I have known Bill Ayers as a colleague at the
Bill has written extensively about social justice, democracy, school contexts, and ethics regarding students, families, and educators. His has written more than 150 chapters and articles that have appeared in such journals as the Harvard Educational Review, the Journal of Teacher Education, Teachers College Record, Rethinking Schools, the Nation, Kappan, and the Cambridge Journal of Education. He has authored or edited sixteen books. His research and innovation based on it has been supported by the MacArthur Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, the Chicago Community Trust, the Annenberg Foundation, Readers Digest, and the
In many of his scholarly writings, Dr. Ayers has called attention to the role of teachers to demonstrate greater social responsibility in meeting the needs of children. In 1989, he wrote The Good Preschool Teacher, research on six exemplary, though quite different, preschool teachers. He also joined an on-going project that I had developed with graduate students, called the Teacher Lore Project, an endeavor that recognized and interpreted what teachers know from experience, and we mentored several dissertations that strove to understand the meanings of teaching for teachers, culminating in the publication of the book, Teacher Lore (1992, 1999). Over twenty-five dissertations have grown from this project and its offshoot, student lore, an attempt to understand the meanings students glean from their experiences. Several books have been published, based on these dissertations, to enhance perspectives of prospective and practicing teachers.
Social justice in lives of teachers and students was the major theme of another book by Dr. Ayers, To Teach: The Journey of a Teacher (1993, 2001 revised) which was one of Teachers College Press’s best selling books; it was named Book of the Year in 1993 by Kappa Delta Pi, and won the Witten Award for Distinguished Work in Biography and Autobiography in 1995. Dr. Ayers also edited the following noteworthy volumes: To Become a Teacher: Making a Difference in Children’s Lives (1995), a compendium of perspectives on teacher education and dilemmas in teachers’ early career experiences, and City Kids/City Teachers (1996, and recently revised and expanded in 2008), wherein the plight of oppression in our urban areas is portrayed along with imaginative ways to address such circumstances through education.
Bill served as Assistant Deputy Mayor for Education in
Dr. Ayers and I teamed in the late 1980s and early 1990s to create an alternative teacher education program at UIC wherein students learned theory and research through intensive experience in
In the midst of all this work, Dr. Ayers continued his critique of the oppression of people of color by studying youth and teachers in Juvenile Jail and Juvenile Court of Chicago, drawing metaphorically on pioneer social worker Jane Addams’ adage when she founded that institution, saying it should provide a kind and just parent for children in crisis. His book by that title (subtitled The Children of Juvenile Court, 1997) is a narrative based on a year-long ethnography of youth who are incarcerated.
The book led to Dr. Ayers’ nomination by business and community leaders in
Because of his scholarly work on and insights about social justice, Dr. Ayers is often called upon to speak and advise educators. I estimate that he has averaged a keynote address per week for the past several years. He reviews manuscripts regularly for many scholarly and professional journals, serves on editorial boards, and advises boards of many prominent educational concerns. Amidst all of this work, Dr. Ayers tirelessly serves students and the public. He strives to present fairly a diverse range of perspectives on issues he discusses and never compels students or others to adhere to his convictions. In fact, he relishes seeing students and colleagues soar to heights that surprise him with novel ideas, and then he works assiduously to enhance their ideas and research for publication or leadership opportunities. He has chaired over 40 Ph.D. dissertations and has been a member of more than 50 other dissertation committees, most at UIC, though several at other universities throughout the
Bill writes extensively in the public domain as well as in scholarly outlets, e.g., a frequent writer for major newspapers, magazines, and Internet sites. He travels nationally and internationally (e.g.,
Bill’s contributions have been clearly recognized at UIC where he has been designated the President’s Distinguished Speaker of the University of Illinois, Distinguished Professor of Education, and University Scholar in perpetuity (normally a three year award). Notably, too, he has been named Randolph Distinguished Visiting Professor at Vassar College, Distinguished Scholar at the McKissick Museum of Education at the University of South Carolina, Visiting Scholar at Lesley College, received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Nazareth College in Rochester, and has presented invited lectures or colloquia at such places as the American Educational Research Association, American Association of Curriculum and Teaching, Harvard University, Coalition of Essential Schools, University of Washington, the Detroit Institute of Art, University of Ottawa, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University Libraries Colloquia at Michigan State University, University of Wisconsin, University of Hawaii, Institute for Democracy and Education, Rethinking Schools, University of Michigan, University of Chicago, Los Angeles Public Library, Oregon State Bar, Purdue University, American Psychological Association, AATCE, State Prison of New York, The Gates Foundation, Indiana University, Columbia University, Bank Street College, Georgia Southern University, Colgate University, National Academy of Education, I Have a Dream Foundation, University of North Carolina, Children’s Law Center of Minnesota, Rice University, New York University, Yale University, and many other colleges, universities, public events, private and public schools. All of this bespeaks Bill’s work as a public intellectual based on his scholarly efforts for democracy and social justice, as does his service on several boards of directors, notably a founding member of the board of the Public Square, formerly the Center for Public Intellectuals, and his numerous radio and television appearances.
All of the above is informed by Dr. Ayers’ central concern -- an unfaltering and tireless struggle of victims of socio-economic, political, national, and racial oppression.
It has been a pleasure to share over the past twenty years his weaving of tapestries of personal and political experience, teaching, scholarship, and service that inspire educational reformers to challenge oppression and injustice. Ayers has argued that social justice work demands not merely “service to” but “solidarity with” the oppressed. This turn of phrase aptly expresses the efforts of Bill Ayers to contribute to human betterment informed by scholarly work.
Dr. Ayers lives his commitment of concern for others at the interpersonal level. As busy as he is in all of the above and more, Bill is somehow always there for friends or colleagues at important junctures of their lives – for marriages, births, graduations, deaths – and in times of need he is not just a quick visitor, he remains in helpful contact for as long as needed. I have benefited from this immensely amid both tragic and joyful events of my own life.
So, when he has been heard to say, “We didn’t do enough,” it is emblematic of his philosophy that all of us, including himself, can do more to work for liberty and justice for all – a value that is deeply human and part of the best of the American creed.
This is the Bill Ayers I know!
William H. Schubert
Professor of Education and University Scholar
Coordinator, Ph.D. Program in Curriculum
Coordinator, M.Ed. Program in Educational Studies