Reactionary wing-nut sends national media on witch-hunt…

There is nothing to condemn about Ayers’ leadership over the past 20 years.

Chicago Sun-Times

August 30, 2008


Somewhere in the afterlife, Walter Annenberg must be shaking his head and wondering what in the world is going on in Chicago. First, the Sun-Times and the Tribune gave up precious inches of their dwindling news space to report that the University of Illinois at Chicago was refusing — and then later agreed — to release documents detailing Sen. Barack Obama’s role in a nonprofit education project “started” by William Ayers, a founder in the 1960s of the radical Weatherman group, which embraced violence as an anti-war tactic.

The project in question was the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, a pairing of nonprofit organizations and schools funded by the late publishing magnate and mainstream Chicago foundations. Ayers had been one of the authors of Chicago’s proposal to get a slice of Annenberg’s $500 million multi-city school reform grant, and Obama was the project’s first board chairman.

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.”

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 learn.”

In other words, Obama does, indeed, know Bill Ayers as more than just a guy from the neighborhood. So do a host of civic leaders in Chicago. For example, the Chicago Annenberg Challenge board included Susan Crown of the General Dynamics Corp. family; Patricia Graham, former dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and Arnold Weber, past president of Northwestern University and of the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago. Indeed, just about everyone active in Chicago school reform in the early days saw Ayers as a colleague. No one ever accused them of being radical because of their association with Bill Ayers.

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.

Some of the reporters assigned to dig into the Annenberg archives felt a little silly about it all, I’m told. Their editors should too.

Linda Lenz is the founder and publisher of Catalyst Chicago, an education newsmagazine published by Community Renewal Society.

10 Responses to Reactionary wing-nut sends national media on witch-hunt…

  1. John Janski says:

    Hey Sam,

    How about Billy apologizing for his terrorist past????

  2. LWM says:

    How about Billy apologizing for his terrorist past????

    I think you grow out of it more than come to regret it or apologize for it.

    I’m quite certain that if any of the Founders were around for you to ask, (they were terrorists, too, by the way), they would tell you precisely the same thing.

  3. Chris says:

    Why would a public library destroy public files. Does Oliver North have a position at the Special Collections?

  4. Word says:

    Bill, why are you so hated by so many people? An honest examination of that question could lead to true self-knowledge.

  5. Amy says:

    One of the things I have noticed at many “comments” sections on the internet is how they seem to encourage people with an ax to grind to speak aggressively. What could be a forum for democratic discourse, instead is often just a place to drag “others” mindlessly through the mud, throwing in expletives they would probably self censor if they were actually talking in a pubic forum. While there are a good number of posts here, we are actually talking about 4 people expressing negative sentiments. That is not “so many people”. These kinds of “comments” keep others from wanting to participate in online discussions.

  6. Poilu says:

    Polish Farmer: Was that supposed to be, like … clever?? (Just wondering.)

  7. Interrobanger says:

    I wonder why Obama doesn’t just say, “You know, a president has to meet A LOT of people, not just the popular ones.” That’s about all anyone needs to hear. Too many lazy thinkers in the world.

  8. Mary says:

    In order to understand the GOP’s fears we must understand the way they think. If Palin is familiar with Russia because it’s within sight, be it with binoculars, telescope, or just her eyes, and we are therefore to assume she has foreign policy experience because Putin has reared his head in her air space, then Obama must be familiar with Ayers because he saw him and was in his home. If that familiarity makes one not only sympathetic, but also similar in character, then Obama is like Ayers, and Palin is like Putin.

  9. Richard says:

    From one man with a shadowy past to another: Hang in there, Bill.

    I wonder what these people’s Christ would say about their witch hunt.

    It really seems like you’ve used the past few decades constructively.
    People carry on like you killed people or something.

    I wish you the best.

  10. Apparently, the basic position of the GOP and its supporters (e.g., conservatives calling themselves Libertarians, etc.) is: A) there was really no rational reason to have been an activist against the Viet Nam war and for civil rights in late ’60s and early ’70s, so the actions of Mr. Ayers and others is incomprehensible even in its historical context; B) radical choices of all sorts -political, personal, what-have-you? – one makes in one’s 20s should be viewed as one’s permanent views, tattooed on one’s chest and forehead, and hung like an albatross around one’s neck; and C) anyone who comes into contact with you, works with you, is endorsed by you, or eats lunch in the same diner as you is clearly responsible for and endorses anything and everything you’ve ever said or done.

    Yep, that sounds like the typically deep sort of “logic” that has been informing attacks on Sen. Obama regarding both Bill Ayers and the Rev. Wright. I heard Bill Ayers speak at the University of Michigan School of Education, along with Maxine Greene. I don’t recall hearing any calls for terrorism, but I did hear a lot of intelligent thoughts on education. I also heard Mr. Ayers say, “I wish I knew as much about anything today as I knew about EVERYTHING when I was twenty.” Amen, Bill.

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