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Saturday, August 30, 2008

Obama, Ayers, and Annenberg

In today's Sun Times, there is a terribly dishonest editorial making Obama's time on the Annenberg board with Bill Ayers nothing out of the ordinary. The first bit of dishonest and misleading is done as such.

The issue of Obama’s role arose when a blogger for National Review raised questions about his relationship with Ayers, a favorite election-year target of conservatives. The blogger felt quite sure that the pair were much closer than Obama intimated when he said he knew Ayers "from the neighborhood" where both live. The blogger hinted darkly that the pair were really ideological soul mates and that Obama was aligned "with Ayers’s radical views on education issues."

You'll notice the term "blogger" is used twice. Now, this so called blogger is of course Stanley Kurtz. Here is a brief bio of Kurtz.

Stanley Kurtz is an adjunct fellow of Hudson Institute and a fellow at the Hoover Institution with a special interest in America's "culture war." In addition to his regular contributions to National Review Online, Kurtz's writings on the family, feminism, homosexuality, affirmative action, and campus "political correctness" have appeared in Policy Review, The Wall Street Journal, and Commentary.

Before turning his attention to America's cultural battles, Kurtz was a social scientist specializing in family life and religion. He received his Ph.D. in social anthropology from Harvard University and later taught at Harvard, winning several teaching awards for his work in a "Great Books" program. Kurtz was also Dewey Prize Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Chicago.

So, of course, Kurtz is a lot more than merely a blogger. Yet, not only is he never mentioned by name, itself totally condescending, but his extensive writing, intellectual, and policy career is dismissed and never mentioned. This is of course no accident. Had Kurtz been presented as a syndicated columnist and member of a think tank as well as an editor with the National Review, he would have had much more credibility than simply being referred to as a "blogger". Now, when you attack the messenger in such a misleading way, I am weary of your own attack. Here is the substance of Lenz, herself a member of the education community in Chicago, defense of the Obama, Ayers and their time at Annenberg.

When the appointed hour arrived for release of the documents, reporters, camera operators and bloggers descended on the hapless university library staff to pore over hundreds of files of grant proposals, meeting minutes and reports — a "media frenzy," the Tribune called it.

And what did the muckrakers find? Horrors, Obama had attended meetings and retreats with the author of The Good Preschool Teacher and To Teach: The Journey of a Teacher. He had actually rubbed shoulders — can you believe it? — with a distinguished professor of education who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in early childhood education and a doctorate in curriculum and instruction. He had probably even shared a cup of coffee, as only a co-conspirator would, with this professor, whose writings describe good schools as places that are "organized around and powered by a set of core values" and "effectively meet students where they are and find ways to nurture and challenge them to


Whatever one thinks of Ayers’ actions 40 years ago, there is nothing to condemn, and much to admire, about his leadership and commitment over the past 20 years in making schools better places to teach and learn. And there is nothing to condemn, and much to applaud, in Obama’s close association with those efforts.

So, the defense comes down to three points. First, Ayers and Obama participated in normal meetings and idea exchanges. I don't think anyone doubts this. The problem of folks like me is that it is perverse to interact in normal academic, business, political, or any settings with a former domestic terrorist. Our problem is that it was business as usual for Senator Obama when he interacted with a former terrorist, an unrepentent one at that.

Second, Ayers is a fine and mainstream member of Chicago's policy class. Again, this is true, and that just points out what a cesspool my hometown's political class is. This is no defense of Obama's relationship with Ayers. This should be a wake up call to all Chicagoans that something is really wrong here. Other pols are mentioned as interacting with Ayers, and Lenz says their relationship isn't scrutinized. Of course, it isn't. They aren't running for President. Unfortunately, in the Chicagoland area serving on a board with a former terrorist may in fact be a political plus, but that isn't the way the rest of the country sees it.

The final point is that Ayers is a leader in the education community not withstanding his terrorist past and has been for the last twenty years. Now, I could roll out a laundry list of statements made in the last twenty years where he recalls glowingly his unrepentent terrorist past. I can point out the plethora of anti American statements in the last twenty years. I can even show the magazine cover in which he stepped on an American flag. I won't. Ayers is a radical, and this idea that he left his radical belief system is absurd when it comes to education. The reality is that once you examine his "contribution" to education in the last twenty years you will find that he contributes a radical, leftist agenda. Here is an example of Ayers' "contribution" to education.

Sol Stern of the Manhattan Institute has done masterful work over the years commenting on the state of education in America. Two years ago, he wrote about Ayers in "The Ed Schools' Latest-and Worst-Humbug". The article is a revelation. Ayers may have given up on the bombs, but he has found our nation's classrooms an ideal way to promote his revolutionary and anti-American views. Stern returned to the subject of Ayers' influence this week.

While attending Columbia University Teachers College in 1984 he had an epiphany. He adopted the views of one of his professors, Maxine Greene-a leader in the "critical pedagogy" movement. What did he take away from the course? An ideology that he has promoted throughout his career -- and one that has very little to do with education but has a great deal to do with radicalism. Stern writes:

As Ayers wrote later, he took fire from Greene's lectures on how the "oppressive hegemony" of the capitalist social order "reproduces" itself through the traditional practice of public schooling-critical pedagogy's fancy way of saying that the evil corporations exercise thought control through the schools.

Greene told future teachers that they could help change this bleak landscape by developing a "transformative" vision of social justice and democracy in their classrooms. Her vision, though, was a far cry from the democratic optimism of the Founding Fathers, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King Jr., which most parents would endorse. Instead, critical pedagogy theorists nurse a rancorous view of an America in which it is always two minutes to midnight and a knock on the door by the thought police is imminent. The education professors feel themselves anointed to use the nation's K-12 classrooms to resist this oppressive system. Thus Maxine Greene urged teachers not to mince words with children about the evils of the existing social order.

They should 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." In other words, they should turn the little ones into young socialists and critical theorists.

All music to Bill Ayers's ears. The ex-Weatherman glimpsed a new radical vocation. He dreamed of bringing the revolution from the streets to the schools. And that's exactly what he has managed to do.

Ayers has subsequently written a best seller used in ed-school courses which focuses on the moral imperative of teaching social justice to students in K-12 classrooms. He has been active in "teaching teachers" that capitalism is a curse and imperialism is an American obsession.

Here is how Sol Stern himself summarized it.

What he can be blamed for is not acknowledging that his neighbor has a political agenda that, if successful, would make it impossible to lift academic achievement for disadvantaged children. As I have shown elsewhere in City Journal, Ayers’s politics have hardly changed since his Weatherman days. He still boasts about working full-time to bring down American capitalism and imperialism. This time, however, he does it from his tenured perch as Distinguished Professor of Education at the University of Illinois, Chicago. Instead of planting bombs in public buildings, Ayers now works to indoctrinate America’s future teachers in the revolutionary cause, urging them to pass on the lessons to their public school students.

Indeed, the education department at the University of Illinois is a hotbed for the radical education professoriate. As Ayers puts it in one of his course descriptions, prospective K–12 teachers need to “be aware of the social and moral universe we inhabit and . . . be a teacher capable of hope and struggle, outrage and action, a teacher teaching for social justice and liberation.” Ayers’s texts on the imperative of social-justice teaching are among the most popular works in the syllabi of the nation’s ed schools and teacher-training institutes. One of Ayers’s major themes is that the American public school system is nothing but a reflection of capitalist hegemony. Thus, the mission of all progressive teachers is to take back the classrooms and turn
them into laboratories of revolutionary change.

Unfortunately, neither Obama nor his critics in the media seem to have a clue about Ayers’s current work and his widespread influence in the education schools. In his last debate with Hillary Clinton, Obama referred to Ayers as a “professor of English,” an error that the media then repeated. Would that Ayers were just another radical English professor. In that case, his poisonous anti-American teaching would be limited to a few hundred college students in the liberal arts. But through his indoctrination of future K–12 teachers, Ayers has been able to influence what happens in hundreds, perhaps thousands, of classrooms.

So, I will take Ms. Lenz at her word. Barack Obama didn't serve hand in hand on the Annenberg board with a former terrorist. No, instead he served on the Annenberg board witha teaching radical. He served with an individual that believes that America's education agenda should focus on teaching about anti American themes that condemn capitalism and encourage "social justice". He believes this is what we should strive for in K-12 education. This is what the theme of the Annenberg project was. This is what Barack Obama contributed to, and this is what we should expect his education policy to be.

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