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Wall Street Journal

 

Ayers Is No Education 'Reformer'

October 16, 2008

By Sol Stern

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One of the most misleading statements during the presidential debates was when Barack Obama claimed that William Ayers was just "a guy in the neighborhood."

But that piece of spin is nothing compared to the false story now being peddled by Mr. Obama's media supporters that Mr. Ayers—who worked with the Democratic nominee for years to disperse education grants through a group called the Chicago Annenberg Challenge—has redeemed his terrorist past. In the New York Times, for example, Frank Rich writes that "establishment Republicans and Democrats alike have collaborated with the present-day Ayers in educational reform."

I've studied Mr. Ayers's work for years and read most of his books. His hatred of America is as virulent as when he planted a bomb at the Pentagon. And this hatred informs his educational "reform" efforts. Of course, Mr. Obama isn't going to appoint him to run the education department. But the media mainstreaming of a figure like Mr. Ayers could have terrible consequences for the country's politics and public schools.

The education career of William Ayers began when he enrolled at Columbia University's Teachers College at the age of 40. He planned to stay long enough to get a teaching credential. But he experienced an epiphany in a course offered by Maxine Greene, who urged future teachers to tell children about the evils of the existing, oppressive capitalist social order. In her essay "In Search of a Critical Pedagogy," for example, Ms. Greene wrote of an education that would portray "homelessness as a consequence of the private dealings of landlords, an arms buildup as a consequence of corporate decisions, racial exclusion as a consequence of a private property-holder's choice."

That was music to the ears of the ex-Weatherman. Mr. Ayers acquired a doctorate in education and landed an Ed school appointment at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC).

Chicago might seem to be the least likely place for Mr. Ayers to regain social respectability for himself and his wife, Bernardine Dohrn. After all, the Windy City was where their Weathermen period began in 1969, with Mr. Ayers, Ms. Dohrn and their comrades marauding through the Miracle Mile, assaulting cops and city officials and promulgating slogans such as "Kill Your Parents."

But Chicago's political culture had already begun to change by the time the couple returned in 1987. And the city would change even more dramatically when Richard Daley Jr. became mayor in 1990.

Daley the son has maintained as tight a rein over the city's Democratic Party machine as did his father, doling out patronage jobs and contracts to loyalists and tolerating as much corruption as in the old days. But unlike his father, he was ready to cut deals with veterans of the hard-core, radical left who were working for their revolutionary ideas from within the system they once sought to destroy from without. There is no lack of such veterans. One of Chicago's congressmen, Bobby Rush, is a former chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party; Louis Gutierrez, a former leader of a Puerto Rican liberation group, the Puerto Rican Socialist Party, is another.

In this Chicago, where there are no enemies on the left, Mr. Ayers's second career flourished. It didn't hurt that his father, Thomas Ayers, was the CEO of the Commonwealth Edison company, a friend of both Daleys and a major power broker in the city.

Mr. Ayers was hired by the Chicago public schools to train teachers, and played a leading role in the $160 million Annenberg Challenge grant that distributed funds to a host of so-called school-reform projects, including some social-justice themed schools and schools organized by Acorn. Barack Obama became the first chairman of the board of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge organization in 1995. When asked for an opinion on the Obama/Ayers connection, Mayor Daley told the New York Times that Mr. Ayers had "done a lot of good in this city and nationally."

In fact, as one of the leaders of a movement for bringing radical social-justice teaching into our public school classrooms, Mr. Ayers is not a school reformer. He is a school destroyer.

He still hopes for a revolutionary upheaval that will finally bring down American capitalism and imperialism, but this time around Mr. Ayers sows the seeds of resistance and rebellion in America's future teachers. Thus, education students signing up for a course Mr. Ayers teaches at UIC, "On Urban Education," can read these exhortations from the course description: "Homelessness, crime, racism, oppression—we have the resources and knowledge to fight and overcome these things. We need to look beyond our isolated situations, to define our problems globally. We cannot be child advocates . . . in Chicago or New York and ignore the web that links us with the children of India or Palestine."

The readings Mr. Ayers assigns to his university students are as intellectually diverse as a political commissar's indoctrination session in one of his favorite communist tyrannies. The list for his urban education course includes the bible of the critical pedagogy movement, Brazilian Marxist Paolo Freire's "Pedagogy of the Oppressed"; two books by Mr. Ayers himself; and "Teaching to Transgress" by bell hooks (lower case), the radical black feminist writer.

Two years ago Mr. Ayers shared with his students a letter he wrote to a young radical friend: "I've been told to grow up from the time I was ten until this morning. Bullshit. Anyone who salutes your 'youthful idealism' is a patronizing reactionary. Resist! Don't grow up! I went to Camp Casey [Cindy Sheehan's vigil at the Bush ranch in Crawford, Texas] in August precisely because I'm an agnostic about how and where the rebellion will break out, but I know I want to be there and I know it will break out." (The letter is on his Web site, www.billayers.org.)

America's ideal of public schooling as a means of assimilating all children (and particularly the children of new immigrants) into a common civic and democratic culture is already under assault from the multiculturalists and their race- and gender-centered pedagogy. Mr. Ayers has tried to give the civic culture ideal a coup de grace, contemptuously dismissing it as nothing more than what the critical pedagogy theorists commonly refer to as "capitalist hegemony."

In the world of the Ed schools, Mr. Ayers's movement has established a sizeable beachhead—witness his election earlier this year as vice president for curriculum of the American Education Research Association, the nation's largest organization of education professors and researchers.

If Barack Obama wins on Nov. 4, the "guy in the neighborhood" is not likely to get an invitation to the Lincoln bedroom. But with the Democrats controlling all three branches of government, there's a real danger that Mr. Ayers's social-justice movement in the schools will get even more room to maneuver and grow.

 

 
 
 

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