Students were urged to criticize the education system for the sake of democracy at a speech by social activist Bill Ayers at the University of Oregon this past Thursday.
Approximately 200 people found their way to the University of Oregon’s Lillis Auditorium at 7:30 p.m., to hear Ayers speak about social justice, particularly, social justice in education. Ayers was welcomed with an engaged audience, with laughter after humorous comments and applause after provoking statements of the role of people in society.
A good portion of Ayers’s speech focused on the role of education in a democracy. Every human being is of impalpable value but that society is a work in progress. “We’re living in a vibrant environment with a dynamic history,” Ayers said. “We’re in the middle of things and we should dive into it and be involved.”
The key to being involved is to be critical and to raise questions in the classroom. Ayers then cited the 1963 curriculum in Freedom Schools during the Civil Rights Movement as an example of this. During that movement, a 24-page curriculum of questions surfaced questioning the education system about the purpose of education. To Ayers, it was revolutionary. “What an amazing and gutsy thing to do,” Ayers said. “We can’t allow ourselves to be blind, we have a responsibility to open our eyes.”
Ayers spoke of many other anecdotes focusing on education reform but one story really caught the audience off guard. Ayers began to speak of his personal experience witnessing the John Wayne Gaysie execution. John Wayne Gaysie, an inmate on death row,
Ayers wanted the audience to walk away with was the idea that education is a human right. To Ayers, education is crucial to having a sovereign society. “I want you all to pursue your own answers,” Ayers said. “Education is about opening doors and opening minds.”
Matt Laubach, a media activist involved in the Occupy Movement, was very eager to listen to Ayers speak. Before the speech, he hoped Ayers would impart wisdom on people, in particular the younger audience members. “I hope that he empowers the young people and encourages them to get involved in their decision making,” Laubach said. “I hope he gets them to fight the elite that rip us off.”
Sophomore Carolyn Auvil attended as an extra credit assignment for her social inequalities course and was pleasantly surprised by Ayer’s view on education. “It resonated with me and he brought a lot of interesting things that are worth thinking about,” Auvil said. “There were a lot of good one-liners in there.”
The event was the idea of UO Education graduate students, but none were available to comment. However, the students’ professor and advisor, Alison Schmitke, thought Ayers was an amazing selection to speak and thought his thoughts have a big affect on students. “He’s challenging us to redefine how we do things,” Schmitke said. “He articulates a way of teaching that I want to do and he’s lives his personal views.”
Ayers is author of over 20 books, with one of his more famous books, “To Be A Teacher” and “To Teach,” a very important resource taught in UO Education Department, the sponsor of the event.