Bipartisanship: One word, many meanings to students

Most politicians are guilty as charged: guilty of overusing the words bipartisan and bipartisanship.

During most election campaigns, whether it’s for city council, county board, state house, state senate, governor, U.S. house, U.S. senator or president of the United States, we will hear candidates calling for bipartisanship.

When a politician sends out a press release on legislation being proposed or adopted, it is often stated that the agreement was bipartisan. The word bipartisan is defined in the dictionary as an adjective: representing, characterized by or including members from two parties or factions. For example: Government leaders hope to achieve a bipartisan foreign policy.

Sometimes political parties overstate the term bipartisan to describe an agreement. In actuality, there may have been only one member of the other party in support of a bill.

To get a sense of how younger people define bipartisanship, I contacted Forest Lake Schools Superintendent Linda Madsen and Director of Teaching and Learning Jennifer Tolzmann to connect me with some high school social studies students.

Tolzmann contacted social studies teachers at Forest Lake Senior High School who contacted 120 of their students.

Twenty-nine actual responses came from the 120 students. Seventy-seven students responded that they had no idea or didn’t know the term. Thirteen students responded that they assumed it had something to do with “two” something, but weren’t sure what.

Of the 120 students, 64 percent didn’t know or hadn’t heard of it, 10 percent understood the prefix “bi,” and 24 percent took a stab at what it meant. A few seemed to be right on.

The students were asked this question: What does the term bipartisan mean to you?

Some of the responses were:

• I’m not sure what it means but it may mean to support one another.

• I don’t know, but I would guess it means a division of cultures in the same country.

• Bipartisan means that technically two, both, Democratic and Republican political parties are working together on a certain task.

• I think bipartisan means two parties or two sides working together (Republicans and Democrats or Right and Left Wing).

• It means being able to work with members of a different political party.  Being able to compromise.

• Bipartisan is the strong association or support of a political party or political system.

• To see both sides of an issue and look past differences to solve that issue.

• Bipartisan means respect and compromise among different party members.

• Bipartisan means that you vote for two candidates from opposing parties for different offices. This is also seen in “split tickets” when voting.

• Bipartisan means more than one party has influence in a governmental group, usually a legislature or branch.

• Bipartisan means working with “both sides” on an issue, usually to make an agreement on certain issues of a bill.

• I don’t know, but “bi” means two, and partisan seems to some political party, so the definition that sounds like it is a two-party political system – something  among those lines. I’ve never heard of it, so, breaking the words is what it brought me to.

• Bipartisan is to be spineless on either viewpoint of an argument. The middle ground that could either be the best opinion or the worst.  The person everyone is trying to influence.

• Bipartisan means you don’t really have a side, so you’re in the middle. It’s like the saying “sitting in the middle of a fence.”

• I don’t know, but I know that “bi” means two, and I’m pretty sure it’s describing someone who has dual citizenship.

• I don’t know, but I think that bipartisan means some kind of agreement between two separate sides that don’t always agree.  Some kind of “meet in the middle” agreement between two sides. — Howard Lestrud, ECM Publishers (Editor’s note: Lestrud will examine next how our politicians interpret the words bipartisan and bipartisanship. Lestrud can be r[email protected])