SCOTTDALE, Ga. – Terrorist-turned-education professor Bill Ayers is 68 years old, but he’s still suffering from an identity crisis that’s more common among people a third his age.
Ayers has long described himself as a “small c” communist (whatever that means), but lately he’s been describing himself as an “anarchist” and “freedom fighter.”
He also likes to refer to himself and other educators as “world changers.”
Regardless of how Ayers is branding himself these days, there have been two constants to his lifelong political philosophy: a hatred of free market capitalism and a desire to create a social revolution in the United States.
As Ayers explained to a group of Occupy Wall Street supporters in 2012, “I get up every morning thinking, ‘Today I’m gonna make a difference. I’m gonna end capitalism.’”
In a new book, “Bill Ayers: Teaching Revolution,” professor and author Mary Grabar traces how that ideology has shaped Ayers’ entire adult life, all the way from his bomb-making days in the 1960s and ‘70s to his 23-year career training future public school teachers at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
The book also explains how Ayers has become an icon in the education community, and how his revolutionary views are continuing to influence young K-12 teachers today.
From terrorist to teacher
Grabar notes that Ayers began putting his radical ideas into practice at a fairly young age.
When he was 25, Ayers co-founded the Weathermen, a domestic terrorist group that bombed a number of public buildings – including police stations, the U.S. Capitol Building, and the Pentagon – during the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.
He then spent a decade as a fugitive, trying to avoid arrest for his terrorist activities, but he ultimately escaped punishment on a legal technicality. Ayers once explained his good fortune to an interviewer this way: “Guilty as hell. Free as a bird. America is a great country.”
Ayers eventually recast himself as an educator and moved his revolution against America into the nation’s classrooms.
Ayers began his career as a kindergarten teacher, but he quickly worked his way into the university system. Once there, he became a celebrated education “expert” who began shaping “all levels of education,” Grabar writes.
When Ayers retired from his university job in 2010, his plan of using the nation’s public schools to change American society from within was firmly in place.
“His is now the dominant view in colleges of education,” Grabar notes. “Others with advanced degrees perpetuate his radicalism in curricula and classrooms. Many parents and citizens don’t know how harmful or insidious these philosophies are.”
Since Ayers’ overall goal for education is to spread radical ideas to up-and-coming generations of Americans, he didn’t train future teachers to impart “a discreet body of knowledge and set of skills” to students, Grabar writes.
Instead, Ayers advocated a “pedagogy of questioning.”
Under this approach, K-12 students are asked “fundamental” questions such as, “Who in the world am I?” “How did I get here and where am I going?” “What in the world are my choices?” “How in the world shall I proceed?”
Grabar writes, “Such questions are intended to make students question the values of their parents, churches, and communities, their entire tradition.”
To help students arrive at the “correct” answers, Ayers encourages teachers to use leftist teaching materials that focus on “white privilege,” “social justice” and being a “global citizen.”
Grabar describes this as a “content-less education” and concludes that Ayers is a “fraudulent” educator who is no better than a “medical doctor who forges credentials and sets up shop.”
The end result of Ayers’ approach is that many students leave school unprepared to be self-reliant and independent thinkers.
Instead, they become unsuccessful adults who are “very susceptible to the siren call of the community organizer, the one who leads mobs in protest,” Grabar writes.
That does appear to be Ayers’ overall mission.
In December of 2012, Ayers reminded a group of New York City educators, “Our job is movement building.”
And at a conference earlier this year, Ayers told teachers, “We are world changers, one person at a time.”
Fortunately, education reformers have (unwittingly) taken steps to rein in this radical approach to teaching. Now that teacher job reviews are commonly linked to their students’ standardized test scores, activist teachers are forced to spend more of their time teaching the assigned curricula, and less time being “world changers.”
That’s why Ayers and other leftists rail against standardized testing and tougher teacher evaluations. And that’s why Ayers travels the country, urging teachers to “look for institutional cracks” that will allow them to get their message to students.
Grabar writes, “Such strategies involve subverting state standards, changing curricula, and fighting testing. It means sneaking in activities and messages whenever possible, whenever supervisors or principals are not looking.”
Ayers’ efforts to radicalize the teaching profession have been hugely successful.
Not only is he revered by many academics and journalists as a master educator, but Ayers’ best-selling textbooks are staples in colleges of education all across the nation.
Grabar found Ayers’ most famous book, “To Teach,” listed as required reading for education majors at numerous universities, including Georgia Southern University, the University of Washington, Iowa State University, San Jose State University, New York University and Hamline Law School.
“Ayers’ book is cited in numerous theses and dissertations,” Grabar writes. “He has had a profound influence on younger education professors.”
Ayers’ influence may be equally strong among students, too.
Grabar cites a 2011 Pew Research Center poll that found 49 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds held a favorable view of socialism. Only 43 percent held an unfavorable opinion of the wealth-sharing economic system.
In one of the last chapters in the book, Grabar offers some steps ordinary Americans can take to counteract Ayers’ philosophy in public schools. At the top of that list is reforming the nation’s education colleges.
That’s not an easy task, considering that state universities are managed by nearly anonymous boards of regents, instead of state lawmakers. Grabar tells EAGnews that state lawmakers can hold those boards accountable for their management of the state universities.
But that will only happen if citizens put pressure on their politicians.
Grabar urges Americans to ask their state lawmakers pointed questions, such as, “Why are education professors more concerned about gender politics and post-colonial studies than about helping raise math scores?”
She also encourages concerned citizens to go on their local university’s website to find out what classes are being taught in the college of education and which books are being used.
If they find that classes are little more than training camps for left-wing activists, Americans should let their lawmakers know that, too.
“Put pressure on leaders to change that,” Grabar says. “That’s where it needs to begin.”
“Bill Ayers: Teaching Revolution” can be purchased through DissidentProf.com.