Why Compromise on Tough Issues is (Nearly) Impossible

Talking to Students About Abortion, Weed, and Dress Code

8 min readJul 3, 2019


As a former school teacher, I’ve thought a lot about how we think through the tough issues. For several years, I assigned a “social issues” essay to my students. And I always began this assignment the same way, by saying, “Students, you should know that good and intelligent people will disagree on difficult issues.” I wanted my students to consider that people with a differing opinion aren’t necessarily evil or stupid, and their reasoning may be perfectly valid.

Little did I know how difficult this assignment would be.

We’d spend the entire class listing controversial issues on the board. I’d fill the chalkboard from one end to the other. (Yes, I was hardcore old school. I loved my chalkboard.) Then we’d select a few of the issues, and try our best to break them down further. Mostly, they wanted to talk about abortion, weed, and dress code. So, we’d jump into it. What are the related issues? What are the common viewpoints? What are the typical refutations to those viewpoints? I’d give examples of illogical thinking. I’d give examples of solid rational arguments, on all sides. I was extremely careful to hide my bias. I’d ask my student what they thought my perspective was. Most students assumed I just agreed with their point of view.

When Not Giving an Inch Becomes Absurd

My goal was to help students understand the nuance of tough issues. And still, after days and days of discussion and research at the library, a veritable crash course into informal logic, I would still get essays that opened like this:

“I am against abortion because pro-choice people want to kill all the babies.”

I’d walk over to that student’s desk.

“Do they really want to kill all the babies?”


“All the babies?”


“So, if a pro-choice person saw a two-year old toddling by, they’d think, ‘Darn it…



David Hopkins

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