Bill Ayers Speaks On Social Justice, Education Reform

Famed education theorist Bill Ayers gave audience members three instructions for life: pay attention, be astonished, and tell about it.

Ayers was brought to the University of Oregon Thursday by the Department of Education, Lane Community College, the University’s Cultural Forum, the Humanities and Ethnic Studies departments, the Multicultural Center, and The Office of Equity and Inclusion to speak about his theories of education. Teresa Arnold, from the University’s Cultural Forum, said they invited Ayers to speak because “the education system in this country is in a lot of trouble.”

His speech included his beliefs on necessary changes in the education system, the need to keep learning into adulthood, and the importance of activism.

The speech took place in Lillis 182, with more than 280 people in attendence.

Ayers spoke about the “savage inequalities” in our democratic shooling system and noted that children do in fact note these inequalities. Some schools have small class sizes and tens of thousands of dollars to spend per student, he says, while others have large class sizes and just a few thousand to spend per student, reducing the quality of their education. Ayers believes that whatever the rich can supply for their students– better schools, private art lessons, etc.– should be the minimum standard for public education. “The policy that we teach kids is to choose the right parents,” he said.

Ayers believes that school curriculums must change in order to teach kids how to learn and prepare them for life beyond schooling. His ideal curriculum teaches courage, imagination, and other personal qualities, rather than strict mathematics and textbook history. He believes that curriculums should ask questions, not answer them.

Ayers believes that education does not equal school, and that we must keep educating ourselves long after we graduate high school. “We are works in progress,” Ayers said. He emphasized that we must always ask questions and always try to find out more. Willful blindness to the goings-on around us must be avoided, and we must always ask questions. “You don’t need anyone’s permission to interrogate the world,” he said. When we do find answers and feel a need to act, Ayers said to just go out and do it. He said to find your passion and connect it to other issues and, most importantly, keep acting. “It’s never enough to have an idea, you have to do something.”

A nervous audience member asked Ayers if he believed a hypocritical education system could be changed.  Several other audience members approached her afterwards and thanked her for her question. Her friend, Hannah Weyhrauch, stood next to her, proud at her friend for overcoming her stage fright and asking Ayers her question. “That’s what he’s promoting, is standing up and asking the difficult questions,” Weyhrauch said.

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