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Teachers: They’re All Bill Ayers Now

How a '60s radical helped poison a noble profession.

by
Mary Grabar

Bio

March 10, 2009 - 12:30 am
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Students at Georgia Southern University did not get to hear Bill Ayers speak last week for the now oft-given reason of expensive security. Like students at other campuses, some students there objected to the use of their student fees to bring in the co-founder of the Weather Underground. Ayers’ past also led Illinois State Senator Larry Bomke to call for his firing through his proposal to forbid a public university from employing someone who has “committed a violent act against the United States.”

“Ayers may be a respected professor and author to some people now, but that doesn’t excuse the horrible acts he has committed in the past” is what Georgia Southern senior Lance Sullivan told the student newspaper, the George-Anne Daily. It’s a testament to the ignorance of what goes on in colleges of education that such statements are often accepted as truisms.

Although his public speaking engagement was canceled, Ayers has traveled from the Midwest to this Georgia campus as a guest speaker in the College of Education and to serve on doctoral committees. As an endowed professor at the University of Illinois in Chicago, Ayers does the speaking circuit for conferences like the Council for American Studies Education, where he is touted as a “leader in the educational reform movements for over forty years.” This year’s theme, appropriately, was “Education and Change,” a diversion from last year’s theme, which was, naturally, “Art and War: Reading, Representing, and Resisting Conflict.” And he is scheduled to address future teachers and education professionals on March 19 at Pennsylvania’s Millersville University, founded as a teachers college. The protests at Millersville too are based on his past involvement with the Weathermen, while he is referred to as “a member of Chicago’s intellectual establishment.” The commonplace gets repeated on cable news programs. In October, Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman told Greta van Susteren that Ayers had been invited by the University of Nebraska’s College of Education for his expertise on urban education.

In fact, in their announcement Publishers Weekly called the upcoming graphic novel adaptation of Ayers’ To Teach: The Journey of a Teacher, “a much-praised memoir of Ayers’ life as a teacher.” They characterized him as a “serious and well-respected scholar” and described To Teach as a “peer-reviewed work of scholarship on Ayers’ teaching precepts as well as a vivid recollection of his adventures in the classroom.” Acquisitions editor Meg Lemke was quoted as saying that the original book is “a popular course adoption text.”

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