Nov 19, 2008

Bill Ayers at Busboys and Poets II

Bill Ayers. Source: Bill Ayers' Page

Bill Ayers is surprisingly soft spoken. He may as well be whispering into the mic, but if the desired effect is to have all the people in that crowded Unitarian church leaning forward in their seats to get every word, then I guess it worked out ok.

It's no secret that he's kinda sorta really liberal. He's a teacher, he's an activist, he's a professor, he was a Weatherman. Most people only know that last little part about him but that is the way election media rolls: they don't tell you the whole story. And how can they if there's so much information that even they can't filter through it all?

"I was an unwitting and unwilling participant in this election news cycle," he told us. "I can't do celebrity. Read my books, that is what I do. I've not been silent for a minute in these last months - but I haven't wanted to give out a soundbite, so they think I'm silent." He just couldn't se any way to interrupt the hatred in the media to get anyone to actually give him an honest listen. I wouldn't have been able to, either. I often watch the Daily Show and Bill O'Reilly and his little No Spin Zone and I have to say that those are two shows I never want to have to deal with in any way other than as a viewer. I mean, they're funny and all, but I can't say that actually seeing Bill O'Reilly in person would make me a better or stronger person. I can't actually say that seeing him on the TV has made me better or stronger. Or smarter. But I digress.

What Bill Ayers does is education. We were all in that Unitarian church under the guise of talking about his latest book "City Kids, City Schools," but the fact that the crowd was so huge that the event had to be moved from the little café to a church just goes to show you that people in D.C. really care about their election celebrities. Nevertheless it was a good opportunity to speak to a mass of people about the plight of city kids and city schools. There's always a silver lining, even if you're in a situation where you have reporters stalk you every day.

I went to the event with Nick. Nick and I have lived on the same floor in these high-rise dormitories for what's going on two years and he has had to listen to me ramble on about a lot of things that I am pretty sure most people don't think are interesting, but I've rambled about them often enough that he knew to give me a "Hey, he's talking about gentrification!" when Bill Ayers was, indeed, talking about gentrification. And urban gardening. And white flight. And any inherently urban issue.

But of course the focus was on schooling. I thought of our own Mrs. Dottie a lot. His major schtick was how a democracy demands a well-educated nation, but that we were failing our kids.

"We can't say that every kid has a fair shake in this rich country ... Is the important thing in education to get the cream of the crop to rise to the top or is it to work toward multiple successes for multiple people? The kids who need it the most should get it the most. Every student deserves a well-educated, thoughtful, and well-rested teacher in the classroom." Good teachers and a good education for all are not partisan issues. All students deserve, as Ayers repeated throughout the evening, "the right to think for yourself and the circumstances you're in and how it could have been different."

And he doesn't like the way our school system assumes that the teacher knows and the student does not. "Education at its best is always an enterprise based on enlightenment," he said.

"That schools should be decent is a pie in the sky and that teaching can seem a fool's errand is a tragedy."

He didn't address ways to solve the problem, other than relocating exorbitant war, surveillance and incarceration spending to education, health care and elder care. Anyway, I think that his point was to point out that there were huge inequalities in the system and that we fail our democratic ideal when we fail to truly educate our kids.

As a student, I agree. I still drop the ball on tests in college because the only kind of test I actually learned how to take was a Scantron fill-in-the bubble exam. I have weaned myself off the No.2 pencils, but even so, I'm enormously successful in my education and I still feel a little cheated. The system would be a success if everyone only felt a little cheated out.


Chris Casey said...

Good for you, that you went and heard the man for yourself. One of your best posts ever.

Anonymous said...

Great review. I was hoping he would offer some answers on education, but I guess the place to start is to at least begin funding it properly so more kids can have a chance.

Katie Bee said...

@sarina-Well, he did suggest that teachers should be peer-evaluated, not judged based on their students' grades or state test scores. Other than that he did not have a whole slew of suggestions, I wish he did, though.

@chris casey- thank you for the props! i like hearing it from the horse's mouth.

Anonymous said...

This is the nick that was there too. What katie says is right that he didn't have much of a specific answer for education. He mentioned that he was clearly excited that Obama won, but not to get too overly excited. Obama has promised change, but Ayers responded "Yes we can...what?" It is up to the leaders to go beyond rhetoric fix our system. We also gave the reminder that no one can lead us to the promised land, not even Obama because if he did someone would come right along and lead us out.

Mrs. Dottie said...

Ktie Bee,

Thanks for thinking of me. I just wrote about education too! Very informative post. I recommend visiting an inner city Allentown elementary school to see reality.
And talk to a teacher. Every child should have access to a quality education in this country. There are huge inequalities in the system, and NCLB is a bad idea for so many reasons, one of them being that it leaves a lot of poor kids behind because it is underfunded.
Research has proven that early childhood education for underprivileged kids makes a huge difference, and Obama has a plan for that. See post at my blog "Obama's Zero to Five Plan."

Mrs. Dottie said...

Oops, Katie, I meant to say that YOUR post is very informative. it's been a long week.

What's with the word verification? I just got "deadold"

Gee, thanks!