Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Wed 2 Jul 03 17:08
That's a good question. I think the lack of a deep, bonding philosophical skin beneath all the sub-issues pasted onto the surface of the left is one problem, a big one. Go to a peace march or other left-tilted activist event, and there are tables and booths and pamphleteering from all manner of causes, from freeing Mumia to saving manatees. What's holding them together? Nothing more, it seems, than a deep, almost conspiracy-esque distrust of the right. But that's not a philosophical or moral keel, just a fall-back position. The civil rights movement had a moral keel that reached very deeply, and I believe it is what allowed the movement to eventually overcome in court and in federal legislation, but the left in this country has never been entirely comfortable with a Judeo-Christian moral presence in social issues. And now that the loony branch of the right hass seemed to have coopted Christian politics just about entirely, there's no chance of an effective presence in the left of what Martin Luther King and his preacher peers called the "social Gospel." However, without an abiding agreement on a progressive, moral foundation on which all those lefty issues can stand, I fear the left in the U.S. will remain splintered, thus weak and ineffective.
Bill Ayers (billayers) Thu 3 Jul 03 06:18
King's victories,and they were partial and limited,are spun today into a mythological creation that makes everything seem obvious and neat and mostly complete.Before Montgomery no one could foretell what was coming...later it was the most obvious thing in the world.What are the injustices today?What are the problems in need of repair?What connects the issues and what are the deep causes of the dangers,imbalances,and crises before us?And yes,what is our vision of a better world,a kinder and more just society?What is our moral compass and how do we enact and articulate that? Direct action can be a wonderful tool when it makes real and concrete a piece of the world you want to live in---Bl.and wh.people eating together in the old south,e.g.---when it opens a public space for dialogue---education in the streets,free universities,teach-ins,workers councils--when it exposes the nature and the true face of the powerful---the strong arm tactics of the cops in situation after situation---and when it provides opportunities for participants to become smarter,more committed andmore effective....
David Gans (tnf) Fri 4 Jul 03 09:19
> Dave---The concentratoon of media,etc.is surely worrisome,but the media > never embraced a left perspective. I understand and don't disagree. But it seems hard to refute the notion that the press was vastly more independent then than it is now. > It's true that a few honest reporters broke thru in time and one lesson the > imperialists learned was don't let citizens including reporters near the > front...they might say anything,even the truth. For sure. And both editions of the Gulf War have been press-managed to a creepy degree by the government, with a depressing lack of resistence from the press. > This calls for a new era of pamphleteering,a reblossoming of an ancient > art form,and your doing it right now... Hell yes!
David Gans (tnf) Fri 4 Jul 03 09:24
> the lack of a deep, bonding philosophical skin beneath all the sub-issues > pasted onto the surface of the left is one problem, a big one. Damn straight. The right is united around the common value of profit uber alles, with various moralistic sideshows; "our" "side" had myriad iissues and priorities, and can be relied upon to descend into squabbling over same before any momentum can be gathered.
ROBERT WORRILL writes... (tnf) Fri 4 Jul 03 09:25
This is from Robert Worrill: Hello To All, This subject is so close to my heart, what happened to the Spirit of the Sixties? I grew up in Africa, so far away from all of you in America but I thought I could feel what it was that was going on. Later in my life I have this to offer: 20% or less of any population, at any time, in any civilization, are Epicurian all the rest are Stoic. That means that only a few are brave enough or foolish enough to " wing it " all the rest follow outside forces and rules for guidance. I think that this is an evolutionary thing and follows a Normal Distribution Curve that can never be gotten away from, unfortunately. So it is always going to be true that some in each generation will see a better future but it never comes to pass because there are too many "stick in the muds" who think that outside supernatural forces of the past somehow dictate all that has, and will happen. Yours in sad realization, Robert Worrill
David Gans (tnf) Fri 4 Jul 03 09:26
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Martha Coyote (macoyote) Fri 4 Jul 03 10:23
'Fugitive Days' is a great book. It is very hard to evoke the feeling of a time. I know that when I was trying very hard to understand how the holocaust could happen, in human terms, or just what went on in the sexual revolution of the twenties, the writings that helped me were not history, but fiction and autobiography. Then the history made sense. I'm 70, I marched for Equal housing, I sent money to CORE before the bus strike, I lived in the Haight in 1969, and few of the things I've read about those times seem to me to connect with the feeling. Three different people have asked, "Why would they shoot someone for having long hair?" (The short answer I finally came up with was, "For the same reason my Grandfather denounced his 11 year old daughter, in church, for having cut her hair- it was a sign that fundamental things were changing." ) I can't believe that anyone reading this book would not understand some of the joy in stretching yourself to your limit, or in seeing something that seemed it would take years to change, begin to change NOW. (Not that I ever stretched myself nearly to the limit Bill Ayers did.)
Bill Ayers (billayers) Mon 7 Jul 03 13:59
Martha---I love your spirit,I love you... and thank you for the generous comment on my book...The key is not to explain rationally why nothing works or why substantive change is impossible,but is to try to understand what is really happening beneath the surface,what conflicts and contradictions are ripening, what we can plausibly hope for and work for....And also,to imagine a world that could be but is not yet... I want to live with one foot in the mud and muck of the world as it is and the other striding toward a possible world,a world more peaceful,more just,kinder and fairer.In our struggle, one of our greatest strengths is our imaginations,and in the battle of imaginations we can prevail...unless we are stuck in an Eeyore like funk... There's nothing inevitable about rebels and progressives and revolutionaries descending into fatal sqabbling---we should argue and stuggle and engage in dialogue,what the hell,democracy is a messy,contentious business,but to take again our own history,the first American revolutionaries fought each other constantly and somehow united enough to change the world,and the anti-slavery forces were split in a thousand ways but in the end the abolitionists won.Surely there were lots of people in those days who said,woe is me,we can't do anything effectively.... The idea that the way things are is just inevitable or stable and unshakable or permanent----the notion that we are living at a point of arrival,the end of history,blah,blah,blah....all of this is in the service of the status quo. Our job:to make sense of the conditions that we find,to educate ourselves and our fellow citizens,to mobilize,agitate,come together...In other words,to be actors in the living,dynamic,rolling history we're a part of....rather than smart cynics living above and outside the battle...
ERIC RIDENOUR writes... (tnf) Tue 8 Jul 03 00:51
From Eric Ridenour: Bill, I was wondering, what would your advice be to people who are now trying to start a movement without breaking the law? I saw your posts on getting the voice out(pampleteering, etc.), and uniting the issues, but what specific advice would you give to the new movement(if one existed), on how to make change, without resulting to violence?
Bill Ayers (billayers) Tue 8 Jul 03 08:33
Eric---I guess the point is that all real and substantive progressive social change results from people coming together to name the obstacles to their full humanity,and then to move in concert to repair deficiencies,meet and overcome challenges.This means that the task is always an educating,organizing,mobilizing one... I think there is a growing movement worldwide for peace and against the power and mentality of empire including pre-emption,a seperate standard for the US in all international matters,the unaccountable and self-serving power of capital,and more.In other words a movement for peace and justice against permanent war and conquest--always under the banner of liberty,etc.just as Orwell noted so long ago... My advice is to join that movement,participate,build it in your town,workplace,school,or community,and work out next steps with colleagues,comrades,and loved ones.Another world is possible and essential if we are to survive....Get busy.... If you have a strong and developing vision of a just world,a humane society,and a planet in balance, if you act in collaboration with a vital and developing movement,if you stay aware of the danger of dogmatic and sectarian thinking as well as of inaction...if you do all that you're more likely to stay on a defensible,moral,and effective track...
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Tue 8 Jul 03 14:52
Bill, these days you're a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a school reform activist, according to a bio I found about you on the 'Net. Can you talk a little bit about your work as a school reform activist? What reforms are you pushing for? Where do you think the educational system inthe United States needs the most attention? What parts do you think are succeeding?
Elizabeth Churchill (leroy) Tue 8 Jul 03 15:40
(And speaking of the educational system, I just want to say that your brother taught my son Finnegan for four years at Berkeley High, and was by far the most inovative and outstanding educator that system has seen in decades!)
Bill Ayers (billayers) Wed 9 Jul 03 07:02
Hi Elizabeth---Rick really is an amazing teacher---thoughtful,caring,curious about the world and endlessly fascinated with young people.I'm glad your son had a good experience w him---he's the kind of teacher every kid should have....I look to Rick often for inspiration and the smart practice of teaching....
Bill Ayers (billayers) Wed 9 Jul 03 07:53
Cynthia--beware of bios on the web,but it's true,I work mostly in education and school reform.... I've written about it in several books including, To Teach; The Good Preschool teacher; A Kind and Just Parent; City Kids; Teaching For Social Justice; and a few others. Schools are naturally sites of desire and struggle. Partly because they are public places where we decide big questions like what kind of society we want to live in, what tools we are going to offer the next generation who not only have to live in the world we have left them, but also have to transform it. Schools are where parents invest much of their hope for their own kids. And young people invest time, and energy.... For over 150 years in this country, the ideal of a free, common, public education for all was agreed upon. The questions that were faught over were things like who constitutes the public, and what knowledge and experiences are most valuable. Today we face something both ominous and unprecedented: the frontal assault on the ideal of public education. The attack comes in many forms: narrow, high stakes testing, zero tolerance, charters in some places, vouchers in others. While the fights have included desegregation, equal access, bilingualism, the rights of disabled people, immigrant rights, the question was always access, equity, fairness. Today, the fight is over whether public schools for all kids will survive. The whole sale retreat from public education, led by the federal govt., comes of course, cloaked in the rhetoric of freedom, excellence, standards, and so on. But there should be no allusion; the kids who will suffer in this juggernaut are predictably kids from families who have no access, little power, and a dirth of resources to combat the hostility visited on them. Even more disturbing, the retreat from public education as a democratic ideal is combined with the embrace of criminal justice as the logical solution for every social problem. It is this double jesture that may prove to be fatal. What I spend a lot of time on is fighting for urban public schools as a human rights and civil rights issue. Two of my recent edited books are Zero Tolerance: resisting the drive for punishment in our schools, and A Simple Justice: the fight for small schools. And there is more of course.... We know what makes for an excellent school: generous resources, strong leadership, a collection of teachers who are energetic, capable, and passionate about what they do. This is not beyond our reach...
Gail Williams (gail) Wed 9 Jul 03 10:53
Agreed. Good on ya for that work.
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Wed 9 Jul 03 11:20
Bill, can you expand on your assertion that "narrow, high stakes testing" is an attack on public education?
Harry Henderson (hrh) Wed 9 Jul 03 11:28
I would also, non-tendentiously, like to ask Bill what mechanisms he would endorse for accountability of the educational system -- for making sure that it does in fact produce a quality of education that would enable young people from all backgrounds to cope with and compete in the 21st century.
Bill Ayers (billayers) Wed 9 Jul 03 13:41
Hello---The strongest correlate to how anyone will do on the Iowa or the LSAT or the SAT,for example,is the income and educational level of their parents.It's the Volvo Variable---if you have a Volvo in the driveway then you're likely to do pretty well.These tests are eminently coachable,and guess who can afford the tutors,special classes,car pools downtown?... So the test measures class... The tests as they're used---punitively,blaming-the-victim---do nothing to improve schools,but rather ask kids to own a failure that's been imposed on them.We need to start by giving all kids what the priveleged kids mostly have and it's no mystery:small responsive schools and classrooms with smart teachers who are rewarded for their efforts,the chance to invent and pursue things of interest,the right to experiment and grow from mistakes,the sense of agency that comes from doing something useful.And yes a second chance...See the Bush children as a somewhat twisted instance of the last point.... We also need to imagine schools where there are multiple routes to success---notice art and music,sports and clubs---abundant in Winnetka are decimated on Chicago's southside.Think like a teacher:You want every one of your 2nd graders to read more materials for a greater number of purposes,and you can keep track and make sense of it....Ranking the kids on a scale of winners and losers is of no interest. There is a strong role for standards, but standards need to be developed by the community as dynamic, flexible and in context. The people affected need to be decision makers. It makes no sense to say, for example, that everyone in the the USA should be up to an international standard in physics and then to provide no resources to create physics labs in every high school in Chicago -- we have two. Standards ought to be thought of as demands on the federal, state and local authorities to provide decent, accesible, generous palaces of learning for all kids. Does that sound extravagant? Maybe that is what's wrong. In chicago we have a state of the art jouvenile detention facility, 5 years old, holding close to 1,000 young people. It costs $20,000 per year to incarcerate one kid. Right across the street there is a crumbling elementary school, 120 years old, and the government only spends $8,000 per year per kid. Something is wrong there. This does not rule out the value of some measures to see whose getting an adequate education and who is missing out. But the result of those kind of measures should be to put a demand on govt to do better, not as an economic death sentence for youngsters who already face too many obstacles.
Brian Slesinsky (bslesins) Wed 9 Jul 03 14:42
I think we'd all be rather suspicious about a test that showed that rich and poor kids were getting the same education. So the fact that there's a correlation between class and test scores isn't necessarily pointing out something wrong with the tests, but rather the inequality in our educational system. (Which we already know.)
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Thu 10 Jul 03 08:07
Bill, I sympathize with your viewpoint and I agree that pouring money into prisons for adolescents instead of funding better schooling for these same young people at an earlier age is a losing proposition, for the youth and for the community. However, I don't think it's possible or practical to shift the funding from one to the other overnight. Supposing we could get legislators to adopt the "teach them earlier instead of incarcerating them later" philosophy, there's have to be a lengthy period where both aspects -- prison environments AND schools -- were seeing funding on an equal basis. So this shift would be expensive, in the short run. And legislators who pushed this "double spending" risk being voted out of office for "wasting" the taxpayers' money. Which means that voters need to be convinced that spending extra now would bring a worthy pay-off later. How to convince the voters? I don't think it's going to be easy. The public interest in education is about this deep (holding up thumb and forefinger about 1/16 of an inch apart). Sure, there are some parents who are truly invested in their children's education, but most only pay lipservice attention to the process. So, you've got a lot of barriers to address, from the huge transitional costs to legislators' CYA approach to legislation to parental/community apathy. *********** Bill. I'm sure I'm not telling you anything you haven't thought of about the difficulties of making these kinds of changes. And though I might appear to be rambling, I actually have a question: Given all these barriers, I find myself so discouraged that I mentally turn the page. How do YOU keep your fire? How do you manage to persist in being an activist when the social changes are so damn glacial?
Huh? (macoyote) Thu 10 Jul 03 11:03
I think one big difference between the sixties and now was the surge of hope, largely, I think, because the progress in civil rights, which had seemed so impossible, seemed to make other impossible goals possible. I mean, how many revolutions did we have going? Civil rights, women's movement, politics, sex, music, fashion, even food-( the hippies saved bread). And there was a base of prosperity that we don't have now.
Gail Williams (gail) Thu 10 Jul 03 11:06
the boomer youth culture demographics did help with the hope and the zeal, too.
excessively heterosexual (saiyuk) Thu 10 Jul 03 16:49
bill, I hope this question doesn't cross some line, but I'm curious as to how your more unusual life experiences affected your relationships with your kids.
Bill Ayers (billayers) Thu 10 Jul 03 18:38
Hmmmm....first,the kids-----I have three beautiful,sweet,accomplished and lovely kids,all grown and on to amazing pathways of their own making.I've been blessed,lucky,and I've had the wild good fortune to share it all with Bernardine Dohrn who is before all else a loving and wise parent.So to kids the parents are just there---unusual life experiences belong to everyone,each in a particular way of course---and the important things are about being present and committed and engaged and so on.Our kids grew up in a home where their lives and hopes and needs counted centrally--what else matters?--and of course it was full of conversation and friends and a spirit of,well of happy opposition I suppose.But again to our kids we were neither unusual nor notorious---just mom and pops...
Bill Ayers (billayers) Thu 10 Jul 03 18:54
Brian---True there's nothing wrong with the test,just the claims made for the test...Let's call it what it is:a measure of background mostly...And then let's stop spending so much money on the damn things,and invest in learning mostly.We could for example simply ask kids to line up according to class and spare the hypocrisy.Note in NY last week the state cancelled Math A--touted as essential for real reform--when huge #s flunked it,and Cal.has suspended its big state test for the same reason:when the white kids can't hack it,the rules are changed...
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