Oct 17, 2008
[ Photo: William Ayers, Distinguished Professor of Education and Senior University Scholar at the University of Illinois at Chicago, compares tattoos with a developing revolutionary. When asked the location of Ayers' tattoo[s], our young comrade replied, “lemmie [sic] just tell you this, we both wear red underwear.” ]
Sol Stern has a typically-clear piece on Bill Ayers and education reform. Ayers is a man with a simple past and simple present [deep and high-volume, but simple] made unnecessarily complex by media, misunderstanding and intellectual dishonesty. Stern has been one a tireless critic of Ayers, and his opposition is independent of this election cycle – as is mine.
The tendentious, ill-informed dolts at Education Week refuse to recognize this, but I’ll tackle that another time.
“I’ve studied Mr. Ayers’s work for years and read most of his books. His hatred of America is as virulent as when he planted a bomb at the Pentagon. And this hatred informs his educational “reform” efforts. Of course, Mr. Obama isn’t going to appoint him to run the education department. But the media mainstreaming of a figure like Mr. Ayers could have terrible consequences for the country’s politics and public schools.
The education career of William Ayers began when he enrolled at Columbia University’s Teachers College at the age of 40. He planned to stay long enough to get a teaching credential. But he experienced an epiphany in a course offered by Maxine Greene, who urged future teachers to tell children about the evils of the existing, oppressive capitalist social order. In her essay “In Search of a Critical Pedagogy,” for example, Ms. Greene wrote of an education that would portray “homelessness as a consequence of the private dealings of landlords, an arms buildup as a consequence of corporate decisions, racial exclusion as a consequence of a private property-holder’s choice.”
That was music to the ears of the ex-Weatherman. Mr. Ayers acquired a doctorate in education and landed an Ed school appointment at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC).”
Few – very few – know of Maxine Greene. For her Foundation’s own take on Maxine, pop over and read “Philosopher. Imaginer. Inquirer…” Good spin, kids.
I’m stunned at how much has been made of Ayers in recent months relative to how little his scholarship has been examined. If this excerpt is any indication, Stern’s book will explain it all quite clearly:
“He [Ayers] still hopes for a revolutionary upheaval that will finally bring down American capitalism and imperialism, but this time around Mr. Ayers sows the seeds of resistance and rebellion in America’s future teachers. Thus, education students signing up for a course Mr. Ayers teaches at UIC, “On Urban Education,” can read these exhortations from the course description: “Homelessness, crime, racism, oppression — we have the resources and knowledge to fight and overcome these things. We need to look beyond our isolated situations, to define our problems globally. We cannot be child advocates . . . in Chicago or New York and ignore the web that links us with the children of India or Palestine.”
The readings Mr. Ayers assigns to his university students are as intellectually diverse as a political commissar’s indoctrination session in one of his favorite communist tyrannies. The list for his urban education course includes the bible of the critical pedagogy movement, Brazilian Marxist Paolo Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”; two books by Mr. Ayers himself; and “Teaching to Transgress” by bell hooks (lower case), the radical black feminist writer.”
It isn’t exaggeration, it isn’t hyperbole, it isn’t fiction.
Stern’s closing is sober and realistic:
“If Barack Obama wins on Nov. 4, the “guy in the neighborhood” is not likely to get an invitation to the Lincoln bedroom. But with the Democrats controlling all three branches of government, there’s a real danger that Mr. Ayers’s social-justice movement in the schools will get even more room to maneuver and grow.”
Sen. Obama said the other night that Bill Ayers would have no place in an Obama government if that’s our fate. Oddly enough, Ayers is more destructive under the radar than being a central blip.
I’d like to see Fordham be a bit more aggressive on Ayers. Fewer highfalutin denunciations, a bit more honest populism. Maybe a little more like this – you’ve heard of this guy, yes?
UPDATE: Just heard Stern interviewed by Dennis Prager. It’s worth a listen – go to iTunes Store, search for Dennis Prager and download the 10.16.2008 episode called “Prager H2: Round Three, Two.” It’s free.
Oct 8, 2008
[ Photo: William Ayers, Distinguished Professor of Education and Senior University Scholar at the University of Illinois at Chicago, compares tattoos with a developing revolutionary. When asked the location of Ayers' tattoo[s], our young comrade replied, “lemmie [sic] just tell you this, we both wear red underwear.” ]
I could write 100,000 words on this scoundrel – and, more interestingly, the pseudo-scoundrels and partisan hacks who have come out of the woodwork to support him. If I were Ayers and had relatively few defenders before this election, I’d think the current support a bit disingenuous.
But there’s no need for me to write that much. There are plenty of others who have weighed in. At the risk of appearing like I’ve created a Bill Ayers Blog Carnival, browse the following – it’s a roundup of some of what I’ve read over the last 24 hours.
Sherman Dorn points to Matthew Yglesias’s piece on Ayers. Yglesias writes:
“One thing you can say in Ayers’ defense is that it’s perfectly clear from his present-day conduct that he, in fact, realizes that unleashing a podunk domestic terrorism campaign would be a stupid and immoral thing to do. He could be going around setting off bombs. Instead, he’s a professor and a community activist. On the other hand, he seems sufficiently entrenched in egomania and self-righteousness that he can’t bring himself to actually admit that. And until he does admit that he was wrong, he’s hard to defend.”
“That seems pretty close to Oliver North, if you’re looking for parallels—with North as a former talk-radio blowhard who has never apologized, but he’s just a former talk-radio blowhard who speaks to conservative audiences.”
They aren’t as similar as Dorn would lead you to believe, but to be more accurate, Dorn would have to burden himself with a bit more historical knowledge than he can likely handle.
NPR examines Ayers’ history and puts it in the context of Obama. I understand why they did this – it’s a hot issue – but it’s not that relevant to some of us. Some of us have opposed Ayers and his work since before Obama was on the national scene. The NPR report is deeply wrong about one thing:
“Regardless of his background, it was never a problem for anyone — including Republicans and Chicago’s most powerful business leaders — to work with Ayers on Chicago’s public schools. In fact, Ayers is widely respected in the field of urban education.”
In “The Bomber as School Reformer,” Sol Stern makes a strong case against Ayers – as he has on several occasions. His must-read piece includes this paragraph:
“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.”
Scott Johnson at PowerLine sums it up:
“Stern reminds us that Ayers was a revolutionary driven by hatred of the United States when he was planting bombs in the 1970′s and he is a revolutionary driven by hatred of the United States now.”
American Thinker adds:
“In fact, Ayers looks at schools as nurseries to create a new cadre of children filled with an ideology that is anti-free enterprise and anti-American. To this end he has long been engaged in efforts to change the curriculum of our graduate schools of education so as to train teachers to spread his message and ideology to young children (think of the Pied Piper, clad in revolutionary red). Why should we be concerned? Barack Obama has a goal to “overhaul” our graduate schools of education.”
Dr. Camplin – one of the few education bloggers who is truly capable of taking an interdisciplinary approach – tells us why Ayers matters:
“Of course, Bill Ayers is now a Distinguished Professor in the College of Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago. As a professor of education, he has pushed for teaching for social justice (which is code for promoting a communist world view), urban educational reform (which has amounted to pushing schools to teach social justice — his organization, of which Obama was chairman, never put up a dime for math, science, reading, writing, or anything else associated with education, but did push for teaching social justice), and helping children in trouble with the law (mostly by pushing to eliminate any sort of punishment or responsibility for their crimes). Ayers primarily sees his role as teaching teachers to be advocates for the communist world view.”
Over at HotAir, John Murtagh, a name few know, weighs in as well – and he’s got reason to:
““When I was 9 years-old the Weather Underground, the terrorist group founded by Barack Obama’s friend William Ayers, firebombed my house… Barack Obama may have been a child when William Ayers was plotting attacks against U.S. targets — but I was one of those targets. Barack Obama’s friend tried to kill my family.”
Going to the Mat points to the Investors Business Daily editorial that speculates whether Ayers could be the next Secretary of Education:
“Ayers told the great humanitarian [Venezuelan President Hugo] Chavez: “Teaching invites transformations, it urges revolutions large and small. La educacion es revolucion.” It is that form of socialist revolution that Ayers, and Obama, have worked to bring to America.
Ayers, now a tenured Distinguished Professor of Education at the University of Illinois, Chicago, works to educate teachers in socialist revolutionary ideology, urging that it be passed on to impressionable students.”
Columbia’s BWog discusses the Ayers Loyalty Oath and its implications at CU.
Mike Klonsky touts his heroic pass on an invitation to appear on Bill O’Reilly’s show. A note to producer Dana Cash: If you quote from SmallTalk, be sure to have [sic] ready for liberal copy’n'paste duty.
Stefan Beck of The New Criterion has a theory – and a good one – about why Ayers is getting a lot of attention at the moment.
Hube at the Colossus looks at the Obama/Ayers relationship sensibly and succinctly.
P.U.M.A. points out that a man who went to Columbia and Harvard Law, then lived in Chicago for a spell, went decades without knowing a thing about Ayers. That’s weird – we knew about it by 11th grade here in Cooperstown. [hat tip: Solomonia and LGF]
Education Sector’s Kevin Carey comments on “Ayers et al”:
“The current attacks appear a whole lot more like part of a pattern of one candidate saying stuff about another candidate in order to win an election.”
I responded to that entry with this comment:
You’d do well to point out that some of us were aware of Ayers and thought of him as a scoundrel long before Barack Obama was a blip on radar outside Illinois.
My opinion of Bill Ayers and his current/former work doesn’t have a thing to do with this campaign, and I’m not alone.”
The sooner everyone realizes this, the better – and if Ayers thinks he’s off the hook after November 4th, he’s wrong.
Oct 7, 2008
For a brief history of Bill Ayers and public education, check out “Revisiting AERA, Bill Ayers, the Weather Underground and Public Education.” It’s a 3,500-word crash course in Ayers, AERA, the Weather Underground and why it all matters for public education.
About a thousand academics have signed the petition over at SupportBillAyers.org.
Name and institution are required when signing. Oddly enough, the cabal behind this site has decided to stay in the shadows. Who’s behind the site? The domain registration information is currently inaccessible.
Is it connected to AERA? I’ll be shocked if it isn’t.
Michael Tomasky of the UK’s Guardian excerpted from the Ayers Loyalty Oath and reacted:
“America’s educators, or 633 of them as I write, have signed a petition in support of Bill Ayers. Read the whole thing here.
Some of it is unobjectionable. It seeks to establish his bona fides as a credible education pedagog. And there’s general rhetoric about academic freedom. Fine, fine, fine. Then they get to this:
The current characterizations of Professor Ayers—”unrepentant terrorist,” “lunatic leftist”—are unrecognizable to those who know or work with him. It’s true that Professor Ayers participated passionately in the civil rights and antiwar movements of the 1960s, as did hundreds of thousands of Americans.
Participated passionately? He tried to set bombs. Martin Luther King participated passionately in the struggle for justice. The Freedom Riders. But the Weather Underground?
This is why I’m liberal and not a leftist (there is a difference, right-wingers, and please don’t ask me to explain it; go read some books). But I understand that, very broadly construed, this does emanate from “my side.” I don’t think this document will have any impact on the presidential race, but I just want to go on record as saying I would never sign something with a sentence like that in it.”
Same here, Michael. And, yes, some of us further right than you do have a pretty solid understanding of classical liberalism [as well as understanding that advising people to "read some books" is a rotten thing to say].
The sentences excerpted by Tomasky are bad, but the second paragraph of the statement is worse.
Here’s the Ayers Loyalty Oath in full. Are you going to sign it? Have any of your colleagues?
We write to support our colleague Professor William Ayers, Distinguished Professor of Education and Senior University Scholar at the University of Illinois at Chicago, who is currently under determined and sustained political attack. Ayers is a nationally known scholar, member of the Faculty Senate at UIC, Vice President-elect of the American Educational Research Association, and sought after as a speaker and visiting scholar by other universities because of his exemplary scholarship, teaching, and service. Throughout the 20 years that he has been a valued faculty member at UIC, he has taught, advised, mentored, and supported hundreds of undergraduate, Masters and Ph.D. students. He has pushed them to take seriously their responsibilities as educators in a democracy – to promote critical inquiry, dialogue, and debate; to encourage questioning and independent thinking; to value the full humanity of every person and to work for access and equity. Helping educators develop the capacity and ethical commitment to these responsibilities is at the core of what we do, and as a teacher he has always embraced debate and multiple perspectives.
All citizens, but particularly teachers and scholars, are called upon to challenge orthodoxy, dogma, and mindless complacency, to be skeptical of authoritative claims, to interrogate and trouble the given and the taken-for-granted. Without critical dialogue and dissent we would likely be burning witches and enslaving our fellow human beings to this day. The growth of knowledge, insight, and understanding— the possibility of change— depends on that kind of effort, and the inevitable clash of ideas that follows should be celebrated and nourished rather than crushed. Teachers have a heavy responsibility, a moral obligation, to organize classrooms as sites of open discussion, free of coercion or intimidation. By all accounts Professor Ayers meets this standard. His classes are fully enrolled, and students welcome the exchange of views that he encourages.
The current characterizations of Professor Ayers—“unrepentant terrorist,” “lunatic leftist”—are unrecognizable to those who know or work with him. It’s true that Professor Ayers participated passionately in the civil rights and antiwar movements of the 1960s, as did hundreds of thousands of Americans. His participation in political activity 40 years ago is history; what is most relevant now is his continued engagement in progressive causes, and his exemplary contribution—including publishing 16 books— to the field of education. The current attacks appear as part of a pattern of “exposés” and assaults designed to intimidate free thinking and stifle critical dialogue. Like crusades against high school and elementary teachers, and faculty at UCLA, Columbia, DePaul, and the University of Colorado, the attacks on and the character assassination of Ayers threaten the university as a space of open inquiry and debate, and threaten schools as places of compassion, imagination, curiosity, and free thought. They serve as warnings that anyone who voices perspectives and advances questions that challenge orthodoxy and political power may become a target, and this, then, casts a chill over free speech and inquiry and the spirit of democracy.
We, the undersigned, stand on the side of education as an enterprise devoted to human inquiry, enlightenment, and liberation. We oppose the demonization of Professor William Ayers.
“We oppose the demonization of Professor William Ayers.”
May 19, 2008
Don’t you wanna just tousle the little scamp’s hair?
I was tickled when eduwonkette said she’d link to a reaction piece re: Ayers, Petrilli and Millot. Time to do my part.
Bill Ayers’ March election to the post of Vice President of Curriculum Studies for the American Educational Research Association raised a few eyebrows – albeit too few – in the great education debate. There’s been quite a bit of discussion since Sol Stern wrote his most recent piece about Ayers in City Journal in which he introduces, as have some pundits, Ayers’ connection to Senator Barack Obama ["Obama's Real Ayers Problem"]. Primary politics aside, some thought that electing an unrepentant terrorist to AERA’s ranks was a mistake; others, however, found that insinuation shameful.
There has been surprisingly little discussion of Ayers’ history with the Weather Underground Organization [also known as Weatherman or Weathermen] – or, for that matter, some of those acronyms like SDS and AERA that edubloggers assume everyone else already knows.
When I read Dean Millot’s indictment of Fordham’s Mike Petrilli, I decided to write up something brief that touched on some of the points the rest of the edublogosphere has taken for granted. The truth is that few normal people – you know, those folks who have an interest in education, be it from the teacher’s or parent’s or community member’s perspective, but don’t speak in terms of “agency” and “critical pedagogy,” or who, in their lovable ignorance, refer to schoolchildren as “kids” or “students” instead of the more fashionable and more enlightened “learners” or “citizens in training” – follow the AERAcracy or care at all about the historical follies of a bunch of college kids who played revolutionary.
After all, literally dozens of Millot’s readers [and some of the Eduwonkette horde] could do with another perspective. But first, an explanation of AERA and the Weather Underground Organization.
What is AERA?
The American Education Research Association is the professional organization of education-related researchers in the United States. Their mission statement describes them:
“The American Educational Research Association (AERA), founded in 1916, is concerned with improving the educational process by encouraging scholarly inquiry related to education and evaluation and by promoting the dissemination and practical application of research results.
“AERA is the most prominent international professional organization, with the primary goal of advancing educational research and its practical application. Its more than 26,000 members are educators; administrators; directors of research; persons working with testing or evaluation in federal, state and local agencies; counselors; evaluators; graduate students; and behavioral scientists.”
Their influence on teacher education in the United States is marked; they are, rightly, considered a major force in steering teacher training nationwide. AERA’s far-reaching mishmash of academics and social policy – with an emphasis on the latter, though less explicit – can be gleaned from the theme for the 2009 AERA conference and a conscientious click-fest on their website.
What is the Weather Underground Organization?
The Weather Underground was an offshoot of the larger, more successful Students for a Democratic Society [SDS], an organization dedicated to student activism in opposition to United States’ foreign policy [at SDS' inception, Cold War policy], world-wide military conflict, racial and economic inequality in the US, etc. It was a most comprehensive agenda – if the New Left saw a problem, SDS tried to cover it.
As SDS’ general dissatisfaction with US foreign policy became focused on the expanding military action in Vietnam, SDS stepped up its efforts. Teach-ins, protests, sit-ins, student strikes, et al. were more common – membership had grown quickly and there was, to SDS leadership’s relief, a tangible, pressing issue to attack.
But, as with most all large organizations, internal strife grew with both membership and the increasing complexity of SDS’ actions. The Revolutionary Youth Movement [RYM], which included much of SDS’ leadership, was particularly dissatisfied with SDS’ relations with Progressive Labor – so dissatisfied that at the 1969 SDS convention, the RYM supporters left, walked across the street and declared themselves the real SDS.
RYM believed that the US proletariat could be re-educated to appreciate RYM’s ideals, and in that march rise up to overthrow capitalism and attain the liberation of which RYM dreamed. To my knowledge, RYMers overwhelmingly shared this goal; the difficult part was how to get there.
SDS leaders Bernardine Dohrn, Mark Rudd and others broke to form RYM I, who advocated armed, aggressive tactics. RYM II, a more moderate, Maoist child of RYM, was led by edublogger Mike Klonsky. RYM became known as Weatherman, a reference to a line in Bob Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues: “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.”
[Klonsky's RYM II disintegrated and was absorbed by a multitude of Communist, Socialist and unaffiliated activist organizations.]
What did Ayers and the Weather Underground do?
The Weathermen [they had not yet used the name "Weather Underground"] started with the Days of Rage in Chicago – a large-scale, multi-day protest of the trial of the Chicago Eight. WU expected many thousands; only a few hundred showed up. Ayers, Dohrn et al. rallied in Haymarket Square and detonated a bomb between the legs of the police memorial statue. Though no one was hurt, the explosion destroyed the monument and shattered more than 100 nearby windows.
The protesters formed a mob that ran through Chicago’s Gold Coast district, breaking windows, assaulting cars and damaging public/private property. They were met by well-armed police who, when provoked by a violent rush of protesters, controlled the mob with riot gear and tear gas and made appropriate arrests.
After two more days of inactivity [it's worth noting that the Klonsky faction held non-violent, peaceful protests/rallies during these two days] the group reformed and marched through The Loop [business] district. The marchers again broke through police escorts to destroy windows, storefronts and cars, but were quelled quickly.
The WU followed the Days of Rage with a declaration of war against the United States in early 1970. By this time, the WU was entirely covert and began using the name Weather Underground Organization; they issued a proclamation in May stating that within two weeks a domestic target would be bombed. A month later they bombed a police station in New York City.
Later that year, the WU was contracted to break Timothy Leary, a developer and proponent of the LSD/psychadelic drug subculture [edited as per Mr. Fasso's comment], out of prison – they did so successfully. In 1972 they detonated a bomb in a ladies’ restroom in The Pentagon.
1974 saw the publication of the Underground’s manifesto, Prairie Fire: The Politics of Revolutionary Anti-Imperialism. By this time, the WU’s members were on the FBI’s Most Wanted List; some turned themselves in as the WU disintegrated through the mid-1970′s, while Dohrn and Ayers – who married while on the lam – avoided arrest and prosecution.
Ayers and Dohrn gave themselves to the authorities in 1980. Charges against Ayers were dropped due to improprieties in his investigation, while Dohrn received probation and a light fine. Four other Weathermen were involved in the Brinks armored car robbery of 1981 that resulted in the death of two police officers and one guard.
No innocents were killed by Weathermen bombs, though three WU members were killed by their own faulty bomb that exploded prematurely in a Greenwich village residence.
The Prairie Fire Organizing Committee carries on the legacy of the Weathermen.
Why does this matter?
As Stern, Petrilli and others have noted, Ayers has been elected to serve AERA in a capacity that will have a strong influence on curriculum. His qualifications are based on his scholarship in education [his career of choice after resurfacing Aboveground], the volume of which is undeniable. The value of that scholarship, however, continues to be debated [though not vigorously enough].
Mike Petrilli drew the ire of Eduwonkette when he suggested in Memo to the AERA that:
“The [AERA] Council might consider whether it’s prudent to allow a former terrorist to join its ranks—particularly a man who said as late as 2001 that “I don’t regret setting bombs; I feel we didn’t do enough.” …
“Is there any doubt that the election of a former terrorist to the organization’s governance body is “contrary to the interests” of the Association?
“Out of political necessity, Obama is already distancing himself from Ayers, and most likely will do more of that in coming months. When the AERA’s Association Council meets next month, it should do the same.”
Petrilli’s point is simple: Ayers’ background is such a stain on AERA that they would do well to avoid the association.
The most notable criticism of Petrilli’s suggestion came from Dean Millot. Since Eduwonkette found his comment so compelling that it was “worth reprinting in full”, I suppose that I should deem it so compelling as to warrant a reaction of my own.
I apologize in advance for re-ordering parts of Millot’s comment, but it’s necessary. He wrote:
“I’m a lawyer now involved in k-12 education with a long background in national security.
“Putting on my lawyer hat – Ayers was a fugitive from justice, but all charges against him were dropped in light of prosecutorial misconduct.
… “As a citizen of this free society, I also have something to say. To call someone who has never been found guilty of of a violent crime, let alone terrorism – the highly charged word “terrorist,” is to take political debate back to the atmosphere of McCarthyism. “If you don’t agree with me, you must be a Communist – or in this case a terrorist (and I, by implication, must be a patriot).”"
I don’t have a “lawyer hat” – and no national security experience to speak of – but I’ll do my best.
Millot takes issue with calling one who has not been convicted by a legitimate court a “terrorist” and invokes the specter of McCarthyism in what he thinks is a robust defense. Petrilli points in today’s post to a continuation of Millot’s comment:
“Rather than practice the indiscriminate killing of innocents to create fear among the public at large, they sought to avoid such collateral damage, while damaging symbols of government and military power.”
Implicit is Millot’s definition of real terrorism, not the petty stuff – remember, they’ve got to be guilty in court, too.
Normal folks – those who prefer worn out baseball caps to legal haberdashery – know that conviction isn’t a necessary condition for appropriately labeling one an offender. Consider:
- Gerry Adams, IRA and Sinn Fein leader, who has been charged with just a tiny fraction of the murderous offenses for which he is, to varying degrees, responsible;
- Senator Ted Kennedy, whose responsibility in Mary Jo Kopechne’s death is undeniable, yet the court saw it sufficient to ticket him for leaving the scene of an accident and nothing else;
- A host of domestic terrorists in centuries past, from vigilantes who co-opted the agendas of Quantrill’s Raiders or the Redlegs and Jayhawkers, and who weren’t tried for what would now be called ‘crimes against humanity’ or ‘war crimes.’
- Mr. Simpson, the ultimate low-hanging fruit here, does the “Did I? Didn’t I?” dance daily despite the court’s ruling.
If Millot or others feel that Adams can’t be rightly called an inciter of violence, that Kennedy can’t be called guilty of involuntary manslaughter, or that those inspired by Bill Quantrill can’t be labeled a bushwhacking terrorist scourge, they’re welcome to make their case.
Plenty have already touted Mr. Simpson’s innocence, so I won’t ask for that.
It must be noted that the term “terrorist” is “highly charged,” as Millot describes it, because it’s an unconscionable, unacceptable way to go about things that we reject except in the rarest circumstances [the WU felt that those circumstances were sufficiently present to warrant terrorism - others didn't]. Though Millot would likely defend his characterization by citing the current multi-facted climate of terrorism, it is a term that is self-evident to most; we see it as the ultimate case of the end as a justification for the means.
Millot would likely concede [and has in the comments of this post] that if the Weather Underground had injured or killed citizens in any of its bombs, they would deserve the label of “terrorist.” I, however, look to the WU’s actions – an open, explicit declaration of war against the United States, promoting fear, and several shows of force that resulted in the destruction of state property, as evidence of WU’s terrorism. William Ayers, as supported by his own testimony, played a critical role in planning and executing these acts.
Millot, though, seems to give Ayers et al. a free pass [well, a discounted fine, really] simply because the Weather Underground wasn’t as effective [or didn't intend to be?] at terrorism as, say, Al-Qaeda, and because they eluded capture long enough for the government to blow the case.
I suppose that the warnings distributed by the Underground before bombings were a noteworthy gesture to limit collateral damage. I think, based on the many interviews of WU members to which we have access, that they made sincere efforts to avoid unwanted injuries. Would they have wrought their hands had Richard Nixon or Henry Kissinger accidentally wandered into that ladies’ bathroom as the bomb detonated? Doubtful, but WU took steps to avoid killing innocents.
But we can’t excuse one’s actions simply because they preface them with something that suggests, sincerely or otherwise, that their intentions aren’t that bad. If Mr. Millot doesn’t believe me, he’s welcome to walk down a busy street and stop a gentleman to say, “No offense, but your wife is an ugly whore.” That “no offense” line is the equivalent of a bomb’s warning – and though it gives one a moment to brace themselves, few would consider it proper absolution for the indignity that followed.
One could only hope that Millot would get through his enlightened explanation of the “no offense” defense before the gentleman’s fist garbled his words. [Millot might be miffed if his assailant fled an assault charge for 10 years, but that's another issue.]
Millot’s point rests in part on the value of our definition of “terrorism”:
“It devalues the serious nature of terrorism to slap the label on every misguided or even deranged person with a bomb.”
Indeed, terrorism is serious business. Though Millot has claimed that Petrilli and others have lowered the bar by invoking Ayers’ terrorist past as evidence that AERA should limit his future, that simply isn’t the case. Upholding the most basic standards is solidifying the floor, not lowering the bar.
We’d all likely agree that serial killers are heinous people who have committed unforgivable acts. We’d also agree that, in a way, killing many people is worse than killing one. But we regard murder as morally reprehensible whether one or ten are killed – and it does not devalue the censure we place on serial killers. We are clear about the floor without devaluing the bar, and I’d argue that not being clear about the floor devalues the serious nature of terrorism.
Clausewitz famously defined war as the “continuation of politics by other means.” Terrorism is a sub-species of war; it is an attempt to affect policy by fear and destruction. As with murder, there are varying degrees of terrorist offense – I’d certainly call Hamas’ willingness to absorb non-combatant women and children into collateral damage a more heinous strain of terrorism than Ayers’ – both discriminate and indiscriminate.
William Ayers, Bernardine Dohrn and the rest of the Weather Underground engaged in a sustained campaign of fear and destruction – or, in fewer words, terrorism.
What should AERA do about Ayers?
In short, whatever they’d like – that’s their right as a private organization. They have already made the decision to vote Ayers into a position of power and I would be surprised if they considered seriously any change.
But just as they’re entitled to decide that the character of a man and his past is wholly irrelevant to their enterprise, we’re entitled to say that they’re using poor judgment. Making an organization accountable for their decisions – or judging them in part by those decisions – is a very different thing than guilt by association, which is the defense du jour that Eduwonkette, Millot and the kette’s skoolboy have touted.
And, though skoolboy argues otherwise:
“…I think it’s pretty silly (hmm…Silly Milli Petrilli?) for someone who is not a member of a professional association to presume to dictate to the association how it should govern itself.”
I see no problem with one not in AERA weighing its actions. Dictating and suggesting are two very different things; skoolboy’s vocab flub aside, if one needed to be an active, voting member in an organization to launch worthy criticism, the blogosphere – as well as society at large – would be an empty place. Let us not forget, too, that AERA’s requirements to join as a voting member aren’t terribly stringent:
“… satisfactory evidence of active interest in educational research as well as professional training to at least the master’s degree level or equivalent.”
Any master’s degree [accredited is not specified] and an interest in education? Gee, I’m halfway there.
This won’t be the end of the AERA/Ayers debate. Having taken a page from Senator Obama’s playbook, Millot frames this issue as a distraction from real policy analysis. It may not be the most important item on the docket, but it’s certainly an important fringe issue that helps us define how we think about education and how we might achieve our goals. It’s best to remove the elephant from the room before he starts to stink.
The obvious question that remains unanswered – and won’t be answered until Ayers assumes his duties – is how AERA’s curriculum and implementation work will proceed. One of the great ironies of the Weather Underground is that yes, Ayers/Dohrn/etc. thought we did need a weatherman to tell us which way the wind blows – after, of course, the gusts were created by the blowback and backdraft of Weathermen bombs. I suspect that the same modus operandi will underscore Ayers’ efforts at AERA just as it has his actions over the last 40 years.
What’s the most intriguing question left?
Why do scoundrels like Ayers gravitate to public education when Plan A fails?
UPDATE at 6.08pm:
Flypaper has a few new posts that I just read.
Diane Ravitch is clear: Millot’s characterization of Petrilli is unwarranted and her summation of WU’s bombing is sound. Be sure to read the comment left by Millot – if you put your ear close to the computer, you can actually hear him Googling in a vain attempt to shore up his terrible argument.
Note this section of his comment:
“This is the comment I offered Mike at the end of our parallel email exchange:
“The only thing I’d add here is that someday you might find yourself in an analogous spot with a colleague on the right, who is hounded at least as much because he is of the right as his imperfect history. I don’t know who or where, but it will be a similarly gray area as a matter of law, definition and effects. You will find it’s much harder to judge someone you like or agree with, let alone be among the first to stand up and call for them to be thrown under the bus.
“I don’t wish it on you, but if it happens, you’ll understand my own reluctance here. I believe strongly in legal justice and the rule of law, and for these to work, I have to defend the principles for people I dislike and despise as much as for those I love and admire.”
“Most of the facts here are in dispute – including the matter of Ayers’ repentance or not, and what it did or did not cover. We have juries and trials for a reason, primarily so that we can assign guilt with some assurance of fairness to the accused.”
Gotcha, Dean. Courts and courts only. Extra points for the condescension – I’m sure Ms. Ravitch and Mr. Petrilli [or anyone else reading your comment] have never faced any sort of moral issue before.
When you’re done digging this hole, perhaps you’ll weigh in on the difference between a spade and a shovel?
UPDATE at 6.18pm:
Jeff Kuhner is the best part of the Gadfly Show – now he’s got the best blog post of the day, too:
“That this man [Ayers] still cannot understand that his terrorist actions were not only illegal and wrong, but a profound assault on this country’s democratic way of life, reveals his moral and intellectual bankruptcy. It also does not speak well for those who seek to downplay or minimize Ayers’s inexcusable behavior.”