He's Back! Bill Ayers, Robert Kennedy's Son -- and What This Has to Do With "Higher" Education

Jonathan Bean

Bill Ayers is back in the news. Robert Kennedy's son, newly on the board of the U of I Chicago, led a move denying Ayers emeritus status as a retired professor. Newsweek covered the story here (they lost a bit of the nuance in my quote but the story is an accurate summation of the controversy).

I had not thought of Ayers since I blogged about him two years ago (“Little Red School House”). In retrospect, while the issue was balance, not bias (so I argued) how does one balance someone so far to the Left? Can one even imagine a former member of the John Birch Society sans explosives being welcomed with open arms by education schools?

On turning radicals into academic entrepreneurs: The more incendiary, the better (think Angela Davis, Ward Churchill). And think of the speaking fees one can draw as a radical professor! Sure, sure, the student fees are supposed to represent the range of opinions in society at large (U.S. Supreme Court, Southworth, 2000). But who polices such Court decisions? The barbarians within the gates? Hardly.

Professor Ayers, erstwhile domestic terrorist, lived on the wild fringe of sixties radicalism. Like so many others, Ayers secured a position in academe that allowed him to bore within education by promoting "social justice" and "revolutionary education." While his ideas on education might seem "out there," they are taught in education schools as part of the canon of "progressive thought"--often in "School and Society" courses required of all future K-12 teachers.

Not that I am ungrateful. I must thank the Ayers of the world for making education school so stultifying that I left and entered graduate school to become a historian – for better and worse.

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