By the mid-1960s, all hell had broken loose in the American education system, most obviously in the universities that were at the center of the Vietnam War protest movement, but more subtly in the public school system as well.
And since the universities that were exploding with radical ideologies in the 1960s were also the furnace in which future educators were forged — there was an inevitable long-term effect on what teachers taught their students about American traditions, values and beliefs. The anti-American fervor on college campuses during the Vietnam era was the fuel that led teachers to give up their traditional role as the builders of culture and turned them instead into termites that ate away at the foundations of our society.
That disconnect between American idealism and American youth may ultimately be how progressive education was able to shift the paradigm in America, and no better poster boy exists for the transformation of American education from a cultivator of good citizens into an incubator of radicalism than Bill Ayers.
You may remember Ayers from his tangential role in the 2008 presidential election. It turns out that he was an early supporter of Barack Obama and had helped the future president get jobs on two boards that divvied up millions of dollars in education and anti-poverty grants.
That wouldn’t have been a problem except for the fact that Ayers is best known for blowing things up. As a founding member of the Weather Underground, he turned to violence in the late 1960s as an approved tactic for bringing about social change.
That may have been the most dangerous thing Bill Ayers did in the turbulent Sixties, but it is certainly not the most effective technique he found for changing America from a capitalist nation to a communistic one.
For that you need to look at where Ayers spent his time both before and after his bomb-throwing period — namely at schools and universities — and on those boards doling out big bucks to effect social change through education.
Ayers was at the University of Michigan when Students for a Democratic Society was founded in 1966, and he participated directly in the radicalization of SDS that led to the violent revolutionary group known as the Weather Underground. Ayers and his cohorts bombed the Pentagon, inspired riots in the streets, and encouraged violent uprising in order to bring about a new socialist world order.
You can get a taste for Ayers’ style of politics from a January 1970 report by syndicated columnists Robert Allen and John Goldsmith on a four-day meeting of the national council of the Weatherman faction of SDS which took place in Flint, Mich.
After his now-wife Bernardine Dohrn had worked up the crowd by bashing them as “wimpy on armed struggle” and reminding the assembled revolutionaries that “violence is our aim and motto,” Ayers got his turn to go macho, giving karate lessons that were “accompanied with such encouraging remarks as ‘It is necessary to take up arms and resort to violence in order to fight and destroy the pigs” (namely the police and establishment leaders).
Probably no one reading this column today would condone or accept such rhetoric, unless they were themselves avowed revolutionaries. But make no mistake about it, that rhetoric was standard fare on the campuses of the 1960s. For at least a decade, it was common college wisdom that America was evil and that you couldn’t “trust anyone over 30.”
Well, a lot of those folks over 30 were what we today call “the greatest generation,” the American men and women who sacrificed life, limb and our national treasure in order to preserve liberty for their children. It would no doubt take a major psychological study in order to ascertain what factors came into play in the post-war years to explain how the “greatest generation” allowed their children to rip apart everything they themselves had worked so hard to secure.
But for now we can simply surmise that the generation which had given up so much in order to ensure that their children would enjoy liberty’s bounty was also somehow psychologically circumscribed from imposing ANY significant restrictions on that precious liberty, and thus created a generation characterized by an overwhelming sense of entitlement, narcissism, and ultimately ingratitude. For lack of a better name, call it the Bill Ayers Generation.
The “older generation” no doubt didn’t understand the Bill Ayers Generation, and that probably went for Ayers’ own father, too. Thomas G. Ayers was president and later chairman and CEO of Commonwealth Edison. In other words, he was a major industrialist, and part of the system of capital and wealth creation that his son and the Weather Underground sought to topple. Again, the psychological implications are enormous, and the story of the Ayers family was no doubt duplicated in millions of other Baby Boomer families across the nation.
By letting their children do whatever they wanted instead of grounding them in the same wholesome principles with which they themselves had been raised, the “greatest generation” was engendering a generation of experimentation, rebellion and decay. The children and grandchildren of that generation are the ones left holding the bag these 50 years later, and the bag is empty rhetoric. “Hope and change” has replaced “blood, sweat and tears.”
Of course, the people who have been selling hope and change for the past 50 years, in one form or another, are hopeful that you will not notice the gap between reality and rhetoric.
They are also no doubt hopeful you will not follow the trail of evidence that links progressive education, revolutionary politics and the decline of America, but it’s all laid out in plain sight — often in the words of Bill Ayers himself.
Ayers was a key author of “Prairie Fire: The Politics of Revolutionary Imperialism,” which was distributed while he was a fugitive from federal charges in 1974.
There is much to learn in this book, which candidly describes the plan for revolution in America, but let’s just close with what the book tells us about education, the field which Ayers entered in 1966 and in which he later became a distinguished professor with a wide influence on contemporary pedagogic thinking.
Here, in a discussion of “busing” students to achieve racial “equality,” Ayers and his co-authors give away the game:
“The real question is: Who will control the schools? The design of the state is control of the child’s education, whether in the integrated or segregated school.”
That was the real question, and it still is: “Who will control the schools?”
Bill Ayers tried and failed at violent revolution, but he never lost sight of his goal — he just changed tactics. In an assessment of the Cuban Revolution in “Prairie Fire,” the authors noted that, “The revolution has launched an offensive to transform education and culture into powerful revolutionary tools.”
In future columns, we will explore just how Ayers and his colleagues launched an offensive in the 1960s and beyond to “transform education and culture into powerful revolutionary tools” right here in America, and how they succeeded.