Saturday, October 18, 2008

Ayers Is No Education 'Reformer'

The new media spin is worse than Obama's original evasion


One of the most misleading statements during the presidential debates was when Barack Obama claimed that William Ayers was just "a guy in the neighborhood."

But that piece of spin is nothing compared to the false story now being peddled by Mr. Obama's media supporters that Mr. Ayers -- who worked with the Democratic nominee for years to disperse education grants through a group called the Chicago Annenberg Challenge -- has redeemed his terrorist past. In the New York Times, for example, Frank Rich writes that "establishment Republicans and Democrats alike have collaborated with the present-day Ayers in educational reform."

I've studied Mr. Ayers's work for years and read most of his books. His hatred of America is as virulent as when he planted a bomb at the Pentagon. And this hatred informs his educational "reform" efforts. Of course, Mr. Obama isn't going to appoint him to run the education department. But the media mainstreaming of a figure like Mr. Ayers could have terrible consequences for the country's politics and public schools.

The education career of William Ayers began when he enrolled at Columbia University's Teachers College at the age of 40. He planned to stay long enough to get a teaching credential. But he experienced an epiphany in a course offered by Maxine Greene, who urged future teachers to tell children about the evils of the existing, oppressive capitalist social order. In her essay "In Search of a Critical Pedagogy," for example, Ms. Greene wrote of an education that would portray "homelessness as a consequence of the private dealings of landlords, an arms buildup as a consequence of corporate decisions, racial exclusion as a consequence of a private property-holder's choice." That was music to the ears of the ex-Weatherman. Mr. Ayers acquired a doctorate in education and landed an Ed school appointment at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC).

Chicago might seem to be the least likely place for Mr. Ayers to regain social respectability for himself and his wife, Bernardine Dohrn. After all, the Windy City was where their Weathermen period began in 1969, with Mr. Ayers, Ms. Dohrn and their comrades marauding through the Miracle Mile, assaulting cops and city officials and promulgating slogans such as "Kill Your Parents." But Chicago's political culture had already begun to change by the time the couple returned in 1987. And the city would change even more dramatically when Richard Daley Jr. became mayor in 1990.

Daley the son has maintained as tight a rein over the city's Democratic Party machine as did his father, doling out patronage jobs and contracts to loyalists and tolerating as much corruption as in the old days. But unlike his father, he was ready to cut deals with veterans of the hard-core, radical left who were working for their revolutionary ideas from within the system they once sought to destroy from without. There is no lack of such veterans. One of Chicago's congressmen, Bobby Rush, is a former chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party; Louis Gutierrez, a former leader of a Puerto Rican liberation group, the Puerto Rican Socialist Party, is another.

In this Chicago, where there are no enemies on the left, Mr. Ayers's second career flourished. It didn't hurt that his father, Thomas Ayers, was the CEO of the Commonwealth Edison company, a friend of both Daleys and a major power broker in the city.

Mr. Ayers was hired by the Chicago public schools to train teachers, and played a leading role in the $160 million Annenberg Challenge grant that distributed funds to a host of so-called school-reform projects, including some social-justice themed schools and schools organized by Acorn. Barack Obama became the first chairman of the board of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge organization in 1995. When asked for an opinion on the Obama/Ayers connection, Mayor Daley told the New York Times that Mr. Ayers had "done a lot of good in this city and nationally." In fact, as one of the leaders of a movement for bringing radical social-justice teaching into our public school classrooms, Mr. Ayers is not a school reformer. He is a school destroyer.

He still hopes for a revolutionary upheaval that will finally bring down American capitalism and imperialism, but this time around Mr. Ayers sows the seeds of resistance and rebellion in America's future teachers. Thus, education students signing up for a course Mr. Ayers teaches at UIC, "On Urban Education," can read these exhortations from the course description: "Homelessness, crime, racism, oppression -- we have the resources and knowledge to fight and overcome these things. We need to look beyond our isolated situations, to define our problems globally. We cannot be child advocates . . . in Chicago or New York and ignore the web that links us with the children of India or Palestine."

The readings Mr. Ayers assigns to his university students are as intellectually diverse as a political commissar's indoctrination session in one of his favorite communist tyrannies. The list for his urban education course includes the bible of the critical pedagogy movement, Brazilian Marxist Paolo Freire's "Pedagogy of the Oppressed"; two books by Mr. Ayers himself; and "Teaching to Transgress" by bell hooks (lower case), the radical black feminist writer.

Two years ago Mr. Ayers shared with his students a letter he wrote to a young radical friend: "I've been told to grow up from the time I was ten until this morning. Bullshit. Anyone who salutes your 'youthful idealism' is a patronizing reactionary. Resist! Don't grow up! I went to Camp Casey [Cindy Sheehan's vigil at the Bush ranch in Crawford, Texas] in August precisely because I'm an agnostic about how and where the rebellion will break out, but I know I want to be there and I know it will break out." (The letter is on his Web site,

America's ideal of public schooling as a means of assimilating all children (and particularly the children of new immigrants) into a common civic and democratic culture is already under assault from the multiculturalists and their race- and gender-centered pedagogy. Mr. Ayers has tried to give the civic culture ideal a coup de grace, contemptuously dismissing it as nothing more than what the critical pedagogy theorists commonly refer to as "capitalist hegemony."

In the world of the Ed schools, Mr. Ayers's movement has established a sizeable beachhead -- witness his election earlier this year as vice president for curriculum of the American Education Research Association, the nation's largest organization of education professors and researchers. If Barack Obama wins on Nov. 4, the "guy in the neighborhood" is not likely to get an invitation to the Lincoln bedroom. But with the Democrats controlling all three branches of government, there's a real danger that Mr. Ayers's social-justice movement in the schools will get even more room to maneuver and grow.


Australia: Football "too rough" for schoolkids

There are many reasons to say that very active sports are good for kids so banning them for everybody instead of dealing with the troublemakers is just cowardice

Touch football and soccer have been banned from the playground at Coombabah State School, as well as rougher full contact games such as rugby league, AFL and rugby union.

Yesterday, a number of outraged students took part in a protest against the new rules. But the school says those students could now face disciplinary action.The blanket ban on all contact sports, which only applies to Year 7 students, comes after reports of fighting during games. The schoolyard games, including football and soccer, which past generations can recall playing every morning tea and lunch breaks, often without supervision, are now being referred to by the school as 'too rough'.The ban will be in place until the end of Term 4, which finishes on December 12. Students will still be allowed to play alternative games during play times, provided they do not fall under the category of those considered 'contact'.

An Education Queensland spokesman from the Department of Education, Training and the Arts said the move was necessary."The safety and welfare of all students is the school's highest priority," he said."The school has been forced to restrict Year 7 students from taking part in contact sports, following a number of recent incidents that have escalated into fights."Coombabah State School does not tolerate bad behaviour, particularly physical aggression between any students."

The department said the ruling by the school had the full support of staff and the school P&C.However, a concerned grandfather, who has a grandchild at the school, contacted The Gold Coast Bulletin yesterday to complain about the new rules.He said he was worried his grandchild might be expelled and did not wish to comment further or be named.

Without the lunchtime games, coupled with the crisis most schools are facing with a lack of volunteer coaches available to supervise team games, some students may miss out on playing contact sports altogether.

Education Queensland said disciplinary action had been taken against students caught fighting and those who showed disrespect to staff trying to manage the situation. "Other students who took part in an unruly protest yesterday against the school directive have been warned they may also face disciplinary action," he said.

The department said the school would be happy to discuss its course of action with any concerned parents.

School principal John Hoskings was not available to comment on the issue yesterday. However, on the school's website, Mr Hoskings' welcome message for parents who have enrolled their students at the school says: "We trust that you and your children will enjoy being a part of our school community and that you will feel confident to join in our school life in whatever capacity you can."It is important for your child that parents and staff have a positive relationship."To this end, we encourage you to make good use of all available channels of communication, thereby providing the best possible support for your child while he or she is at our school."

Coombabah State School was originally built to service the growing population north of Biggera Waters and classes began in 1981.About 850 students attend the school, which is located on Oxley Drive at Paradise Point.


Update: Publicity works wonders

A Gold coast school which caused uproar when it banned touch footy and soccer in lunchbreaks has now suspended six students for rough play. The entire year 7 level at Coombabah State School has been barred from the lunchtime sports for the term because of bouts of fighting that occur during games. Queensland Sports Minister Judy Spence said yesterday the school might have over-reacted, saying teachers needed to step up playground supervision.


Australia: Grammar returns in English curriculum revamp

Long overdue -- so long overdue that one wonders where they will find teachers to teach it

Basic English and grammar lessons, downgraded decades ago, will be restored in schools to boost students' slipping spelling and writing skills. Traditional lessons are to be reinstated nationwide after complaints that pupils struggle to form proper sentences and don't understand nouns, verbs, adjectives and punctuation. Schools will also revert to a focus on teaching the alphabet through sounding out letters, known as phonics, rather than by showing pictures on a card displaying the word beneath. It was also announced this week that maths in Australian schools will get a makeover.

The National Curriculum Board will today unveil for public comment recommendations to revamp English from kindergarten to year 12. "Pop culture" English that studies soap operas and mobile phone text-messaging is expected to be scaled down. The emphasis will be on classics by writers such as Shakespeare, Charles Dickens and Jane Austen, and works by modern authors such as Tim Winton and Peter Carey. The study of literature will be broadened to embrace modern digital technology such as the internet and CD ROMs.

Under proposed changes, bright students in primary school will be given more advanced books to read, and elementary literacy will be reinforced for secondary students falling behind.

It has been revealed that too many students battle to read and write properly. One in five who sat national literacy and numeracy tests in years 3, 5, 7 and 9 this year either fell below the standard or only reached the minimum. Employers, recruitment companies and universities have bemoaned school-leavers' sloppy spelling and writing. "We have to do better," National Curriculum Board chairman Prof Barry McGaw conceded. "Establishing a national English curriculum is an opportunity to raise standards for all young people and to ensure no one slips through the cracks."

The advice is that the subject should be broken into three areas: English as a language, including grammar, punctuation and spelling; literature; and the application of skills to achieve confident and accurate speaking and writing. "A focus on grammar, spelling and conventions of punctuation will be necessary across all stages of schooling," the paper says.

The proposal follows a backlash over the 1970s shift from a grammar-based curriculum. Monash University deems the situation so dire that it's introducing remedial grammar and punctuation classes. The draft says that books, novels, short stories, poetry, drama, movies and documentaries should be introduced progressively from early years.

Education Minister Julia Gillard this week raised concerns about falling reading performance among 15-year-olds. Australian students still score above the OECD average, but have slumped from second to sixth in recent years. The National Curriculum Board is remodelling English, history, maths and science curriculums. The new framework will be introduced by 2011.


1 comment:

Robert said...

From a weekly e-mail newsletter for players of the Federation 2 internet game there appeared this article on educational ideas, highlighted in the column written by the game's programmer:

Calling any teachers out there. Want a fresh take on the ancient art of cheating? Then take a look at this fascinating piece in Ubiquity from Donald Norman. Norman argues that what we currently define as cheating is so widespread that it indicates that there is a structural flaw in the system. He argues that the real problem lies in the fact that almost alone of all our institutions academia focuses on individual achievement, whereas nearly everywhere else - especially at work - the focus is on being a team player and working with others to get the job done.

His ideas for resolving this are pretty radical, and I for one can see problems, but they deserve to be considered, and the discussion indicates just how far out of sync with society the lower levels of the academic systems of the Western countries have become. Well worth a read.