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The Bill Ayers Problem

A reflective statement by a Museum of Education patron describing a “personal reconciliation” with “the Bill Ayers Problem.”

Reconciling Ayers
by Hannah Dykes Markwardt
(August 20, 2008)



I may be very much in the minority when I say this, but I believe that it is not necessary to reconcile “Bill Ayers the educator” and “Bill Ayers the radical anti-war activist” at all.  Ayers’ passion and activism in his past are strong evidence of his commitment to developing democracy through education today. 

Throughout his life, Ayers has remained steadfast to the ideals of justice and democracy.  When elected officials refused to respond to the voice of the majority through peaceful protests during the Vietnam War, Ayers and his colleagues made desperate attempts to get the government’s attention, all the while being extremely careful that no innocent people were harmed (in contrast to the thousands of lives being lost in that unnecessary war).  Though we may not all agree with their method, many of us can learn from the steadfastness and bravery of Ayers and his colleagues in standing up for justice. 

Though he has changed his methods, Ayers’ belief in social change is preserved in his commitment to school reform; it is only a modified form of caring deeply about the quality of life for Americans of all ages, races, and classes.  Indeed, his goal remains the same today as it was in the late 1960s: the development of a responsive and humane democratic government.  Today, Ayers is using the power of education in order to shape a legion of committed professionals who will help create a more democratic future through the youth their teaching touches everyday. 


As caring educators, we should be proud to agree with Ayers’ educational philosophies and teachings.  Yet we should also stand up for Ayers’ past activism, perhaps disregarding the form it took.  His whole-hearted involvement in the struggle against an unjust war that was robbing America of its youth really should be an inspiration to those of us who aim to spend our lives caring for today’s youth and building tomorrow’s leaders.

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