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Bill Ayers Is an Educator, Remember?

By Alyson Klein — October 08, 2008 1 min read
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William C. Ayers’ name has been coming up time and time again in the presidential race, as Sen. John McCain’s campaign tries to use his links to Sen. Barack Obama to cast doubts on the Democratic nominee’s character.

But very few folks are talking about Ayers’ views on education - or asking whether Obama shares those ideas.

Ayers, a former member of The Weather Underground, a radical 1960’s organization, is now an education professor and worked with Obama on Chicago’s portion of the Annenberg Challenge, a national school reform effort.

Although it makes for a better sound bite to link Ayers to “terrorism,” Stephen F. Diamond, a Santa Clara University law professor who is a prolific blogger on this issue, says the Republican campaign is missing the bigger point.

He told my co-blogger, Michele McNeil, that what’s more disturbing are Ayers’ views on education, which Diamond says include support of small schools, social justice approaches to teaching, and “race-based” approaches to curriculum.

“Obama and Ayers share these similar views on education. That’s not a sexy or toxic topic,” Diamond said. “But it’s the fundamental issue.”

Diamond told Michele that he’s been surprised that the Obama campaign hasn’t done more to make a clear, unequivocal break from Ayers’ views on education.

But now, Ayers’ education views are finally getting some attention.

Back in April, Sol Stern, a scholar at the Manhattan Institute, wrote this piece on Ayers’ ideas on social justice teaching. It’s now getting a renewed life; the piece was posted this week on the Web site realclearpolitics, a go-to site for political junkies.

Stern said that no one knows whether Obama agrees with those views.

The next time Obama—the candidate who purports to be our next “education president”—discusses education on the campaign trail, it would be nice to hear what he thinks of his Hyde Park neighbor’s vision for turning the nation’s schools into left-wing indoctrination centers. Indeed, it’s an appropriate question for all the presidential candidates.

Last month, a group of educators (including New York University’s Deborah Meier)signed on to a statement defending Ayers. Kevin Carey of Education Sector was unimpressed with the effort.

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