Whatever It Is That Is Wrong With America’s Public Schools…

…and clearly something is (most of the trouble comes from the three letters NEA), I bet, if asked to name the top ten problems, you wouldn’t come up with ‘capitalist hegemony’. Yet that’s exactly the diagnosis offered by Bill Ayers, former domestic terrorist with the Weather Underground and now…Distinguished Professor of Education and Senior University Scholar at the University of Illinois at Chicago. If you read that sentence without doing a double-take, and I’m sure some of you did, that only shows how far the radicalization of our universities has gone.

In the latest issue of the excellent City Journal, Sol Stern profiles Ayers as a case study in the burgeoning movement to bring ‘social justice’ theory to our nation’s classrooms:

…[C]ritical pedagogy theorists nurse a rancorous view of an America in which it is always two minutes to midnight and a knock on the door by the thought police is imminent. The education professors feel themselves anointed to use the nation’s K–12 classrooms to resist this oppressive system. Thus Maxine Greene urged teachers not to mince words with children about the evils of the existing social order. They should 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.” In other words, they should turn the little ones into young socialists and critical theorists.

All music to Bill Ayers’s ears. The ex-Weatherman glimpsed a new radical vocation. He dreamed of bringing the revolution from the streets to the schools. And that’s exactly what he has managed to do.

Here’s what a young educator taught by Ayers will take to the job:

The readings that Ayers assigns are as intellectually stimulating and diverse as a political commissar’s indoctrination session in one of his favorite communist tyrannies. The reading 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 Ayers himself; another by bell hooks, a radical black feminist writer and critical race theorist; and a “Freedom School” curriculum. That’s the entire spectrum of debate.

For students who might get bored with the purely pedagogic approach to liberation, Ayers also offers a course on the real thing, called “Social Conflicts of the 1960’s.” For this class Ayers also posts his introduction to the soon-to-be-published collection of Weather Underground agitprop that he edited with Dohrn—called, with no intended parody, Sing a Battle Song: The Revolutionary Poetry, Statements and Communiqués of the Weather Underground, 1970-1974. “Once things were connected,” Ayers’s introduction recollects, “we saw a system at work, we were radicalized, we named that system—imperialism—and forged an idea of how to overthrow it. We were influenced by Marx, but we were formed more closely and precisely by Che, Ho, Malcolm X, Amílcar Cabral, Mandela—the Third World revolutionaries—and we called ourselves small ‘c’ communists to indicate our rejection of what had become of Marx in the Soviet Block [sic]. . . . We were anti-authoritarian, anti-orthodoxy, communist street fighters.”

Don’t think you can take comfort from the belief that Ayers is acting in isolation, either:

Though no one has as yet surveyed how far social justice teaching has pervaded America’s 1,500 ed schools, education researchers David Steiner (now Hunter College ed-school dean) and Susan Rozen did a study two years ago on the syllabi of the basic “foundations of education” and “methods” courses in 16 of the nation’s most prestigious ed schools. The mainstays of the foundations courses were works by Paolo Freire, Henry Giroux (a leading critical pedagogy theorist), and the radical education writer Jonathan Kozol (“America’s Most Influential—and Wrongest—School Reformer,” Winter 2000). For the methods courses, Bill Ayers’s To Teach: The Journey of a Teacher tops the bestseller list. Neither list included advocates of a knowledge-based and politically neutral curriculum, such as E. D. Hirsch Jr. or Diane Ravitch.

Is there any doubt where the young ‘progressives’ are coming from? Bad enough that colleges and universities put out this claptrap regularly, but to bring up a generation of educators under this regime? Almost unthinkable. I have no answers (though Stern takes a stab at a solution at the end), but after reading this outstanding piece, I have plenty of disturbing questions…

7 comments to Whatever It Is That Is Wrong With America’s Public Schools…

  • Ryan Bonneville

    Weather Underground is a terrorist organization? I will never get the forecast from them again!

  • And here you thought they were just giving you the weather for free! You’re so naive….

  • Good catch, Mark. Every issue of City Journal seems to be worth its weight in gold.

    Of all the poisonous branches of the “critical studies” tree (gender studies, African American studies, etc.), to me the two most dangerous are science studies and critical pedagogy. You’ve ably illuminated the latter in this post; science studies attempts to extend the usual Marxist relativist claptrap to the scientific method and the facts it discovers. But of course, scienctific knowledge is filtered by one’s culture, don’t you know…

  • megapotamus

    Wasn’t Ayers one of the dozen or so terrorists of various stripe pardoned by Clinton in the twilight of his term? Soliah was and the Puerto Rican seperatist bombers likewise. Gee, it just gets so hard to remember but it sounds like Ayers is not laying aside anything. Perhaps he will see that Al Queda is his true home yet. How far are we from ’60s style domestic bombing like these scum attempted so lamely so long ago? Not very.

  • dmac

    Ayers was actually one of the scumbags who was a professor initially here at Northwestern, along with his charming wife (still esconsed there) – neither of these bomb – throwers have ever evinced any contrition nor explanation for their prior actions. Mr. Ayers was finally forced out of Northwestern by p’od alumni – but as to why his wife is still there, no explanation has yet been offered by the university. The fact that another Chicago – based college took this piece of human refuse into it’s ranks fortells a sad future for this region’s respectability in higher education. We should leave this type of instruction to the coasts…

  • sedonaman

    There is a DVD called The Weather Underground available at amazon, and it features Ayers and others in this terrorist organization. In one scene, he describes the parents of one girl seeing her off at the airport as she was going off to overthrow the world. However, she was one of those killed in the explosion of a bomb they were making. It was the last time they ever saw her. As a parent myself, I thought how sick they must have felt at the last parting.

    This documentary confirms my belief, that these people, like all terrorists, are sick. They engaged in what Prof. Lee Harris calls “fantasy ideology”:

    “…It is a common human weakness to wish to make more of our contribution to the world than the world is prepared to acknowledge, and it is our fantasy world that allows us to fill this gap. But normally, for most of us at least, this fantasy world stays relatively hidden. Indeed, a common criterion of our mental health is the extent to which we are able to keep our fantasies firmly under our watchful control . . . Yet clearly there are individuals for whom this control is, at best, intermittent, resulting in behavior that ranges from the merely obnoxious to the clinically psychotic. The man who insists on being taken more seriously than his advantages warrant falls into the former category; the maniac who murders an utter stranger because God – or his neighbor’s dog – commanded him to do so belongs to the latter.”

    Lee Harris, “Al Qaeda’s Fantasy Ideology”,

    In his article, he relates a “personal recollection” of first encountering this type of fantasy while having an argument with his college roommate over how to conduct their anti-Vietnam War protest. It is somewhat long, but worth the read.

  • Pasha

    What’;s wrongwith America’s schools is that we don’;t have students. We had litlte princes and princesses who expect everything to be handed to them. Kids don’t read, and parents don’t require them to read or do schoolwork (because then they wouldn’t be pals). And in the inner city, you get your kid declared “disabled” for having a low reading level and get $300-1000 a month in social security for a diabled kid—and free tutoring. And kids who show p for one peroid a day to be marked present or once a month to getthe MetroCard.

    The other problem is the leftist bureaucracy–the socal workers who finagle was to get “free” (ie taxpayer paid) money to them and educrats who are indoctrinating kid in sociallism and social justice,i.e. dependency on having someone else pay for everything you need and want for the rest of your life. Afgter all, it isn’t fai r that someone who did well in school, worked hard and did crummy jobs and aited to get married to have kids, should actually get paid more than someone who can’t write a pararaph in English, can’t divide and has no other skills, and of course has a right to speak whatever vulgarity is on their mind including swear word. But of course, their “culture” must be respected above all. I see it every day, I teach in New York,and I know what ittakes to be a good student, get rid of the bureaucracy, give no benefits unless the kid is in school every day every class, behaving, doing homework and passing most of their classes. And, parents who reqquire their kids to spend at least an hour every day on schoolwork whehter they have homework or not. We don’t need more money, we need students and parents.

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