Bill Ayers and co. lost a big battle today with the announcement that Arne Duncan will be Obama’s Education Secretary. Duncan is one of the “Big 4,” as Ayers calls the four reform oriented school superintendents Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein and Paul Vallas. And Ayers has been part of a nationwide effort among certain self-styled “progressive” and “social justice” oriented education activists and educators to lobby against the Big 4. Ayers was, of course, plugging for race theorist, anti-union small schools advocate and education school figure Linda Darling-Hammond.
Ayers helped get Darling-Hammond annointed an Obama advisor, over the objections of several other education policy camps. And Ayers and Darling-Hammond have both been pushing a similar agenda including support for a slavery reparations policy in education, called “repayment of the education debt owed to people of color.”
While Obama indicated sympathy for these ideas during the campaign he refused to commit himself clearly to a particular education policy much less a strategy for achieving his goals. Darling-Hammond was head of his Transition team in this arena so it seems likely she will continue to have some role going forward.
While Ayers paints himself as a great education progressive, he was really in the vanguard of creating the reform movement that has done such great damage to American education over the last twenty years. Ayers pioneered the idea of small schools with his old 60s comrade in arms, the former Maoist Mike Klonsky. That idea grew out of their view of American education as a product of the Cold War. So for Ayers and Klonsky, Small Schools and Social Justice was a kind of antidote to capitalism, as they understood it, and consistent with their support for stalinist and authoritarian regimes from Hanoi to Havana.
Ayers secured a $160 million grant in 1994 to implement his agenda in Chicago from the Annenberg Foundation. He elevated Barack Obama, a family friend, to the chairmanship of the Challenge and quickly secured nearly a million dollars in support from Obama for his Small Schools and Social Justice agenda.
This was an extension of the local control school reform program he helped lead alongside Barack Obama over the objections of Chicago’s black teachers and their union in the late 1980s. That earlier reform effort won praise from the Heritage Foundation and together with the Annenberg Challenge in the 90s helped open the door to the more aggressive reformers of today.
Because local control and small schools were all harbingers of the free market “choice” agenda so in vogue now among Hoover Institution and Heritage Foundation types. Early on, Chicago teachers’ union activists saw right through the Annenberg agenda of Ayers, Obama and Klonsky: they called it, correctly, “teacher bashing.” It was as if Ayers and Klonsky had followed the teachings of Chinese Communist leader Deng Hsiao Peng: who cares what color the cat is as long as it catches mice.
No surprise then that union support for Linda Darling-Hammond as Education Secretary was lukewarm. While a middle of the road reform-oriented type like Duncan is a second best choice for the unions, at least he does not hide his interest in reform behind lefty labels like “social justice.”
These days Ayers is going around the country trying to rehash his foray into terror and sectarianism in the 70s underground movement, mostly ignoring his close professional and personal relationship with the President-elect, despite having admitted the two were “family friends.”