City Journal Winter 2016

Current Issue:

Winter 2016
Table of Contents
Tablet Editions
Click to visit City Journal California

By Sol Stern

A Century of Palestinian Rejectionism and Jew Hatred

By Sol Stern

Breaking Free: Public School Lessons and the Imperative of School Choice.

Eye on the News

Sol Stern
Obama’s Real Bill Ayers Problem
The ex-Weatherman is now a radical educator with influence.
April 23, 2008

Selected Responses:

Sent by Joe Ptak on 04-25-2008:

Thank you so much for trying to protect a future generation...Ayers will always be a complete loser. Obama is not fooling the uneducated working class.

Sent by Detta Bendio on 04-25-2008:

Crucial information, whether you're interested in politics or education--or both. Thanks so much for your research.

As a former resident of Hyde Park (early 70s), I used to shake my head at the radical comments overheard around the UC area. Unfortunately, the purveyors of these sorts of comments have made themselves part of the higher education scene, and, as you demonstrate, try very hard to influence ALL education through professional ties and organizations.

Thank you, City Journal, for pointing out the hypocrisy of this "advocacy."

Sent by Don Button on 04-24-2008:

I don't know much about Bill Ayers's teaching. But you say that one of his "major themes is that the American public school system is nothing but a reflection of capitalist hegemony" and then you call it anti-American.

It seems that you are saying that an anti-capitalist or anti-corporation attitude is anti-American. This is a ridiculous, though often used, assumption. It is similar to claiming that any criticism of current national policies is patently un-American and un-patriotic.

Many Americans believe that unchecked capitalism and the corporatization of our nation runs directly counter to the ideals of a true democratic republic. The Founders would agree as well, and many stated as much in their own writings.

Therefore, I would commend Mr. Ayers, or any other teacher, who fights to keep the self-serving forces of capitalism from unduly influencing our public education system. And my voting will reflect that.

Sent by Jim O'Brien on 04-24-2008:

Throughout North America, the teachers have turned into socialist-indoctrination professionals. In Ontario, Canada, we used to have the best schools in the Western world. Now that the radical socialists are in charge, students are way behind the traditional norms. However, they all know about global warming - just don't ask them to spell it.

Sent by Montjoie on 04-24-2008:

Looks like Barry's chickens.... are coming home, to roost.

Sent by Gary Haubold on 04-24-2008:

If Obama were the agent of positive change he claims to be, he might be in favor of school vouchers, or some other meaningful reform that runs contrary to the wishes of the teachers' unions and elementary school establishment.

Sent by M. Stone on 04-24-2008:

Mr. Ayers clearly veers to one side of the political debate (at least by this country's spectrum based mainly on cultural ideas). But, your article does nothing to show that "social justice" is a bad thing.

For example, I grew up in the South with many influences very close to me and in society encouraging discrimnation (including often hearing words I would not repeat). When I reflect that I did not adopt these views, I remember teachers telling me that while the older generation may have grown up with certain ideas, racism was not something that should be continued. Should these teachers have kept quiet because fighting racism smells of "social justice?" I have many friends, Christian and otherwise, who believe schools should discuss societal issues and encourage citizenship, including ethical behavior and yes, political action. Look at the new generation who urges their universities to stop buying sweatshop gear, for instance.

And yes, I believe strongly in elements of "social justice": even though my parents had no college degree and not much money, I believed pasisonately that I should be given the chance at a college education, and that government should help families, not just corporations, to succeed (radical words, I'm sure, for you.) Some of my Christian friends have chosen homeschooling exactly because the public schools are trying to cleanse themselves of any ideas of morality and ethics.

I do not see why social justice has to be purged from our schools. And, if you had seen the schools I moved to in Miami, the conditions in which teachers taught and children lived, you may understand why teachers feel outraged.

I am not familiar with Mr. Ayers curriculum, but if you have a problem with it, please state it clearly and don't simply assume we all agree that "social justice" is a bad thing.

Barack Obama complains that he’s 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 city’s 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 nation’s 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 city’s Magnificent Mile and assaulting police officers and city officials. Chicago’s mayor at the time was the Democratic boss of bosses, Richard J. Daley. The city’s current mayor, Richard M. Daley, has employed Ayers as a teacher trainer for the public schools and consulted him on the city’s education-reform plans. Obama’s supporters can reasonably ask: If Daley fils can forgive Ayers for his past violence, why should Obama’s less consequential contacts with Ayers be a political disqualification? It’s hard to disagree. Chicago’s liberals have chosen to define deviancy down in Ayers’s case, and Obama can’t 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, Ayers’s 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 America’s 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 K–12 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.” Ayers’s texts on the imperative of social-justice teaching are among the most popular works in the syllabi of the nation’s ed schools and teacher-training institutes. One of Ayers’s 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 Ayers’s 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 K–12 teachers, Ayers has been able to influence what happens in hundreds, perhaps thousands, of classrooms.

Ayers’s influence on what is taught in the nation’s 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 nation’s 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 nation’s schools and has established a Social Justice Division with its own executive director. With Bill Ayers now part of the organization’s 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 nation’s classrooms—and correspondingly less support for research on such mundane subjects as the best methods for teaching underprivileged children to read.

The next time Obama—the candidate who purports to be our next “education president”—discusses education on the campaign trail, it would be nice to hear what he thinks of his Hyde Park neighbor’s vision for turning the nation’s schools into left-wing indoctrination centers. Indeed, it’s an appropriate question for all the presidential candidates.

respondrespondTEXT SIZE
If you enjoyed
this article,
why not subscribe
to City Journal? subscribe Get the Free App on iTunes Or sign up for free online updates: