The real Ayers threat

I've been researching a piece on the Ayers connection, so was glad when Palin started focusing on Obama's relationship with this "unrepentant domestic terrorist", and have, like many in the conservative blogosphere focused my own blog often on Obama's work with Ayers at the Chicago Annenberg Challenge. I'm glad that the mainstream media is finally being forced into addressing the issue -- even as they continue to whitewash the issue in their determination to make Obama president. But in looking deeper into the Ayers connection, I realize that part of the story has not been effectively told -- and that is the practical impact that Ayers will have on the education policy of an Obama presidency. The most significant aspect is a focus on "education debt" -- essentially paying reparations to minorities for the "history of oppression" perpetrated by Whites. This is a cornerstone of Bill Ayers' education reform program, and is also a key element in the race-based education philosophy of Linda Darling-Hammond -- a Professor of Education at Stanford, Obama's primary education adviser and prospective Secretary of Education in an Obama administration.

Here's part of what I found -- excerpted from my piece entitled "Reading, Writing and Radicalism": The radical orientation of Ayers as an “educational reformist” should be well known, as he has written more than a dozen books on the subject and has been a leading educational scholar and advisor in Chicago for the past two decades. Ayers was recently elected vice-president for curriculum for the 25,000-member American Educational Research Association -- the nation's largest organization of education-school professors and researchers. His work with Chicago Mayor Richard Daley has been highly emphasized by the Obama campaign as a form of “legitimization”, and Daley was recently quoted in the New York Times as saying “People make mistakes. You judge people by their whole life”. Daley’s view is likely based on a politician’s appreciation for Ayers’ role in doling out $100 million in grants within the city during the 1990s rather than any deep analysis of Ayers’ political or educational views – none of which have changed since the 1960s. Ayers continues to describe himself as a “radical, leftist, small ‘c’ communist”, and has written that he believes “teachers should be community organizers dedicated to provoking resistance to American racism and oppression”. He sees teaching as a natural extension of the quest for social justice – which he feels requires a revolution in the capitalist economic, political and education system. In a speech given in November, 2006 before Hugo Chavez and the World Education Forum in Caracas, Venezuela, Ayers said the following:

As students and teachers begin to see themselves as linked to one another, as tied to history and capable of collective action, the fundamental message of teaching shifts slightly, and becomes broader, more generous: we must change ourselves as we come together to change the world. Teaching invites transformations, it urges revolutions small and large. La educacion es revolucion! It is in this context that the Obama-Ayers relationship should be viewed. While the Ayers’ terrorist connections are significant retrospectively, his education goals that were actively endorsed and sponsored by Barack Obama are prospectively even more important.

And this is where things get interesting. While it is obvious that Ayers will not have a formal role in an Obama administration, it is equally obvious that Obama’s experience with Ayers and the CAC will animate his education policy as president. The Obama Campaign’s primary education adviser is Linda Darling-Hammond, a Professor of Education at Stanford University, and well-known expert in school design and teacher training. Hammond has been mentioned as a possible Secretary of Education in an Obama administration, has been a vocal supporter of traditional teacher certification programs, current union control of public education and opposes charter school programs. She also has been a vocal critic of the implementation of the current No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. More importantly, she is an advocate of a race-based paradigm for education that fully embraces the concept of “education debt” – a form of reparations for generations of racial bias perpetrated by White America. Hammond argued forcefully last year in the liberal magazine The Nation, for example, the importance of “pay(ing) off the educational debt to disadvantaged students that has accrued over centuries of unequal access to quality education.” The concept of education debt is an idea laid out in 2006 by Professor Gloria Ladson-Billings of the University of Wisconsin, the then-president of the American Education Research Association and actively supported by Ayers. Ayers wrote himself in January of 2008 on his website the following:

The dominant narrative in contemporary school reform is once again focused on exclusion and disadvantage, race and class, black and white…the monster in the room: white supremacy. Gloria Ladson-Billings upends all of this with an elegant reversal: there is no achievement gap, she argues, but actually a glancing reflection of something deeper and more profound—America has a profound education debt. The educational inequities that began with the annihilation of native peoples and the enslavement of Africans…transformed into apartheid education, something anemic, inferior, inadequate, and oppressive. Over decades and centuries the debt has accumulated and is passed from generation to generation, and it continues to grow and pile up. Further, the long-standing professional relationship between Ayers, Darling-Hammond and Ladson-Billings – and thus Barack Obama -- is well established. As legal analyst Steve Diamond writes at No Quarter, a chapter called “Education for Democracy” by Darling-Hammond appeared in a volume co-edited by Ayers called “A Light in Dark Times”. In addition, a chapter co-authored by Ladson-Billings on “racing justice” appeared in a book co-edited by Ayers called “Teaching for Social Justice: A Democracy and Education Reader”. Ladson-Billings wrote the foreword to Ayers’ book “To Teach: The Journey of a Teacher” and Ayers and Ladson-Billings are co-editors of “City Kids, City Schools: More Reports from the Front Row” just published. All have been consistent in support of a radical education reform program.

Linda Darling-Hammond’s piece in The Nation is an excellent illumination of what may underscore education policy under a President Obama. She makes abundantly clear that she supports the notion of education reparations and that this should be paid in part by a wholesale revamping of NCLB to focus on more on investment and less on testing – modifications that the Obama Campaign’s education platform also supports . She calls for a “New paradigm for national education policy…guided by dual commitments to support meaningful learning on the part of students, teachers and schools; and to pay off the educational debt, making it possible for all students to benefit from more productive schools.” This is education code-speak for vast sums of money to be poured into minority schools and community programs to atone for past sins.

The Ayers-Hammond approach to education debt has been essentially supported by Barack Obama on the campaign trail. In fact, Obama has spoken repeatedly about the need for reparations to make amends for the past oppression of minorities. On “Meet the Press” in July he said:

The biggest problem that we have in terms of race relations, I think, is dealing with the legacy of past discrimination which has resulted in extreme disparities in terms of poverty, in terms of wealth and in terms of income…And that involves investing in early childhood education, fixing the schools in those communities, being willing to work in terms of job retraining. And those are serious investments.Obama’s education platform as outlined at his campaign website is full of community-focused programs that will be ripe targets for massive “reparation” investments in a reformulated NCLB. His K-12 Education Fact Sheet discusses at length the expansion of Head Start programs, universal preschool and includes “enlisting parents and communities to support teaching and learning”, including “school-family contracts” and a massive school redesign project that includes increased funding for teacher recruitment and retention. It is a blueprint taken almost whole-cloth from one written by Darling-Hammond that calls for a “Marshall Plan” for teaching and the institution of a more authoritarian structure for driving curriculum development, testing and investment. Like Ayers’ own admiration of Venezuela’s centralized educational dictatorship, Darling-Hammond has expressed support for countries such as Singapore that have instituted highly structured systems that are the antithesis of school choice – signaling what will certainly be a strong emphasis on the unionized public education system in the U.S. under an Obama administration.

The real impact of the Obama-Ayers relationship is not in Ayers’ radical past but rather in his radical present. The influence that Ayers’ has had on Obama’s view of education during his time at the Chicago Annenberg Challenge can be seen in his appointment of Linda Darling-Hammond as his primary education advisor, and signals what is certain to be radical reform at the core of Obama’s education policy as president. This will include more investment into the current public school monopoly at the expense of free market solutions like vouchers and charter schools, and a more aggressive social change agenda that will result in greater control by unions and community organizations – all orthodox elements of the William Ayers radical agenda.