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Saturday, July 5

Steve Diamond: Whither the Teachers’ Unions? The Barack Obama-William Ayers Link

Professor Steve Diamond at Global Labor and the Global Economy writes about important upcoming events and to reply to yet more huffy leftists, so the least I could do was interrupt my vacation to cross-post his latest.

For detailed background on the discussion here, see Steve's posts starting June 18 at his blog; for more background on the Obama-Ayers relationship see Global Labor archives starting April 22, then read forward.


All of a sudden, the American Federation of Teachers seems to have decided it is in their best interest to rise to the defense of Obama and his education advisor Linda Darling-Hammond. In particular, they do not want anyone looking too closely at the long-standing relationship between Bill Ayers and their preferred presidential candidate, Senator Obama.

Well, not really all of a sudden, it's just a few days after the AFL-CIO decided to throw in the towel and endorse Obama over Clinton now that Clinton has put her campaign on ice. And just a few days before Obama is scheduled to appear before the national conventions of both of the major teachers' unions. The AFT has recommended its convention meeting next week in Chicago endorse Obama, as has the National Education Association, before which Obama speaks July 5.

When I pointed out at the Edwize Blog sponsored by the United Federation of Teachers, the big New York division of the AFL-CIO affiliated AFT, that Darling-Hammond backs the same key policy proposal (repayment of centuries of "education debt" to people of color) as Bill Ayers, long time education advocate and co-worker of Obama, and that Ayers and Obama are far from being "casual acquaintances" as Leo Casey of the AFT had contended, Casey replied with the following false claims on the Democratic Left Yahoo group:

1) that I had painted an "unrecognizable caricature" of Darling-Hammond;

2) that I had contended that the $110 million Chicago Annenberg Challenge that Ayers and Obama ran together for five years was a "political front" for Ayers and his politics;

3) that Obama had only a "quite superficial grasp of what [was] going on" at the Annenberg Challenge the board of which he chaired and was not "involve[d] in the nitty-gritty" of the five year long project and that he was only "lending..his name and his ability to make a couple of telephone calls to get things done."

4) that I contended there was "some sort of sinister hidden connection between Obama and Ayers"

None of this is true and Casey provides no documentation at all for any of his specious contentions. I wrote the following reply to both Democratic Left and Edwize, but so far neither site has "approved" my posts so I am putting up a copy here (pretty remarkable for a site that considers itself an opponent of authoritarianism in modern political life):

Well, at least Leo now seems to be admitting that Ayers and Obama were more than "casual acquaintances" as he asserted on Democratic Left and on Edwize.

So now on to the second line of defense.

Frankly, I am not sure what that is because I only assert two things: Obama and Ayers have a longstanding political relationship - which is clear from the public record; and two, Ayers and Darling-Hammond are now advocating a race-based solution to education - the repayment of centuries of "education debt" to people of color or, in other words, reparations. Nothing you have said contradicts this.

I did not paint a portrait of Darling Hammond or caricature her as you have speciously asserted. I only stated the facts as supported by her public record. She and I have exchanged emails on this issue and this is reported on my blog. She herself has never suggested that I have made any factually incorrect statements about her.

I never suggested the Annenberg Challenge which Obama and Ayers ran together, though not alone, was a political front as you, again without substantiation, contend I did. In fact, Ayers was quite open about his political goals and those goals run right through the lengthy grant proposal, the annual reports of the organization and its board minutes, which I have reviewed (though some board minutes were not provided me).

Some in Chicago shared those goals. Some understood the background of his views and others did not. I view the local schools councils as an attempt to create a new center of power that was aimed at the power of the teachers' union. They were set up in the wake of an unpopular teachers strike in 1987. Obama and Ayers were active in the lobbying effort for that "radical" reform, as Ayers called it in his proposal to the Annenberg Foundation.

I do not consider such local councils a democratic step forward for school progress, but rather as a potential base of power for those with a different kind of agenda, based on racial politics and "social justice" teaching. A genuine democratic alternative would be built, as Dorothy Shipps has written, in district wide assemblies elected by the public that are transparent and accountable.

I have not imputed any particular agenda to Ayers, Obama or Darling-Hammond, other than to note that Ayers and Darling-Hammond support repayment of the education debt as a top priority. Obama has not stated what his views are on this very clearly though he indicated sympathy for the idea while campaigning in South Carolina.

Given the long and close ties between Ayers and Obama and the professional ties among education debt repayment advocates Ayers, Darling-Hammond and Ladson-Billings, it is reasonable to ask if this kind of race-based approach to educational problems is going to be part of the Obama presidency.

Obama was not as you contend an elected official when he first worked on school reform with Ayers in the late 80s, nor was he even yet a candidate when he became Chairman of the board of the Annenberg Challenge in 1995. He was a relative unknown and quite a junior person at that point, just two years out of law school when Ayers submitted the grant proposal, with only a voter registration drive to his credit since leaving Harvard.

Thus, I think it is a fair question to ask why Obama would have been chosen to head up such a prestigious effort as the $110 million Annenberg Challenge. I think Ayers backed him because he knew he could rely on Obama to support Ayers' agenda of propping up the troubling and troubled local schools councils.

And, in fact, the record of the Challenge - its annual reports, mid term reports and board minutes - indicate that that is precisely what happened. Even when concerns were raised by a business sector representative on the board that the councils represented a potential "political threat" to school principals (and unions??) Obama backed Ayers in pushing money into the school council election process.

Finally, when you suggest that Obama played no significant role in directing the Challenge, are you suggesting that as chairman of the board of a major non profit corporation in the state of Illinois, that Obama had a hands-off attitude? That he was NOT aware that the Challenge was signing off on, for example, a $175,000 grant to Ayers buddy Mike Klonsky, as they did in 1995 for the Small Schools Workshop Klonsky was recruited to head up by Ayers? That suggests to me a problem of fiduciary duty. Quite unlikely for a Harvard Law School graduate - and frankly, more worrying for me about Obama if true.

No, I think Obama knew exactly what he was doing when he voted as a board member to approve the disbursement of millions of dollars in order to intervene in the Chicago school wars. And so did Ayers. They were using each other for advancement of their careers and their shared political perspective on education policy.

The Challenge ended in 2001. It is certainly reasonable for voters to ask seven years later for Obama to explain the relationship and Ayers' influence on his approach to education policy.

While no one could, or should, impute to Obama any support for the terroristic activity of Ayers, Dohrn and others, there is an important connection between Ayers' politics then and his approach to education policy today: Ayers and the Weather Underground promoted a politics built around the absurd idea of "white supremacy," which Ayers calls even today the "monster in the room" at the heart of American life.

This was linked to another idea that was widely held among the maoist elements that took hold in the early 70s in the US: that American workers and their unions were part of a giant labor aristocracy that exploited workers of the south, the so-called Third World. Inside the US, the Weather Underground argued that a global form of "unequal exchange" was reproduced in the relationship between white and black workers.

Thus, when an idea like repayment of centuries of accumulated "education debt" is proposed as the top priority of the next federal government as it has been by Darling-Hammond, Ladson-Billings and Bill Ayers, all of whom have links to Obama, it is reasonable to ask what Obama's view are on such a critical issue. The presumptive nominee has yet to explain how it is that his education advisor can promote such an idea and yet he remains silent on it.

I would think the members of America's teachers' unions would like to know the answers to such questions as well before they decide how to approach the upcoming elections.

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