Fire from below

Mr. President, remember me? It’s Bill Ayers

By Bill Ayers, Tuesday, Nov 13, 2012 02:00 PM CST


I have a backpack filled to overflowing with grievance and discontent, dissent and demand, as well as wild hopes and radical aspirations: end the wars and the drone strikes, slash the pentagon, fight for universal health care, tear down these walls, recognize and stand with the poor and the working class, assail poverty, put teeth into global warming measures — the list goes on and on.

But I also know that the president is neither a sovereign nor a king, and most of us spend way too much time and energy staring dumbly at the sites of power we have no access to — the White House, for example — wringing our hands and hoping for the best, and far too little time focusing on the prospective power right in front of us: the community and the street, the school and the classroom, the shop and the workplace. Our job is to organize dissent and mobilize an independent movement. Remember: Lyndon Johnson was never part of the Black Freedom Movement, FDR was not a labor leader, and Lincoln never joined an abolitionist party — each is remembered for important actions taken in response to fire from below. Even in the last years it was women, gay, immigrant-rights and environmental activists who moved a progressive agenda forward inch by inch.

But I’ll play along and offer an action step the president could take tomorrow regarding school reform: Fire Arne Duncan and appoint Linda Darling-Hammond as Secretary of Education.

This would signal a significant break with the most destructive aspects of the failed “school reform” agenda this administration has promoted: turning public assets and spaces over to private managers, obstructing any independent, collective voice of teachers, and reducing education to a single narrow metric that claims to recognize an educated person through a standardized test score. While there’s absolutely no proof that this approach improves schooling one iota, it chugs along unfazed — fact-free, faith-based reform at its core, resting on ideology and not evidence.

A teacher and recognized scholar/researcher for decades, Dr. Darling-Hammond will not be swayed by big money or political expediency or the latest fads. She will be independent, professional and principled.

We can then return to the precious but fragile ideal that must power education in a democracy: Every human being is of incalculable value, and the fullest development of all is the condition for the full development of each.

Bill Ayers is a retired Distinguished Professor of Education at the  University of Illinois at Chicago. or

Photograph of William C. Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn. or

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1 comment

    • Bill Wiedmann on November 14, 2012 at 6:35 pm

    This is going to be a tough road. Only extremes can get people to react with passion. Overall, Americans are spoiled. We’ve become too soft because of things like cheap corporate fast food. We’re soft because we’re coddled and molded by the infotainment corporate media. We’ve been drinking and enjoying the capitalist trough of cheap production. We kind of like the cheap products and new technologies that are available because of global slavery. The world is working for the “Man”. And Americans like this world. And I’m as guilty as the next guy. I like sports and the ‘easy’ life that we have been given. So out of this set up how do you motivate people? If you look you see even global warming hasn’t gotten people to demand saving the environment that we need in order to survive. Is it because our representatives don’t really express the important issues we should be concerned with? Sure, I like to blame the corporate giants. But are they really at fault manipulating what issues they will allow to be aired? Some responsibility has to fall on all of us. I end up being cynical about the people actually doing things to change this crazy world. We grew into it. It will not be easily dismantled.

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