A quarterly magazine of urban affairs, published by the Manhattan Institute, edited by Brian C. Anderson.
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Obamas Real Bill Ayers Problem
The ex-Weatherman is now a radical educator with influence.
23 April 2008
Barack Obama complains that hes been unfairly attacked for a casual political and social relationship with his neighbor, former Weatherman Bill Ayers. Obama has a point. In the ultraliberal Hyde Park community where the presidential candidate first earned his political spurs, Ayers is widely regarded as a member in good standing of the citys civic establishment, not an unrepentant domestic terrorist. But Obama and his critics are arguing about the wrong moral question. The more pressing issue is not the damage done by the Weather Underground 40 years ago, but the far greater harm inflicted on the nations schoolchildren by the political and educational movement in which Ayers plays a leading role today.
A Chicago native son, Ayers first went into combat with his Weatherman comrades during the Days of Rage in 1969, smashing storefront windows along the citys Magnificent Mile and assaulting police officers and city officials. Chicagos mayor at the time was the Democratic boss of bosses, Richard J. Daley. The citys current mayor, Richard M. Daley, has employed Ayers as a teacher trainer for the public schools and consulted him on the citys education-reform plans. Obamas supporters can reasonably ask: If Daley fils can forgive Ayers for his past violence, why should Obamas less consequential contacts with Ayers be a political disqualification? Its hard to disagree. Chicagos liberals have chosen to define deviancy down in Ayerss case, and Obama cant be blamed for that.
What he can be blamed for is not acknowledging that his neighbor has a political agenda that, if successful, would make it impossible to lift academic achievement for disadvantaged children. As I have shown elsewhere in City Journal, Ayerss politics have hardly changed since his Weatherman days. He still boasts about working full-time to bring down American capitalism and imperialism. This time, however, he does it from his tenured perch as Distinguished Professor of Education at the University of Illinois, Chicago. Instead of planting bombs in public buildings, Ayers now works to indoctrinate Americas future teachers in the revolutionary cause, urging them to pass on the lessons to their public school students.
Indeed, the education department at the University of Illinois is a hotbed for the radical education professoriate. As Ayers puts it in one of his course descriptions, prospective K12 teachers need to be aware of the social and moral universe we inhabit and . . . be a teacher capable of hope and struggle, outrage and action, a teacher teaching for social justice and liberation. Ayerss texts on the imperative of social-justice teaching are among the most popular works in the syllabi of the nations ed schools and teacher-training institutes. One of Ayerss major themes is that the American public school system is nothing but a reflection of capitalist hegemony. Thus, the mission of all progressive teachers is to take back the classrooms and turn them into laboratories of revolutionary change.
Unfortunately, neither Obama nor his critics in the media seem to have a clue about Ayerss current work and his widespread influence in the education schools. In his last debate with Hillary Clinton, Obama referred to Ayers as a professor of English, an error that the media then repeated. Would that Ayers were just another radical English professor. In that case, his poisonous anti-American teaching would be limited to a few hundred college students in the liberal arts. But through his indoctrination of future K12 teachers, Ayers has been able to influence what happens in hundreds, perhaps thousands, of classrooms.
Ayerss influence on what is taught in the nations public schools is likely to grow in the future. Last month, he was elected vice president for curriculum of the 25,000-member American Educational Research Association (AERA), the nations largest organization of education-school professors and researchers. Ayers won the election handily, and there is no doubt that his fellow education professors knew whom they were voting for. In the short biographical statement distributed to prospective voters beforehand, Ayers listed among his scholarly books Fugitive Days, an unapologetic memoir about his ten years in the Weather Underground. The book includes dramatic accounts of how he bombed the Pentagon and other public buildings.
AERA already does a great deal to advance the social-justice teaching agenda in the nations schools and has established a Social Justice Division with its own executive director. With Bill Ayers now part of the organizations national leadership, you can be sure that it will encourage even more funding and support for research on how teachers can promote left-wing ideology in the nations classroomsand correspondingly less support for research on such mundane subjects as the best methods for teaching underprivileged children to read.
The next time Obamathe candidate who purports to be our next education presidentdiscusses education on the campaign trail, it would be nice to hear what he thinks of his Hyde Park neighbors vision for turning the nations schools into left-wing indoctrination centers. Indeed, its an appropriate question for all the presidential candidates.
Sol Stern is a contributing editor of City Journal and the author of Breaking Free: Public School Lessons and the Imperative of School Choice.