When I first learned that Bill Ayers, the one-time anti-war activist during the Vietnam era who took his opposition to explosive (literally) extremes, was scheduled to speak in a couple of weeks at a far west suburban high school, I thought it only appropriate.
Because Ayers himself was a one-time kid from DuPage County, growing up in Glen Ellyn. Some of his critics like to dredge up the fact that he is the son of a former Commonwealth Edison chairman – as though the fact that he did not grow up impoverished means he has no right to a social conscience.
SO THE IDEA that he will speak to students at Naperville North High School on April 8 strikes me as a perfect match. To those of us from the rest of the Chicago area, there isn’t that much difference between Naperville and Glen Ellyn.
He’s going to be speaking to students who are living a 21st Century version of the existence he grew up in. He can identify with them. And if he can help plant a social conscience in some of them, then perhaps his talk next month will have served some purpose.
Thus far, however, all it is doing is ticking off the social conservative nitwits who object to young people being exposed to his way of thought – believing instead that freedom of expression is all about expression of their beliefs only.
I’m hoping that Naperville high school authorities don’t wimp out when it comes to Ayers. I hope he manages to give his talk (which will be exclusively for students in select social studies classes), rather than be silenced by authorities who decide they’d rather have nothing resembling controversty.
TOO MANY COLLEGE campuses of late have cancelled Ayers appearances because of the conservative outcry.
Ayers will be forevermore remembered for the way in which the conservatives tried to link his activities of the 1960s with the Weatherman with the 2008 presidential campaign of Barack Obama (the two live a few blocks from each other, and have encountered each other on occasion).
In short, Ayers was supposed to be the 21st Century version of Willie Horton – the one-time Massachusetts prison inmate who committed crimes while on furlough, giving GOPers an “issue” to use against presidential opponent/Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis.
But it failed.
THE PUBLIC HAS evolved to the point where the kind of stupid rhetoric that linked Horton to Dukakis in many peoples’ minds did not work last year. To many of the people who comprise the electorate, the sound of GOP types screaming “Bill Ayers!” every time Obama’s name came up merely made them sound desperate – even moreso than their later choice of Sarah Palin as a vice-presidential running mate.
If anything, that is what I think is behind the rhetoric that gets spewed whenever Ayers’ name comes up now.
People who are bitter that they couldn’t “take down” Barack Obama by bringing up someone who was opposed to U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War are upset that our society has changed so much.
If the United States were truly the nation that they wish it was, then the Obama campaign would have withered away at the very thought of Ayers (if it hadn’t self-destructed at the previous mention of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright).
INSTEAD, MANY OF us think of Ayers’ anti-war activity as something out of the past – even though one must be honest and admit that the current University of Illinois at Chicago education professor engaged in acts that went far beyond symbolic gestures such as burning a draft card or participating in a march or sit-in somewhere.
Since it was tied to a military action that many of those of us who are of age to remember it (I was only 2 years old when my uncle Carlos was drafted into the U.S. Army and served his year in Vietnam) don’t remember fondly, somebody like Ayers serves as evidence that the “hawks” didn’t win – even though they try to rewrite history to claim that they prevailed and that anyone with an anti-war background is tainted goods.
Now I know some are going to claim this is just an issue of balance – the students of today ought to hear from some of the ‘60’s hawks just as much as someone of Ayers’ background.
But I remember my high school social studies classes as being so generic in their approach – usually intended to provide as little sentiment or substance as possible out of fear of offending someone.
STUDYING HISTORY, POLITICAL science, sociology or any of the other social “sciences” is about studying issues and concepts that have no single correct answer (there is no equivalent to “1 + 1 = 2” to social studies, and that is what makes them intriguing). This ought to be a case of letting Ayers have his say, then letting students figure out for themselves what they think.
Because the cynic in me can’t help but thinking that some of those students will have a shallow view of our society that they may just view Ayers as another old man who once was somebody (these kind of people probably think the ’08 Obama election is ancient history).
Ayers’ appearance would come, and go, and probably not stir up any resentment on the high school campus – except for the social conservatives who are determined to soil the pot’s content so as to gain more attention for their own perspective.
Because that’s what all the protest we’re going to hear is truly about – people who are upset that anybody is paying attention to anyone other than themselves.
EDITOR’S NOTES: Bill Ayers will “do” the Naperville experience (http://www.dailyherald.com/story/?id=281691) in the coming days.
Not everybody is (http://www.illinoisfamily.org/news/contentview.asp?c=34326) as willing as I am to have Ayers speak at a high school in the county of his childhood.
Some people want to (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123819009072860721.html) continue to fight the battles of the ‘60’s.