Bill Ayers Reflects on The State of Education and Democracy

Bill Ayers, education professor and senior university scholar at the University of Illinois at Chicago, delivered his thoughts on the flaws of our country’s education system and citizen’s role in Democracy Thursday night. Students, professors, and Eugene residents alike packed an auditorium in the Lillis Business Complex at 7:30 p.m. to hear the anti-war activist who gained notoriety during the 2008 Presidential Election due to his relationship with Barack Obama. Ayers, spoke for an hour, then answered questions for an hour and a half.

While the crowd in attendance reached over 200 people, Ayers isn’t concerned with how many people show up to hear in speak. “I want to know did learn and did I teach,” he said.   “That’s most important.”

Laurie Kahn, a PhD student in the College of Education, was responsible for bringing Ayers to the University. She missed the opportunity to hear him speak at a conference in Chicago earlier this year and she decided the best way to assure she would see him was to bring him to Eugene.

Kahn wasn’t concerned with what Ayers was going to say but who would be in attendance. She hoped to attract those who could implement change in the world of education. “It’s all about who you’re speaking too,” she said. “A specific topic isn’t necessary.”

Wearing a black long sleeve shirt, a red vest, and jeans Ayers shared a sarcastic thought on the best way for kids to succeed in school. “Kids need to choose the right parents,” Ayers said. “In the Chicago school system some kids are funded with $40,000 and others $4,000, theses are savage inequalities.”

Ayers disagrees with the how students are compared and tested in schools today. “Students need to hear they are a work in progress,” he said. “Everyone is.” He wishes that schools based their curriculum on imagination, value and courage.

The lecture built to his final point: “We cannot be good citizens if we don’t pay attention, be astonished, talk about it, and doubt,” Ayers said.

Education student Jessica Paradis attended the lecture upon the suggestion from her GTF. “We need to be aware of injustices in education so we can work to change things,” she said. “That’s the biggest thing I will take away from the lecture.”

The specific Ayers quote that stuck with Laurie Kahn after hearing him speak all day, “Don’t let your life make a mockery of your values.”

Bill Ayers delivers his wise words on Thursday night.

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