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Obama and Ayers: Ideological Soul Mates

John on October 6, 2008 at 9:57 am

Obama and his wife were associated with Ayers and his wife from at least 1995 when Obama was hired to run the Chicago Annenberg Challenge (for which Ayers wrote the grant and served on the board) to 2001 when Ayers was serving on the board of the Woods foundation with Obama.

That’s a long time association to be swept under the rug now. Just to put this in perspective, the press has spent lots of time investigate Sarah Palin’s church, not the one she attends now but the Assemblies of God church she left in 2002. Somehow, none of that seemed like ancient history to the media. Obama’s ties to Ayers are just as recent.

Obama’s chief strategist David “astroturf” Axelrod is now claiming that Obama didn’t know about Ayers’s views back in 1995. Even if this were true (which I doubt), what about the six years that followed? At some point, Obama must have learned about Ayers history. But, as was the case with Rev. Wright, the association didn’t seem to bother him until he started running for President.

I’ve done some of my own research into the Chicago Annenberg Challenge where Obama and Ayers worked together. Obama has claimed that Ayers had little input after writing the initial grant, but the organizations records show something else. The Annenberg Challenge published a journal (Challenge Journal) which highlighted the work going on at different challenge sites around the country. In 1997, the CJ did a write up about work in Chicago:

The Chicago Challenge asks all its schools to work in such networks, paired with an external partner that could be a coalition like CIESS or a museum, university, or foundation. And their plans must address not only isolation but time and size–the three factors that organizers say will most affect whether reforms endure when Challenge funds run out.

“We’re not talking about ‘time on task’ or hours in the school day,” points out Bill Ayers, whose Small Schools Workshop at the University of Illinois is partner to about a dozen small Chicago schools. “We mean time for teachers to think and act collectively–not as clerks but as intellectuals.” They help each other along that path at the new Teacher Leadership Academy, which Ayers and his co-director, Michael Klonsky, began. Schools must also be small enough to know their students well, Ayers and other Challenge leaders believe.

It was Bill Ayers’ vision but Barack Obama was the man who implemented it.There are at least two things to take from this quote. First, notice that Ayers is not treated as a behind the scenes benefactor. The Annenberg Challenge’s own journal refers to Ayers as an organizer and leader of the CAC. Second, note that the CAC granted some of its largesse back to Ayers himself. This is at a time when Barack Obama is acting as CEO for the organization. His job was to see checks were cut to the right organizations. Put another way, Obama was writing the checks that funded Ayers’ vision. And yet the Obama campaign and the NY Times (but I repeat myself) want us to believe they merely crossed paths a few times?!

The CAC was ultimately little more than a slush fund for Ayers radical politics. Ayers wasn’t interested in standardized test scores, he was interested in “community building” along explicitly racial lines. A 1998 Challenge Journal entry summarized the work being done across the country in this way:

So how can a school community manage to build such an effective learning environment for all students — not just those whose circumstances already grant them those advantages? Challenge sites all wrestle with that question, and their answers — though rooted in examples as various as the sites themselves — have begun to reveal a few common conclusions.

First, they place issues of race, class, language, and culture at the center of schools’ reform work. Trying not to get caught in avoidance, denial, blame, guilt, or polarization, they build relationships and communication around a solid base of research data about their own community.

Forget about the 4Cs. Under Obama and Ayers, the CAC distributed over $100 million dollars in an effort to place race, class, language and culture at the center of public school curriculums. That’s why Obama, as head of the CAC, declined to fund an Algebra initiative (which received funds from other Challenge sites around the nation but not in Chicago), but found money for the South Shore African Village Collaborative which its founder described this way:

“We’ve had big community arts and sports festivals,” says Williams-Kinnison. “And we’re working on shared graduation ceremonies. We want to show that all of us, not just an individual school, have a stake in graduating all our children.”

The Chicago Annenberg Challenge had its own journal distinct from the one published by the broader Annenberg Challenge. This CAC journal was called School Works and its Winter 2000 Issue — highlighted on the CAC website — boasted an article by Chicago Middle School teacher Jorge Pena titled Making the Personal Political:

Experiential exercises bring to life key concepts and ideas so students experience them both emotionally and physically. For this particular lesson, I created a farm by clearing a large space in the middle of the classroom, As students stood in a circle holding plastic cups, 1 spread beans on the floor within the circle. While I acted as the farm owner and their supervisor, students picked up the beans from the Root. There were two conditions I imposed on them: they were not to stand up without my permission and they were to pick up only one bean at a time (this ensured that the experience lasted longer). A violation of these conditions would result in an additional homework assignment.

After three minutes of bean picking, some students complained they were getting tired and wanted to stand up. At the same time, they were having fun and enjoying the activity. To heighten the stakes, I used a water bottle and sprayed water over their heads; this act symbolized the use of pesticides, Students initially enjoyed the mist, but soon realized and understood the implications on their health had it been an actual pesticide.

Remember Obama was still a member of the board at this time, as the website shows:

In addition to applauding a teacher whose goal seems to be to inculcate students of Mexican descent with a sense of grievance at America, the CAC was strongly against standardized testing and English immersion teaching. Barack Obama, presumably, agreed with all of this. I say presumably because the press hasn’t asked him about any of it. It’s amazing that the Times and others have literally spoken to every person in Alaska with a critical word to say about Sarah Palin, but havent’ bothered to ask Obama if he really thinks politicizing schools and bilingual education are a good idea.

If Barack Obama wants to claim he didn’t know about Ayers’ terrorist history, fine. I don’t believe it for a second, but let’s forget the distant past and focus on the recent past instead. It’s hard for me to imagine anything more hostile to America’s attempt to become a color blind society than telling impressionable kids in middle school that their race is central to their identities. Under Barack Obama, that’s what the CAC was about. It was Bill Ayers’ vision but Barack Obama was the man who implemented it. Ayers (the new, more respectable education expert) and Obama were ideological soul mates a mere ten years ago. Let’s just talk about that for a while, shall we?

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