Bill Ayers had damning words for the Obama administration’s education policy in a talk entitled “Obama, Duncan, and the End of the Public Education” at the Gleacher Center Thursday evening.
Ayers, perhaps most widely known as the founder of the Weather Underground, a revolutionary group which carried out a series of public bombings in the 1970s, is also a leading education theorist and retired professor from UIC’s School of Education.
He began by outlining his theory of what education should be. “In a democracy we take as an article of faith that every human being is of incalculable value,” he said, making the contrast of this belief to underlying principles of education in apartheid South Africa or fascist states.
“We have to create the conditions where every person is allowed their fullest and deepest and richest development. That [assumption] is where we start.”
For Ayers, the reforms made by President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s administration are not living up to that standard. “I don’t think the education policy has been inspired. I think it’s been largely backwards,” Ayers said, referring to Duncan’s “Race to the Top” program.
He characterized Duncan’s program by three fundamental beliefs: the idea that education is a market that should be privatized, the view that there is a single metric to measure student intelligence, and anti-union sentiment.
Ayers judged harshly the increased focus on standardized testing and the generation of competition between charter schools and regular public schools which have come about through the policies Obama and Duncan have advocated. “This isn’t an education program,” Ayers said. “It’s a sorting and killing program, and one we have to stop.”