing so they could personally benefit at the expense of another person or thing.Then use this as a driving question as you approach new content. It will be easy to see the personal, political and national compromises made throughout history: Benedict Arnold, the Civil War, Jim Crow Laws and Segregation, The Draft Riots, The Bombing of Dresden, using chimps as experimentation in the space race, medical testing on US GIs, Love Canal.Compromise is our History. Compromises are not about persons, dates, and events that can be neatly articulated in shiny projects that won’t challenge our abilities as teachers and students. The topic may “suck” as some have remarked on the NHD Face book group, but dig into History a little. Ask how Japanese Americans feel about the compromise of their civil liberties, or talk to the people who lost their homes and Farms due to Hydro Electric Projects. They will tell you “Yeah Kid, Compromises Suck. But what would really suck is if we didn’t learn from them!”


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