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The Bomber as School Reformer By: Sol Stern
City Journal | Tuesday, October 07, 2008


Back in the early eighties, in an interview with David Horowitz and Peter Collier, Bill Ayers remembered his reaction upon learning that he would not be prosecuted by the government for his bombing spree as a member of the Weather Underground. “Guilty as hell, free as a bird—America is a great country,” he exulted. Ayers is now a university professor, but he must have been exulting all over again after reading Saturday’s front-page story in the New York Times.

The article explored the putative relationship between Ayers and Barack Obama during the time they worked together on the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, a five-year philanthropic venture that, starting in 1995, distributed over $160 million in school-improvement grants to the Windy City’s public schools. Ayers wrote the grant proposal that secured seed money for the schools and ran the implementation arm of the project; Obama became chairman of the board that distributed the grants. Not only did the Times exonerate the Democratic presidential candidate of having anything like a “close” relationship with Ayers—their paths merely “crossed” while working on the Challenge, the paper said—but it also bestowed the honorific of “school reformer” on the ex-bomber. “Mr. Ayers has been a professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, the author or editor of 15 books, and an advocate of school reform,” the article maintained. On Meet the Press Sunday morning, Tom Brokaw—who will be moderating tomorrow’s debate between the presidential candidates—picked up this now conventional wisdom and described Ayers as “a school reformer.”

Calling Bill Ayers a school reformer is a bit like calling Joseph Stalin an agricultural reformer. (If you find the metaphor strained, consider that Walter Duranty, the infamous New York Times reporter covering the Soviet Union in the 1930s, did, in fact, depict Stalin as a great land reformer who created happy, productive collective farms.) For instance, at a November 2006 education forum in Caracas, Venezuela, with President Hugo Chávez at his side, Ayers proclaimed his support for “the profound educational reforms under way here in Venezuela under the leadership of President Chávez. We share the belief that education is the motor-force of revolution. . . . I look forward to seeing how you continue to overcome the failings of capitalist education as you seek to create something truly new and deeply humane.” Ayers concluded his speech by declaring that “Venezuela is poised to offer the world a new model of education—a humanizing and revolutionary model whose twin missions are enlightenment and liberation,” and then, as in days of old, raised his fist and chanted: “Viva Presidente Chávez! Viva la Revolucion Bolivariana! Hasta la Victoria Siempre!”

As I have shown in previous articles in City Journal, Ayers’s school reform agenda focuses almost exclusively on the idea of teaching for “social justice” in the classroom. This has nothing to do with the social-justice ideals of the Sermon on the Mount or Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Rather, Ayers and his education school comrades are explicit about the need to indoctrinate public school children with the belief that America is a racist, militarist country and that the capitalist system is inherently unfair and oppressive. As a leader of this growing “reform” movement, Ayers was recently elected vice president for curriculum of the American Education Research Association, the nation’s largest organization of ed school professors and researchers.

Despite the Times story, American voters still don’t have an accurate picture of the relationship between Obama and Ayers during their work on the Annenberg Challenge. The paper’s account quoted several people who worked on the project as saying that they didn’t think Ayers had any role in selecting Obama for his position as chairman. But we haven’t heard a word about the subject from the two principals. For the first time in his life, Ayers seems to be observing Democratic Party discipline and won’t be talking until after November 4. Meanwhile, in one of the Democratic primary debates, Obama said that Ayers was just “a guy I know in the neighborhood”—which certainly qualifies as one of the biggest fibs told by any of the candidates so far.

Is it too much to hope that one of the moderators of the two remaining debates will press Obama for a fuller accounting of his work with Bill Ayers on the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, and also ask Obama what he thinks of Ayers’s views on school reform? If the mainstream media deem it important that voters know which newspapers one of the vice presidential candidates reads, they certainly ought to be demanding more information from a presidential candidate about whom he collaborated with in distributing $160 million to the public schools. How about it, Tom Brokaw?


Sol Stern is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor to City Journal.


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