Still, Ayers presents himself as one of the beleaguered world-changers, teachers who have a “mind wrecking and bone crunching” task. But there is a moral satisfaction: If you want to do something “useful,” without making six figures, become a teacher, he said. Shortly before he retired, he, of course, was earning a base salary $126,000. Ayers also made frequent trips for speaking and “research” gigs, courtesy of Illinois taxpayers, as I learned from his records. He served on numerous dissertation committees, especially at Georgia Southern University.
Now in retirement, Ayers apparently enjoys a lifestyle that requires even less work than he had as a distinguished professor of education. (His syllabi indicated none of the traditional time-consuming assignments that we professors are used to, but instead “deep” in-class discussions and “reflective” projects.)
Ayers presents a curriculum of questions like “Who am I? What am I here for?” (verbatim). He promotes group work to address such questions. He suggested that education professors ask their students to clarify their own values by writing down three qualities they would bestow on all human beings. Students should work in small groups to come to agreement and then in a larger group to come to agreement. The goal? Learning respect for others and for self, and a “love for humanity.”
Teaching has turned into community organizing, I realized. Bill Ayers is the mentor. I learned at one panel that some schools now are 24-hour “community centers,” complete with dental care services. Teachers, who have no memory of the 1960s or 1970s (and thus of traditional education), are enjoined to go into the “community,” to teach students how to talk to parents, to be a “bridge,” to go to churches and neighborhood association meetings, and to visit students’ homes. The atmosphere was suffused with do-goodism that indicated an alarming violation of teacher-student boundaries, especially in the last session I attended, where two area public high school English teachers with formerly “undocumented” students, both girls, discussed how they used their classes for advocacy on behalf of illegal aliens.
The weekend was surreal. Ayers studiously avoided any references to his violent past, glossing over facts in his anecdote-filled speech. The North Dakota newspaper reporter described Ayers in the sanitized manner these educators would have used: as an “educational reform advocate and former anti-war activist.”
At the “fireside chat,” Ayers gave suggestions for “How to survive till the Revolution” with “anarchist calisthenics,” at any time during the day when an administrator is not looking over shoulders. Every institution has “cracks.”
It’s for the kids: “Every kid deserves to get a well-rested and well-paid teacher,” said Ayers. The way to pay for it has not changed since the 1960s, though: “close the Pentagon.”
He gave both his congratulations and sympathies to a doctoral student from Baylor University for being at a Baptist institution. Her academic field in education is — a direct quotation — “transformative citizenship.”
Ayers’s mentee Barack Obama is in the White House and going after the military. Ayers is the “2013 College of Education and Human Services visiting scholar,” delivering the public address and meeting with several classes and discussing curriculum with faculty at Minnesota State University, Moorhead — with security, faculty salaries, overhead, and everything else state and federal taxpayers support to keep a public university going. It was an education professor, Steve Grineski, who invited Ayers to come and spread his ideas to future teachers and other students.
Today, Ayers is a grandfather and a senior mentor to such professors and students. Who would have thought back in the 1970s, during his days as a fugitive from the law, that he would spend his golden years basking in such glow?