Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Paling around with Bill Ayers

A few people have asked me about the lecture of Bill Ayers on Monday night at All Souls Unitarian Church in northwest Washington, DC. So I’ll take a few moments for a blog post on this topic. First, I couldn’t resist titling this blog using a Palinism with her name embedded in it. Ayers was speaking today with Michel Martin on Tell Me More on WAMU. He articulated quite well in the radio interview why the moniker terrorist is inapt. It’s worth listening to the interview if you’re interested in that. The reason I went to the lecture is that The New Press, one of Ayers publishers, asked me to go along and help out with the event which was booked eight months ago when the expectation was a small group of a couple of dozen people would gather to here him talk about progressive education. The New Press has published a few of his books including City Schools, City Teachers. Ayers became a larger player in this election not through his own actions but through the actions and words of Palin and McCain. In fact, most of his work of late focuses on teacher education and by and large, while he spoke about the election on Monday night, the bulk of the lecture was about education. Ayers is inspiring on this topic speaking beyond the usual rhetoric of education in today’s public forum to talk about education as a transformative process in which people can learn to think about the condition of their lives and what creates those conditions. His educational model and theoretical orientation comes from the civil rights movement, where his work began. The event on Monday night was sponsored by DC Voice and Teaching for Change, two organizations invested in progressive public education. While there were less than a handful of protesters at the event on Monday, the room was brimming with people eager for Ayers messages about education. What struck me is his passion for education and his belief in the power of education to transform people’s lives and their capacity to understand and transform their own lives. Ayers understands both the facility of the contemporary discourse, which seeks to distill complex problems into sound bite solutions, and even implications himself with a knee-jerk reaction to such reductionism and then takes the audience through his own process of needing to reframe such solutions to a broader lens and a thickened complexity. He doesn’t offer easy answers but invites everyone to join in a journey of thinking about and working to solve through multi-faceted and complex interventions the problems that face us in education and more broadly in our own democratic society. In this way Ayers is inspirational and a visionary.
A few other things struck me about Ayers lecture. First, he celebrated the election of Barack Obama but with the spirit of a long time organizer, he was clear to articulate that the election of one person in no way limited the work ahead of us. I appreciate that. He also talked about the devastating losses for the GLBT communities in California, Florida and Arkansas and I appreciated that as well. Finally, I find it inspiring to hear someone like Ayers speak because of his history of activism. In particular, to see someone in person reflecting on his lifetime of activism is a good reminder that life is continuous and one’s concerns are persistent. Moments of fame or infamy are temporary, but one’s life of activism is persistent and continuous. So that was my evening with Bill Ayers. I’m glad I went.

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