Education Opinion

Reply to Ravitch on McCarthyism in the K-12 Debate

May 19, 2008 3 min read

Fordham board member Diane Ravitch guest blogs on Flypaper:

Dear Mike,

It is absurd of Dean Millot to call you a “McCarthyite” for pointing out that Bill Ayers was a terrorist. He was a terrorist. He says so. He doesn’t deny it. His actions, which he proudly acknowledges, confirm it.

McCarthy was known for making false charges. Yours were not false.

My response:


I did not call Mike a McCarthyite in my initial posting on the subject, although I did say his approach heads us in that direction.

See : http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/edbizbuzz/2008/05/education_as_politics_more_tha.html

I explained as much in my rejoinder here: http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/edbizbuzz/2008/05/reply_to_mike_petrilli_on_mcca.html

As a young man with a draft card, I too followed this all very closely. Moreover, I spent a good deal of time studying the relevant issues at American University’s School of International Service, and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy - where I focused on national security matters, to say nothing of my subsequent career in national defense at RAND.

As far as I know, the record shows the U Wisconsin bombing was not a Weather Underground operation, but that of a local Madison group called the New Years’ Gang. It may be at least partially relevant that the NYG sought to damage the building, but expected no one would be there. That goes to intent. More important, absent some evidence and a trial, it’s completely unreasonable to assign the responsibility for that incident to Ayers. That’s guilt by rather remote association.

As for the Greenwich Village blast, the case never went to trial, so whether or not the bomb was an antipersonnel device, and whether or not the group intended to kill people, is a fact in dispute. You are comfortable that both were true; I say that’s the purpose of a trial. Moreover, it is not clear that the action was sanctioned by the Weather Underground, or part of yet another split in the group over the legitimate extent of violence. (Ayers was later expelled from the group because he was not prepared to go as far as others.) The immediate events leading directly up to the explosion,certainly might cause a jury to have reasonable doubt about Ayers part in the alleged operation. Prosecutorial misconduct led the case to be dropped, which raises questions about all the evidence developed by the government. This wasn’t exactly the high point of ethics among American justice and police authorities. As a lawyer, I just can’t be so quick to judge guilt as you and Mike. Given the facts as I know them, I would withhold judgment until a trial.

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.

A lot of terrible things happened within the United States in the period under review. Both the left and the right are guilty of moral shortcomings and quite possibly real crimes. I see little point in bringing all that back to the forefront of politics when the evidentiary record and peoples memories are more than forty years old.. I don’t see justice being served. I just see opportunities for left and right to use the past as a weapon in today’s debates.

A note to edbizbuzz readers:
I blog to advance the debate, not to score points. I think we have enough on the table for reasonable people to make up their own minds on this subject, or at least to inquire a bit more deeply into the subject.

The opinions expressed in edbizbuzz are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.