The Ayers Association

The New York Times on Sunday plumbed Barack Obama’s association with Bill Ayers in a front-page story that largely seemed to get it right: There is nothing unusual or particularly alarming about their relationship or the way their paths have crossed over the years. Republicans are barking up the wrong tree on this one. It might be an effective – if vile – way to scare voters, but it’s also a distraction (!) from Obama’s real pernicious relationships with the likes of Tony Rezko and Emil Jones. But you already know that.

In Chicago, Ayers remains a bit of an enigma mostly due to the fact that he’s never really apologized or denounced the violence he participated in with the Weather Underground. He was never really brought to justice, either; charges against him were thrown out due to prosecutorial misconduct.

But as the Times reports, Ayers “has largely been rehabilitated” here.

“This is 2008,” Mayor Daley told the Times. “People make mistakes. You judge a person by his whole life.”

Daley, as the paper explains, has long consulted Ayers on education issues, where he makes his bones now.

The contrarian voice in the article comes from Tribune columnist Steve Chapman.

“I don’t think there’s a statute of limitations on terrorist bombings,” Chapman says.

True or not, it’s a stretch to call out Obama for daring to serve on civic boards with Ayers.

“If John McCain had a long association with a guy who’d bombed abortion clinics, I don’t think people would say, ‘That’s ancient history’.”

Perhaps, but then if that abortion clinic bomber’s activities ended 30 years ago and the bomber had since become a valued member of the community, perhaps not.

On the other hand, the Obama campaign doesn’t seem to think the statute of limitations has run out on McCain’s association with Charles Keating. I don’t think that association is particularly relevant either, but we’re in for what could be the most disheartening, ugliest home stretch ever. And that means we’ll be hearing a lot about the so-called terrorist in our midst.

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“Now, Ayers is a respected name in the field of education; his books, including To Teach: The Journey of a Teacher and A Good Preschool Teacher, are hailed by some as groundbreaking and thoughtful approaches to learning,” Marcia Froelke Coburn wrote in an August 2001 Chicago magazine profile timed to the release of Ayers’ memoir, Fugitive Days. The story is best-known for the photo of Ayers standing on an American flag, but that’s a disservice to Coburn’s fine work.

“Essentially, you must see the student before you as a locus of energy,” he says. “He already has a heart, a soul, a mind, interests, and dreams. You need to help him shape those interests, pursue those dreams.” Ayers is distinguished professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where two years ago the university named him Senior University Scholar, an award given to outstanding faculty members. He also directs the Center for Youth and Society, an organization that brings an interdisciplinary approach to working with youth—from art education to after-school programs. One of the center’s recent efforts was a symposium inspired by the book Racism Explained to My Daughter, by Tahar Ben Jelloun. “We brought together people to discuss how to address racism with kids,” says Therese Quinn, associate director of the center. What strikes Quinn about Ayers is “his enthusiasm and optimism,” she says. “He is just overwhelmingly generous and supportive.”

The piece is aptly called “No Regrets,” though, and that’s the part that makes full acceptance of Ayers difficult. Ayers did not respond to multiple requests from the Times for comment.

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A Bill Ayers blog.

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