Education and Democracy
Wed March 26, 2014
Activist and Educator Bill Ayers speaks at WMU
Update: Bill Ayers was interviewed on March 19th. WMUK planned to air a longer version of the interview in WestSouthwest. That was preempted for an update on the court over Michigan's same-sex marriage ban. This post has been updated to include the longer version of the interview with Ayers.
Bill Ayers first became known as a co-founder of the Weather Underground in the 1960's. He went on to become a Distinguished Professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Now retired, Ayers will speak at Western Michigan University on Wednesday March 19th. His appearance is sponsored by Western Michigan University's College of Education and Human Development, the departments of Educational Leadership, Research and Technology, Teaching Learning and Education Studies, English and Sociology, and the Lewis Walker Institute of Race and Ethnic Relations. Ayers address at 7:00 Wednesday in the Fetzer Center is titled "Teaching Free People: What Democracy Demands in its schools."
WMUK's Gordon Evans began the conversation with Ayers by asking about that topic. Ayers says there have been successful school systems in totalitarian states that produced scientists and musicians like the United States. He says in a Democracy, education should also emphasize "imagination, courage, initiative, entrepreneurship, the kinds of things that free people need in order to move forward."
Ayers says that's not in conflict with the idea of preparing to go to college or prepare for the workforce. But he says education should also help students make moral decisions in a complicated and ever-changing world.
On the subject of education reform, Ayers says there are times that competition in education is appropriate. But he says state and federal governments should work to try and make quality education available to all students.
The conversation turned to the Weather Underground which Ayers founded during the Vietnam War. The group planted bombs in the Pentagon and U.S. Capitol in protest of the war. Ayers acknowledged that the Weather Underground "crossed lines of legality and common sense."
When asked if the actions were appropriate and effective , Ayers said history is still being written on the Vietnam War and the protests. "What was really inappropriate was the war itself, the bombing of civilians, the killing of 6,000 people a week. That was wrong, and trying to oppose it was right even when terrible mistakes were made and stupidity happened."
Ayers says the bombs did not kill anyone, but he acknowledged some of that was luck. Ayers says the Weather Underground tried to plant bombs in ways that would not hurt anyone. "It was a combination of choice and chance." Ayers says if someone had been hurt or killed "I think it would have changed me, it would have changed us irrevocably." He says the bombs were meant to raise a "screaming alarm" against the Vietnam War.
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