I’ve been reading the latest round of “controversy” about Barack Obama’s ties to Bill Ayers with a lot of interest. Not because I believe for a second that Bill Ayers is a “terrorist,” but because of how baffled I am that this is even a story. From McCain and Palin’s speeches to the media reports of said speeches, you might get the impression that Ayers has done next to nothing with his life since the 1970s when he was a member of the controversial group the Weatherman/Weather Underground. That impression is incredibly wrong.
For the past twenty years or so, Bill Ayers has been a highly respected professor of education. He has written many excellent books on how teachers can best teach, and has taken an active role in addressing the many problems facing the Chicago public school system. I know this in part because of a personal connection I have with someone who currently works with Ayers.
A friend of mine in Chicago is a nurse, and she is currently working on her doctorate in nursing education so that she will have the credentials to teach others to be nurses. This means writing the all-important dissertation, and gathering a panel of trusted professors to be on the committee that will evaluate the dissertation. This panel of respected professionals will be the ones deciding that she has the qualifications to have the letters “PhD” behind her name.
One of the people on her dissertation committee is a certain professor of education named Bill Ayers. She therefore meets with him regularly, and has even been to his home for a social occasion or two.
Does this mean my friend is “palling around” with a terrorist? Hardly. As she puts it, “I’m ‘palling around’ with one of the most concerned citizens I’ve ever met.”
According to the logic of the McCain/Palin campaign, anyone who has had regular contact with Bill Ayers in the past several years, even if just for a few times a year (as Obama did when they both served on a grant-making committee), is friendly with a terrorist. That would include every student who has taken a class from Ayers, the Mayor of Chicago, and all of his colleagues at the University of Illinois. How does that make any sense?
My friend does not associate with Ayers because of what he may or may not have done over 30 years ago. She values his expertise in the field of education, and I believe will be a more effective educator because of it. I’m guessing that it’s a similar situation for Obama. Any interactions he may have had with Ayers over the past several years would not have anything to do with trading tips on bombmaking, or some other ridiculous notion of terrorism. Rather, their interactions would more than likely be due to the fact that they both have demonstrated a strong concern for improving the living conditions and educational opportunities for underserved populations in Chicago, which is hardly a crime.