Education Matters: Open your ears to the opposition

Editor's Note: Numerous instances of plagiarism have been discovered in Dan Kimber’s “Education Matters” column, which ran in the News- Press from September 2003 to September 2011. In those columns where plagiarism has been found, a For the Record specifying the details will be appended to the piece.

Last week I wrote about our fat-laden government — national, state, local — causing a few of you to comment on the conservative tone I took, and that brought a smile to my face.

Even occasional readers of this column over the last 10 years have likely noticed that my views are, in general, slightly left of the political center. When I say, “in general,” I’m going to try to make a point that I think people on both sides of that spectrum would agree to, if they were honest with themselves.

We’re all conservative, we’re all liberal, and we’re all moderate despite how well practiced we are in staking out positions and maintaining consistent profiles. Even when we’re holding firm to our convictions, we are aware that people with opposite convictions have reasons why they believe what they do. Even when we’re done blustering and blathering away, adding yet another layer of concrete to that part of us that believes inflexibility is a virtue, there is that other part of us that wants to keep an open mind.

And there is that persistent inner voice that speaks to us intermittently and it tells us (or whispers to us) that the other fellow may just have a point. It tells us that we all regularly confuse/interchange fact and opinion, that our assumptions, our logic, our premises are often faulty or simplistic or incomplete or ill conceived. In short, there’s two (or more) sides to everything.

Just a few brief examples:

Along with believing that we need to trim the size of government, I also believe that we can’t ignore a more painful economic reality of today — which is that the wealthiest people in our country and the largest corporations are doing phenomenally well while the middle class is collapsing and poverty is increasing.

I think there are a lot of lazy, undeserving people in this country who take advantage of public assistance programs, but I find the entitlements for the rich and white collar crime even more despicable.

I was once adamantly opposed to abortion, but my religious views have evolved right along with all of my other views, and I see things differently at this advanced stage of my life. Like most of you, I can only guess that there is some plan in place for us, and it occurs to me that that plan is not so easily subverted by any human intervention, i.e. abortion.

I’d like to believe, though it is not given to me to know, that one failed entry onto this world is not the end of life but rather only part of a journey that we cannot yet comprehend.

I have a list of more than 200 issues that I used in sponsoring the debate team at Hoover, and there are solid arguments on both sides of each and every one of those topics. My kids have argued endlessly and vociferously over the years, with the one unbendable rule being that each side listen to what the other side is saying, and listen with more than their ears.

They were encouraged to listen with a purpose, not just to refute an argument, but to understand what equal and opposing minds are thinking.

These were good debating strategies which also offered life-long lessons to my young students. Knowing what the “opposition” was thinking, while basic to refuting arguments, also opened young minds to the reality that most of the issues we grapple with are not so easily dismissed with sound bites and party lines, or even conventional wisdom.

Our world is increasingly in need of minds unafraid of confronting new information, willing to adapt and change and, after all the debating, able to see areas of gray that are obscured in the black and white world we presently live in.

“We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists,” declared Thomas Jefferson in 1801 upon becoming the third president of the United States — acknowledging the divisive politics of the day, but appealing more to a sense of unity that had already taken hold of the young nation.

And 210 years later, we’re more divided than ever. The bad news is that we have created our own monsters — politicians who click their heels to party ideology rather than engage their brains — but the good news is that they are free to speak their minds and we are free to take it or leave it.

As Jefferson once wrote, “Error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.”

DAN KIMBER taught in the Glendale Unified School District for more than 30 years. He may be reached at


FOR THE RECORD: Portions of this piece have been plagiarized from a speech by U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders delivered on June 27, 2011. The speech, directed toward President Barack Obama, was published on Senator Sanders’ website.


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