From bomber to 'school reformer'

In The Bomber as School Reformer in City Journal, Sol Stern argues that ex-Weatherman Bill Ayers, now an education professor, remains a would-be revolutionary.

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!”

“Humanizing” is not the word for Hugo Chávez.

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.

Barack Obama and Ayers “crossed paths sporadically,” according to the New York Times. That includes meeting at a fund-raiser Ayers and Weatherwife Bernadine Dohrn threw for Obama in their home when he first ran for office. Obama and Ayers also served together on the board of the Annenberg Challenge, a huge philanthropy effort — $1.1 billion nationwide — which turned out to be a huge flop in Chicago and elsewhere. But Annenberg didn’t fail because it was radical. Critics say most of the money went to school districts to fund more of the same.

Does Obama share Ayers’ education views? I doubt it. Obama seems to take a conventional approach to education: He wants to send kids to college, not to the barricades.

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  1. Does Obama share Ayers’ education views?

    The way I see it, either Obama does share his views, or he simply used his relationship with Ayers for pure political purposes as he built his career during his ascension to Chicago’s political elite.

    Does Obama share Rev. Wright’s views on the Black Value System that includes the disavowal of the pursuit of “middle-classness”? Or, did Obama just use Rev. Wright for political purposes?

    I resent being accused of racism when I join the chorus of voters who proclaim that Obama is not “like you or me”. It’s not about race, it’s about values.

    Unfortunately, Ayer’s recent election to VP Curriculum at AERA also means that today’s ed school professors are also very different from me.

  2. I think Ayers perfectly represents the revolt of the elites and their failure as elites. Him and his fellow travelers offered self-indulgent baby totalitarian revolution as young people. They could be forgiven for this because of their age. As adults and professionals they’ve continue on the same sad selfish path. No matter that their tired “social justice” crap-o-la helps no one but them. Did the Annenburg Challenge change the education outcomes for any of those disadvantaged kids? Not one bit, $100 million dollars squandered—again. They hurt more then they help.

    Does Obama share Ayers educational views? I agree with the poster that suggested that it was just political opportunism. How sad.

  3. Regarding political opportunism: you can be pure or you can be effective. Not one of his detractors will ever accomplish one thousandth as much as Barack Obama already has.

  4. Considering Obama’s choice of friends he must be awfully effective. He sure as heck isn’t pure.

  5. Mrs. Lopez says:

    “Not one of his detractors will ever accomplish one thousandth as much as Barack Obama already has.”

    Satire, Mike?

  6. “Not one of his detractors will ever accomplish one thousandth as much as Barack Obama already has.”

    I wouldn’t guess satire as much as a different point of view. Barack Obama is a highly intelligent and accomplished human being. The conception that he’s never accomplished everything is just a misconception on the part of us peons who don’t see the light.

    The Chicago Annenberg Challenge? It was a tremendous accomplishment, if the goal was to get Bill Ayers’ radical communist ideas into Chicago public schools. (For those who don’t know, the Chicago chapter of the Annenberg Challenge was based on a grant proposal written by Bill Ayers.) The mistake we peons made? We assumed Obama’s role in the CAC was about lifting children out of poverty through effective education.

    His time in the Illinois legislature? Well, he voted present a lot and got a lot of money for social activists. When the goal is to feather the nest for a run for higher office, this is an accomplishment. Oh, let us not forget how he showed us the perils of party politics by getting all his opponents knocked off the Democratic primary ballot and running unopposed, a great accomplishment indeed.

    His time in the US Senate? He shielded Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac from reform, allowing the greediest guys in the room–Raines and Johnson–to make money hand over fist while polluting the credit market with bad lending decisions. Oh, and he ran for President, taking tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the aforementioned greediest guys in the room.

    So, if you’re a community organizer, social activist, or the corrupt head of a quasi-governmental lending institution, Barack Obama would indeed be highly accomplished. If you’re a regular Joe who works hard for his money and hates to see the privileged get special favors from each other, he wouldn’t seem so accomplished. You see? It’s all about a certain point of view.

  7. mike curtis says:

    These men are parasites feeding on the public dog. The only benefit I see them serving is to alert the public that the dog could be anemic; but as parasites, they still provide nothing more than disease and misery….character, not charisma, counts.

  8. My point of view is different from the fools like Mrs. Lopez, Quincy, and Mike Curtis who know nothing of Sen. Obama. To paraphrase Mill, by no means are all conservatives stupid, but nearly all stupid people are conservative. This election season demonstrates that clearly, as do the comments here.

  9. Seriously, Mike. I’ve laid out facts, you call me names?

    Fine. Assume for a moment that I am a fool–which you already have–and assume that all the good Obama has done for the radical left and corrupt government officials is just collateral damage in his effort to do go for everyone. Now, can you name enough of his accomplishments to prove that his primary mission is that of a dutiful public servant bringing good to the greater community and not a self-interested machine politician using his intellect for personal gain? I doubt it, but you’re welcome to try.

    Insult me again as an evasion of the above question and I’ll assume that you’re conceding that your statements about his accomplishments were wrong. Fair?

  10. *to do go* in the above should be *to do good*. –Goes to blackboard to write “I shall use preview” 100 times–

  11. mike curtis says:

    The trouble with arguing with fools is that onlookers have difficulty telling who is who.

  12. Cardinal Fang says:

    Barack Obama’s plans for education are available at his website.

    I doubt that very many here would disagree with his K-12 recommendations. His proposals about teachers might be more controversial: he wants to figure out ways to pay good teachers more, give college scholarships to students who agree to teach for four years in a high-need location (kind of like a ROTC for teachers), require education schools to be accredited and create a new performance assessment for new teachers (or teaching school graduates, it’s not perfectly clear).

    As to college, he wants to allocate a lot of money for college tuition. He also wants to make it easy for parents to apply for financial aid for their children– rather than filling out complicated forms, they’d just have to check a box on their tax forms.

    The issues page on the website has nothing on teaching social justice, and inexplicably omits any mention of “overcoming the failures of capitalist education.”

  13. Mrs. Lopez says:

    Quincy, we deserve to be called names because we are full of hate and intolerance.

  14. I’d be more worried about why Ayers latched onto Obama. Ayers has been very smart at manipulating people through the years–he and his wife love publicity, as well.

  15. Cardinal said, “I doubt that very many here would disagree with his K-12 recommendations.”

    What he would do has nothing to do with his “recommendations.” He has shown over and over that he is not an honest person. He would attempt to radicalize, i.e., destroy, American education just as individuals like Ayers have done.

  16. Andy Freeman says:

    Is it fair to evaluate Obama’s education plans by the Annenberg Education Challenge? If not, why not? If so, is that the sort of change we want? (I note that they didn’t approve math/science programs. Is that because Chicago’s math/science education is good enough or because they had higher priorities? If so, what?)

  17. I doubt Obama’s dalliance with teacher accountability is any more then a stiff-necked acknowledgment of the widespread dissatisfaction with the public education system among black voters. He floated a trial balloon about teacher accountability when he gave his proforma acceptance speech to the proforma NEA endorsement and it got some serious booing. If he gets elected whose he likely to listen to? The politically-oriented and savvy NEA or a gaggle of disorganized parents?

    Obama’s web site may indicate that he wants to make financial aid more accessible and funnel federal money to tuitions but history shows that what he’s really doing is funneling lots of money to colleges without much regard to the value they provide. Once the requirement to demonstrate value is gone it’s not long before the value is gone as well.

    Fortunately, the demands of the market, as dictated by the employability of the graduates, ensure that some degrees maintain their value regardless of the amount of money dumped into the colleges by the federal government. Unfortunately, that’s not the case uniformly in higher education, schools of ed and the various “studies” departments being the cases in point.

  18. If the past is prologue, this examination by Stanley Kurtz of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge’s educational priorities under the leadership of Obama gives an indication of how education might fare in the event the cypher becomes President.

    The upshot is that CAC money flowed freely for ideological projects but was denied to people who were interested in academics. His actions as CAC chairman put the cypher in sharper relief.

    “CAC translated Mr. Ayers’s radicalism into practice. Instead of funding schools directly, it required schools to affiliate with “external partners,” which actually got the money. Proposals from groups focused on math/science achievement were turned down. Instead CAC disbursed money through various far-left community organizers, such as the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (or Acorn).”

  19. For anyone who is really interested in looking into the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, EdWeek has a couple of good articles, with actual interviews, facts, etc. It would appear that the concept was similar to that of the Harlem Children’s Zone (which is getting a lot of press lately), which focuses on building links to the neighborhood surrounding schools, and generally improving the neighbhorhoods that kids come from. The context in which this took place ahd to do with a vast decentralization move that had put a lot of decision-making power at the building level in Chicago.

    I am personally skeptical of the approach–also put in place in England as Education Action Zones, but primarily because I don’t know that the lives of poor people can be improved at the local level in government sponsored small spurts. As the current financial crisis examplifies, the decisions that affect the lives of people in poor neighborhoods are generally made elsewhere.

    Now, there may be some long-range effect to consciousness-raising, etc, to launch a groundswell of opposition–but the powers at the top in this country have shown themselves to be really good at discrediting any such attempts (witness the current brouhaha regarding Mr. Ayers–even John McCain had to step in when some poor woman said she believed that Barack Obama is an Arab). We cannot reasonably construct a dialogue that looks at the things that have worked to support education in other countries, because the words that we need to use have been so discredited in America. We cannot discuss the benefits of a welfare-state on moving children out of poverty circumstances so that they can learn. The word “welfare” and particularly “welfare state,” have been branded as giving money to ungrateful, lazy and immoral unrepentents. In some countries they call such policies family policies. In America–despite calls for “family values” (banning abortion and excluding gays), we do not have similar family policies. Now we are working on discrediting community organizing and social activism.

    Yes–I am a liberal, and I remember when aspiring to be a liberal was something that was popular in this nation. I believe in social justice–because I have read enough history to know that when this country has moved forward in becoming a more just society, these are the times that I can truly be proud to be an American.

    I don’t agree with bombing buildings–but I recall the particular times that sparked the SDS and weather underground. The albatross around Lyndon Johnson’s neck was that he couldn’t get us out of an unpopular and expensive war, that no one understood, to focus on social justice programs at home. Every young man at age 18 faced the question of what to do about the draft.

    Bill Ayers was never actually convicted of the crimes he later admitted–why? Because the court ordered disclosure an any illegal activity (by the government) that was used to infiltrate and track the weathermen. After that, the charges were dropped.

    So, we can debate the value of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge. And maybe that’s pertinent. But I don’t honestly believe that any concern for education lies behind the focus on it at this time.

  20. Oh don’t worry Margo. Being a liberal is still popular in this nation. It just isn’t very credible if you have an interest in accomplishing something beyond self-gratification.

    Welfare, to which you apply such neat, self-serving rationalizations didn’t need to be branded as anything once it became clear, as it did in the eighties and nineties, that it’s primary purpose wasn’t to succor the unfortunate but to provide it’s proponents with reasons to feel they’d accomplished something wonderful. Once it became clear that welfare proponents were less interested in the less fortunate then they were in providing themselves with evidence of their moral superiority the support for welfare dropped off considerably.

    Well, that and the fact that after spending trillions of dollars the welfare rolls hadn’t contracted one little bit and the lot of the poor hadn’t improved one little bit.

    Bill Ayers is a nearly perfect liberal touchstone. He disdains the nation, and the culture, that defends him and creates the opportunities which he casually assumes are his due. He clearly has no regard for the lives of his inferiors as evidenced by his willingness to use violence to achieve his ends and his refusal to repudiate violence even if he’s personally unwilling to engage in its use any longer.

    What this has to do with education is that it’s a bit naive, or just plain disingenuous, to assume that a guy who’d kill people with bombs to achieve his socialist paradise won’t also lie to children in pursuit of that same goal.

  21. So, we can debate the value of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge. And maybe that’s pertinent. But I don’t honestly believe that any concern for education lies behind the focus on it at this time.

    Discussing the waste of $160 million that could have gone to better Chicago’s schools is completely pertinent. There’s a contradiction in Obama’s education platform. His website and stated positions show him to be rather conventional, but his track record shows him to be willing to push radicalism into Chicago schools. He’s never addressed this, or said he’s learned from the mistakes of CAC. If Obama gets into the White House, which course will he take?

    Quincy, we deserve to be called names because we are full of hate and intolerance.

    Sorry, I forgot that I couldn’t challenge the left without displaying my hate and intolerance (a.k.a. facts and logic). I swear, I’ll get the hang of left-speak eventually.

  22. Margo/Mom says:


    I think that the point is that the work of the Chicago Annenburg Challenge is hardly radical. Trying to boost education through building community relationships (and building capacity at the local level to accept the decentralization that was already in place) is pretty similar to the Blair agenda in England. As people who were actually close to the thing have noted, similar initiatives were also implemented in other places.

    But, were it not for Bill Ayers association with the CAC–and with the weather underground, I guarantee, this issue would be a total non-starter.

  23. Stacy in NJ says:

    “I think that the point is that the work of the Chicago Annenburg Challenge is hardly radical.”

    And that’s tragic. Projects like those supported by CAC have been tired and failed countless times, some participated in Project Follow Through in the ’60’s and ’70’s.

    How many disadvantaged kids are going to be experimented on and how much money will be squandered so that pseudo-revolutionaries can satisfy their need to stick it to the man? When will *liberals* take responsibility for their failed educational “philosophy”? Probably when they accept responsibility for their failed welfare policies.

    “But, were it not for Bill Ayers association with the CAC–and with the weather underground, I guarantee, this issue would be a total non-starter.”

    Another tragedy. I wonder how many other CAC-like programs there are out there feeding false hope within their communities while providing “executive experience” to opportunistic would-be politicians.

  24. Margo/Mom says:

    Well, Stacy, we could restructure schools systems so that the kids in low income neighborhoods get the same shot at experienced teachers and new buildings as kids in the suburbs get. But the people in the suburbs always seem to disagree.

  25. Stacy in NJ says:

    Well, Margo/Mom, we could do as you suggest, or we could use those squandered funds to incent experienced teachers so that they would be willing to work in low SES areas. We could also increase the accountability of administrators and policy makers. Gee, what a concept.

    There are actual living human being responsbile for the poor performance of those schools. Instead of pretending it’s not about the culture those kids iive in and the fradulant practices of the schools they attend, practices designed and implemented by those very clever schools of ed employeeing the likes of William Ayers, Why don’t we just admit it? Rationalizations, rationalizations, rationalizations….

  26. The problem is not radicalism or indoctrination. The problem is that line of Marxist Education is not worried about Academic results and they think that poor students have no blame for anything wrong that they do.

    Private educational projects like Cristo Rey and KIPP in the US wants to put poor people on College, in Brazil, where Ayers´ favorite Paulo Freire is very popular among educators social projects puts poor people to dance samba or something like that. By the way, here in Brazil anyone that talks about “efficiency” inside a school may listen “That schools aren´t business.”

    And considering that the influence of Marxist intellectuals is one the causes of why Brazil has a very protective law for juvenile criminals I think that Ayers not only shows problems in an Obama administration under the Department of Education but also under the Justice Department.

  27. Margo/Mom –

    I could believe that CAC wasn’t radical if the money went to do things like fix buildings and hire competent teachers instead of being funneled to far-left community organizing groups like ACORN. The money funneled to ineffective radical organizations could have been spent on the teachers and classrooms you want those kids to have. This one’s got nothing to do with the suburbs and everything to do with Ayers, Obama, and the rest of the CAC board putting friends and politics before the needs Chicago’s kids.

    How many highly-qualified teachers could CAC have hired with $160 million? How many classrooms could have been renovated? How many schools could have had the vermin cleared out? How many new textbooks could have been bought?

  28. Mike Curtis says:

    Liberalism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere can actually do something for themself.

  29. Since when did the phrase “family values” come to mean what Margo describes: “despite calls for “family values” (banning abortion and excluding gays)”?

    “Family values” means just that: values of the family. Welfare did not support family values because it was structured around “household” income, which eliminated a lot of poor working people from eligibility. So the husbands (or fathers, if not actually married) moved out, leaving the mothers and kids on welfare but without the important support of the father figure.

    Family values has nothing to do with abortion and gays, except that a certain percentage of people expousing family values ALSO espoused denigration of gays and/or abortion.

    Me, I don’t denigrate gays, nor do I have any particular heartburn with abortion. But I do support family values, including the family value of only having as many kids as the parents can support, and the family value of not expecting the government to subsidize my raising of my family.

  30. Robert Wright says:

    Bill Ayers these days seems to be nothing more than a liberal Democrat concerned with how to reach inner city youth.

    If you read the speech he gave in Venezuela, it really doesn’t seem radical.

    Bill Ayers is a member of the establishment with a somewhat liberal slant.

    Of course, as a Weatherman, he was a stupid radical. And very young.

    Does he retain any of his radicalism now?

    I don’t think so.

    He’s just an old, boring, liberal distinguished professor of education. A tool of the current liberal education establishment.

    Apparently, he’s too conservative to favor school choice.

  31. Mrs. Lopez says:

    “Does he retain any of his radicalism now?

    I don’t think so.” –Robert Wright

    He wasn’t so young when he said this, Robert:
    September 11, 2001 “I don’t regret setting bombs. I feel we didn’t do enough.” Ayers –quoted in NYT article

  32. Robert Wright says:

    Mrs. Lopez,

    You’re right, he wasn’t young when he said that.

    But it wasn’t on Sept. 11 that he said it. Sept. 11 was the date that it was printed.

    Also, it was a statement that was taken out of context.

    He meant that he felt that he didn’t do enough to protest the Viet Nam war. He clarified his statement on the day it came out.

    The bombing that he did was not terrorist bombing. People were never targets and advance warning was given before they were set off–unlike the bombs that John McCain dropped from his plane during the Viet Nam war.

    The quote he gave was unfortunate and embarrassing. But if you read what else he said in 2001, you could only conclude that he turned his back on radicalism a long time before then.

    Ayers disillusionment with radical methods was the main reason that Weathermen disbanded in the first place.

    Ayers has mixed feelings about his past.

    If you try to understand where his head was at by that one quote, I think you’ll miss the mark.

    If you read a lot of what Ayers has written, I think you’ll have to conclude he’s just a stupid liberal.

  33. I believe in social justice…

    Why is it that some of the worst knaves and scalawags I’ve known are big on “social justice”? I presume it’s because believing in “social justice” is one of the few ways that knaves and scalawags can feel good about themselves. They can continue in their knavery while advocating that the government give taxpayers’ money to poor people. Then they can cockadoodledoo like a bantam rooster about how much holier they are than mean-spirited family values types.

  34. What I find “radical” about the social justice teaching espoused by Ayers and his ilk is that they think teaching disadvantaged kids to rail against the man will do more to help them rise above their poverty than teaching these kids useful knowledge, like multiplication tables for example. After Ayers secured the CAC funds, its support of social justice programs in Chicago schools doomed it to be the failure it was.

    Obama’s actions, including his role in heading the CAC and his association with Rev. Wright, tell me more about his educational views than any campaign rhetoric can.

  35. Why is it that some of the worst knaves and scalawags I’ve known are big on “social justice”?

    Because, along with being more then a bit alarming, “liquidating the capitalist exploiters of the working class” is so twentieth century. Along with being your moral superior, lefties are also intellectual titans, one and all, and breath-takingly cutting-edge.

    That’s why they’re all “progressives” now “liberal” having come to be associated with a uniform record of failure, waste and incompetence. If you’re unwilling to change the scam you’ve got to change the name and hope no one notices the similarity.

  36. Actually, progressives are further left than liberals.

    Living not too far from Ithaca, New York, I have become well aware of the progression of liberal thought. (Ithaca=10.2 square miles surrounded by reality.)

    Can you imagine a majority of Ithacans not voting for Hillary for senator because she was in favor of the Iraq war? Of course, there were people in Ithaca protesting the Iraq war in the 1990’s.

    But they say they have a lot of diversity there in Ithaca, all the way from the Greens on the far left to the Democrats on the far right.

  37. Andy Freeman says:

    > Bill Ayers was never actually convicted of the crimes he later admitted–why? Because the court ordered disclosure an any illegal activity (by the government) that was used to infiltrate and track the weathermen.

    “Never convicted” doesn’t mean that he didn’t do it. “Never convicted” just means govt can’t treat Ayers as guilty. The rest of us can.

    Why are you so eager to justify, explain away, ignore Ayers’ activities? Why don’t you think that Ayers should be treated as guilty? Did the govts’ foul acts wash Ayers clean?

    Would you extend the same courtesy to someone on the right?

    Or, is there something special about Chicago? It is pretty much accepted that one of Ayers fellow Chicagoans, Al Capone, was a murdering thug, but he was never convicted of murder. Would you argue that he wasn’t guilty of murder?

  38. Robert Wright says:

    I finally got around to reading the article by Sol Stern.

    Journalism it’s not.

  39. Margo/Mom says:

    For anyone who is honestly interested in knowing something about the Chicago Annenburg Challenge, as opposed to finding as many ways as possible to connect Barack Obama to words like liberal, radical, Marxist, communist or terrorist, the Annenburg Foundation site has posted a wealth of documents on the Challenge, including information about aims of the project, community groups (which include arts and music groups, and others beyond ACORN), the various people who signed onto the original proposal (which includes various Republican office-holders as well as some of the others already named), and an evaluation of what was learned from the project.

  40. Andy Freeman says:

    > which include arts and music groups, and others beyond ACORN

    No math or science?

    > various Republican office-holders

    So? In any other context, you’d be saying that Repubs are clueless. What makes them reputable this time?

    Or, are you suggesting that we should believe something because a Repub says it?

  41. Andy Freeman says:

    > including information about aims of the project

    The aims aren’t relevant after it’s over, only the results.

  42. Margo/Mom says:


    I don’t know if there were any math or science community groups available or interested in collaborating with the schools who were involved. The fact that Republicans signed off is an indication that this was probably not–as many have charged–some kind of sleazy Marxist indoctrination program.

    And yes–the aims are relevant when assessing the results. It is not fruitful to assess the effects on math and science achievement if the aims were to improve the governing ability of the local neighborhoods in response to a legislated decentralization of schools–which was already in place.

    I understand that also has pertinent information on William Ayers, his relationship with Barack Obama and other issues. Again, for folks who are actually interested in such things.

  43. Robert Wright says:

    I don’t know if Obama ever palled around with terrorists, but it’s an established fact that McCain used to live with Communists.