At a press conference on August 20, America’s Survival, Inc. unveiled the results of several Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests made regarding the curriculum and activities of University of Illinois at Chicago professor Bill Ayers.
Ayers has visited Germany, the Netherlands, and Venezuela to advance his educational ideals, said Cliff Kincaid, President of America’s Survival and editor of Accuracy in Media. “The so-called World [Education] Forum in Venezuela carried the title ‘Bolivarian Education and the Overcome of the Capitalist School,’” he noted.
“Ayers in his speech of 2006 made reference then to this being his fourth trip to Venezuela,”
Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez came under intense criticism this month for a new law which reshapes the country’s educational system, reported The Economist in August. “Teaching is to be rooted in ‘Bolivarian doctrine,’ a reference to Mr Chávez’s ill-defined Bolivarian revolution—supposedly inspired by Simón Bolívar, a leader of Latin America’s 19th-century independence struggle,” it stated. “Schools will come under the supervision of ‘communal councils,’ indistinguishable in most places from cells of the ruling socialist party.” In addition, the bill would undermine religious schools, allow the government to shut down media outlets which cause “terror” among children, and “seeks to weaken or abolish students’ and teachers’ unions and to ‘democratise’ university authorities,” states the Economist.
(The Venezuelan Student Movement has long opposed Chavez’ “reform” efforts).
Professor Mary Grabar analyzed eight syllabi used by Ayers and argued that the work done by this “Distinguished Professor of Education” was not scholarly.
“However, after reading most of his so-called ‘scholarly’ books and several syllabi I come away with the impression that this respected professor of curriculum instruction tells future teachers to dispense with curricula, but to have some on hand in order to fool administrators—he actually tells them this,” she asserted. “This education professor, furthermore, does not think that it is necessary for teachers to have knowledge of their subjects. He does not think that teachers should bother to make any objective assessment of students’ progress. He does not think that teachers should maintain order in the classroom.”
Ayers 2008 syllabus for “Curriculum Instruction & Evaluation 578: Qualitative Research in Education” states, “The transcendant literary critic Edward Said—author of the essential text, Orientalism—explores the contested space of teaching and learning and research in much of his work, but perhaps most pointedly in Representations of the Intellectual in which he offers in effect a brief for the ethical and lively conduct of intellectual life.” Ayers continued, “The book is crisp, concise, small in size—the perfect companion to cram into your backpack between your toothbrush and your bottle of water, and as necessary to daily survival as either of those.”
As Prof. Grabar noted, Said was a “highly controversial late Columbia professor, a member of the PLO’s Palestinian National Council until he resigned in protest of what he saw as Yassir Arafat’s too moderate stance towards Israel.”
“Let’s remember that this is a syllabus for qualitative research,” she said.
Ayers’ curricula relies heavily on his own publications and requires that some of his students read Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire. “Freire’s polemic about radicalizing peasants refers to Mao Zedong, Josef Stalin, Vladimir Lenin, and Fidel Castro as
authoritative sources; the work turns up in Ayers’ reading lists on other syllabi
and in books,” wrote Grabar in another report.
However, Professor Paul Kengor noted during this conference that Freire is not uncommon pedagogical reading, saying “…when Ayers failed in the revolution he went to Columbia to John Dewey’s Columbia Teacher’s college and got his degree in education. That’s what [1960s radicals have] done and they all use Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed.”
“In fact…one of our education professors who’s against us, John Sparks, has written on Paulo Freire and how he’s dominated these education departments for years,” Kengor added. Sparks writes in his 2007 white paper that Freire’s pedagogy adopts three “progressive education” tenets in line with Deweyism:
1.) teaching is not “…primarily about passing on predetermined knowledge to students,”
2.) “… the classroom should provide an environment of freedom in which the students’ expressed interests and impulses give direction to the classroom activities,” and
3.) “…the traditional teacher’s role of guidance, control and direction should be reduced so as to be almost nonexistent.”
“The version of Freire that most U.S. teachers have embraced is what could be [called the politically] sanitized version,” argued Sparks. “Usually they have read Chapter 2 of ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed,’ which contains his Dewey-like critique of traditional educational practice.”
“Except for a relative few who consider themselves part of the critical pedagogy movement, American teachers have had little contact with Chapters 1, 3 and 4 of ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’ that contain what is clearly Marxian ideology.”
The same cannot be said for Ayers. As for the UIC prof’s ideas on democratic education, “That’s precisely what John Dewey was writing in the 1910s and 1920s,” Kengor argued.
Bethany Stotts is a staff writer at Accuracy in Academia.