Prairie Fire in the Classroom: Bill Ayers’s Bloodless Revolution — Guest Post by Kevin Groenhagen

Prairie Fire in the Classroom: Bill Ayers’s Bloodless Revolution — Guest Post by Kevin Groenhagen

“We share the belief that education is the motor-force of revolution.” —Bill Ayers, Weather Underground leader, in a 2006 speech at the World Economic Forum in Caracas, Venezuela

“John Dewey suggested that schools must be the engine of social transformation.” —Glenn E. Singleton and Curtis Linton, Courageous Conversations About Race (2006)

“Give me four years to teach the children and the seed I have sown will never be uprooted.” —Vladimir Lenin

Shortly after Barack Obama was reelected in 2012, I started writing a book about the growth of socialism in the United States. The title of the book, The Tea Party Challenge: Understanding the Threat Posed by the Socialist Coalition, was inspired by a statement the founding convention of the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee (DSOC) released in October 1973. “The old socialist dream that disinherited workers would become the vast majority of capitalist society did not come to pass,” it said. “There is no single group—neither the trade unionists, nor the poor nor the minorities, nor the middle class liberals and radicals—which is sufficiently numerous and cohesive to win a democratic majority. Therefore each potential component of the democratic Left must both organize and speak for itself and enter into a coalition with other groups.”

The DSOC statement was clear as to how these groups would enter into such a coalition: “The organizational focus for bringing together these disparate forces in the foreseeable future is, for better or worse, the Democratic Party.”

The more research I did the more connections I found between Obama and Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), which was formed when DSOC merged with the New American Movement (NAM) in 1982. Obama ran for the Illinois state senate as a fusion Democratic Party/New Party candidate in 1996. The New Party was closely aligned with the Chicago chapter of DSA. In fact, minutes from the New Party’s Chicago chapter’s meeting on January 11, 1996, read as follows: “Barack Obama, candidate for State Senate in the 13th Legislative District, gave a statement to the membership and answered questions. He signed the New Party ‘Candidate Contract’ and requested an endorsement from the New Party. He also joined the New Party.” In addition, a roster of the Chicago chapter of the New Party from early 1997 lists Obama as a member, with January 11, 1996, indicated as the date he joined.

When Obama delivered the speech at an anti-Iraq War rally in October 2002 that propelled him to the U.S. Senate in 2004 and to his status as leading presidential candidate four years later, one of that event’s organizers was Marilyn Katz. Katz was one of NAM’s founders.

When Obama ran for president in 2008, one of his advisers, Peter Dreier, was also a member of DSA’s National Executive Committee. Obama’s campaign slogan, “Yes, We Can!” was “stolen” from Dolores Huerta, who helped organize migrant farm workers along with Cesar Chavez. Huerta is also a DSA honorary chair, as is Gloria Steinem. As president, Obama awarded both Huerta and Steinem with the Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

And then there’s Bill Ayers. While the 2008 McCain-Palin campaign briefly (and ineptly) focused on Ayers’s days as a domestic terrorist with the Weather Underground, it failed to discuss Ayers’s work in education during the past several decades. It was that work, and not Ayers’s terrorist past, that attracted Obama to the former terrorist.

Obama worked with Ayers on the Chicago Annenberg Challenge and served with Ayers on the board of the leftist Woods Fund from 1998 until 2001. According to Ayers in Public Enemy: Confessions of an American Dissident (2013), the Woods Fund “supported community organizing.” Members of the Weather Underground called themselves “community organizers,” as did Obama.

Obama provided praise for Ayers’s book, A Kind and Just Parent, in 1997. Ayers returned the favor the following year in Teaching for Social Justice when he included Obama’s Dreams From My Father on a list of books that are “resources for teaching for change.”

Obama and Ayers even appeared together on academic panels, including one organized by Michelle Obama to discuss the juvenile justice system, an area of mutual concern.

The Weather Underground’s interest in education was evident even when they were planning a violent revolution the United States. “We believe that radical teachers should work in schools in working class neighborhoods, in community or junior colleges,” Ayers, et al., wrote in Prairie Fire, their 1974 political manifesto. “Radicalize other teachers, organize the parents, teach and encourage your students.”

Ayers’s opinion about radicalizing teachers was unchanged four decades after the publication of Prairie Fire. “Revolutionaries want to change the world, of course, and teachers, it turns out, want to change the world too—typically one child at a time,” he wrote in Public Enemy. “It wasn’t as much of a reach as you might imagine.”

So, how would these radicalized teachers change the world? Ayers and his wife, Bernardine Dohrn a Weather Underground comrade, offer an answer to that question in Race Course Against White Supremacy (2009): “If you want fundamental change, tie your fate to the most oppressed.” The title of their book makes it clear who they consider the oppressed and who they consider the oppressors. The “fundamental change” (or “fundamental transformation” as Obama put it in 2008) they desire is more socialism in this country.

After I published my book, even my fellow conservatives pooh-poohed my contention that the 5,000-member DSA and the Socialist Coalition posed a serious threat. I wonder if they have changed their opinions since then. If not for a rigged primary system, socialist Bernie Sanders may have been the Democrats’ presidential nominee and gone on to defeat Donald Trump in the 2016 election. A 2017 poll conducted by YouGov and the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation found American millennials closely split on the question of what type of society they would prefer to live in: 44 percent picked a socialist country, 42 percent a capitalist one. And DSA now has more than 30,000 members. According to the Nation magazine, “an army of young people is joining DSA.”

What is going on here? I believe Ayers and his fellow radical teachers have succeeded in getting a “Prairie Fire” curriculum in our nation’s classrooms. As Ayers and Dohrn noted in Race Course Against White Supremacy, they’re promoting this fundamental change by tying their fate to the “most oppressed,” i.e., minorities. It’s a brilliant strategy since opposing that change opens one up to being called a racist.

The promotion of fundamental change is even taking place in a deep red state like Kansas. The February 2, 2014 issue of my hometown newspaper, the Lawrence (Kan.) Journal-World, included an article about Leidene King of the San Francisco-based Pacific Educational Group (PEG) presenting a two-day program entitled “Beyond Diversity: An Introduction to Courageous Conversations and a Foundation for Deinstitutionalizing Racism and Eliminating Racial Achievement Disparities.”

“Courageous Conversations” is based on a book by Glenn E. Singleton, PEG CEO, and Curtis Linton. The program is rooted in a discipline known as Critical Race Theory (CRT). What is CRT? The UCLA School of Public Affairs answers this question:

CRT recognizes that racism is engrained in the fabric and system of the American society. The individual racist need not exist to note that institutional racism is pervasive in the dominant culture. This is the analytical lens that CRT uses in examining existing power structures. CRT identifies that these power structures are based on white privilege and white supremacy, which perpetuates the marginalization of people of color. CRT also rejects the traditions of liberalism and meritocracy. Legal discourse says that the law is neutral and colorblind, however, CRT challenges this legal “truth” by examining liberalism and meritocracy as a vehicle for self-interest, power, and privilege.

According to Robert Holland of the Lexington Institute, CRT “is a radical academic doctrine that gained currency in elite U.S. law schools in the 1980s and 1990s,and has more recently taken hold with multiculturalism advocates in teacher-training instructions.” “One of the progenitors of CRT, the late Derrick Bell, a Harvard University law professor, berated liberal civil-rights scholars for their championship of a colorblind society,” Holland continued. “Like many of his allies, he relied largely on narrative and anecdote to advance his arguments, and argued for sweeping societal transformation generated more by political organizing than rights-based legal remedies.”

Interestingly, Bell was one of Obama’s law professors at Harvard. When Obama was a lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School, one of the courses he taught was a seminar entitled “Current Issues in Racism and Law.” Bell was one of the writers Obama required his students to read. In an interview prior to his death, Bell discussed the Marxist foundation of CRT. As of 2009, Bell served as a sponsor of New Politics, a magazine predominantly staffed and run by members of DSA.

In 2009, PEG’s Singleton was the plenary speaker at the Summit for Courageous Conversation in Baltimore. Other speakers at the summit included keynote speakers Gloria Ladson-Billings and Antonia Darder. (In 2008, both Ladson-Billings and Darder signed a statement that read, “We write to support our colleague Professor William Ayers, Distinguished Professor of Education and Senior University Scholar at the University of Illinois at Chicago, who is currently under determined and sustained political attack.” Lisa Delpit and Sonia Nieto, featured speakers at PEG’s Summit for Courageous Conversation in 2013, also signed the statement.)

Ladson-Billings was the president of the American Educational Research Association (AERA) in 2005-06. In 2008, a gentleman named Bill Ayers was elected to serve as an AERA vice-president. The same Bill Ayers. In addition to writing the foreword for Singleton and Linton’s book, Ladson-Billings wrote the foreword for Ayers’s To Teach: The Journey of a Teacher (2001), and co-edited City Kids, City Schools: More Reports from the Front Row (2008) with Ayers.

Darder is a Professor of Educational Policy Studies and Latino/a Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the author of Culture and Power in the Classroom, Reinventing Paulo Freire: A Pedagogy of Love. Darder actually worked and studied with Freire, the Brazilian Marxist who is best known for his influential work, Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Darder, was also a keynote speaker at a National Association for Multicultural Education event in 2011. Her speech was entitled “The Neoliberal Restructuring of Cities, Education Policy, and Possibilities for Social Transformation Through a Marxist Lens.”

Is it possible the Lawrence school district was unaware of the Marxist nature of PEG’s program before it spent $10,300 to have one of PEG’s “equity transformation specialists” speak to its staff members? It”s very unlikely. After doing a little research, I learned the district had had contacts with PEG since 2009 and was using Singleton and Linton’s book, Courageous Conversations About Race: A Field Guide for Achieving Equity in Schools, to guide its “racial equity” program. I ordered a copy of the field guide and found it promotes socialism throughout its pages. For example, when discussing cultural differences, the field guide notes there is “White Individualism (Representative of prevailing U.S. Culture)” and “Color Group Collectivism (Representative of many immigrant cultures).” The former fosters “independence and individual achievement” and is “Associated with private property, individual ownership.” The later fosters “interdependence and group success” and is “Associated with shared property, group ownership.”

After requesting information from Lawrence school district, I learned it had spent more than $300,000 (the total is now well over half a million dollars) with PEG since 2009. Remarkably, the achievement gap between white and minority students widened after the district spent the taxpayers’ money on PEG’s program. This is not unusual. After paying PEG $1.2 million over three years, by most measures, achievement disparities in St. Paul, Minn., remained unchanged. Portland (Ore.) Public Schools spent $1.8 million with PEG between 2007 and 2015. Nevertheless, the achievement gap “widened substantially since Courageous Conversation was first rolled out to schools in the 2008-2009 school year.”

I emailed our school board members to express my concerns about the amount of money being spent on a Marxist and, apparently, ineffective program. I received the following responses:

* “Yes. I think studying critical race theory is an important component to reducing racism & promoting excellence for all students.” —Vanessa Sanburn

* “I appreciate hearing from the community about school-related issues. My duties as a board member include working to support policies and initiatives that help our district provide an excellent education to ALL students in the district. Our equity work has helped us make measurable gains in closing the achievement gap for our students of color, while at the same time raising achievement for all our students. I support that goal, and am glad that our efforts to close the achievement gap are meeting with success.” —Shannon Kimball

* “Thanks for the laugh.” ––Rick Ingram

Unfortunately, the Lawrence school district appears fully invested in PEG’s program despite the astronomical cost and lack of positive results. In fact, when Rick Doll, Lawrence’s superintendent of public schools, announced his resignation in 2015, he said he was most proud of the district’s racial equity work. “I think that it has been embedded in the school district and having courageous conversations about race and achievement I hope will live on,” he said.

Am I overstating the influence of PEG and its promotion of socialism in our public schools? Consider that, as of 2014, PEG had contracts with nearly 200 school districts throughout the country (the current number of clients is unknown since, after some negative coverage in the media, PEG scrubbed its client list from its website). Those districts represent 20% of all schoolchildren in the nation.

I believe there is a “prairie fire” of socialism burning in our public schools. If we do not find a way to put out this fire, our system of constitutionalism, i.e., “the idea, often associated with the political theories of John Locke and the founders of the American republic, that government can and should be legally limited in its powers, and that its authority or legitimacy depends on its observing these limitations,” will be supplanted by our own children and grandchildren.


  1. Sheri

    I believe parents WANT this, support this and will do not a whit to stop it. Nothing. Parents do not care enough to fight the system, let alone retake the country. Handing their kids over to Big Brother is the chosen method of raising kids. I don’t even believe people care about their kids anymore. Parenting is hard work and why bother?

  2. Kevin,

    You’re in the right room. But you’re being distracted by a little smoke, while fire engulfs the entire house.

    Socialism, Bill Ayers, American Socialist parties, and other specifics are just tiny symptoms. Understanding the disease, and its source cause is important. Emails to school boards about books or programs is putting a bandaid on a scratch, while cancer has already spread from the pancreas to the brain, spine, bones, and muscles.

    What’s the fire? What’s the virus? What’s the cause of the transformation of our education system into an anti-Normal influence operation?

    It goes back almost 100 years. It’s NOT the Socialist Party, or anything overt.

    The anti-American covert influence payload was inserted by covert influence operators. The best example, in academia and education, is Dr George S. Counts, of Columbia’s Teachers College.

    My research revealed that Counts was recruited by the Comintern soon after arriving at Columbia. He was the head of the Columbia’s International Institute Russia program.

    “Dr. George S. Counts, joined the International Institute at Columbia Teachers College in 1927. With no background, he was hired to specialize in Russia. Immediately sent to Moscow, and provided with a highly intelligent Russian assistant, he was recruited by the KGB within a year. His powerful covert influence operations, guided by the Soviets, planted the seeds of anti-American political correctness that destroyed our education system. Even today American education students cite Counts in their radical dissertations.”

    What were the results?

    Counts immediately began writing, and talking, teaching, organizing, publishing, and making speeches. He became the leader of the Progressive Education movement.

    Here’s Counts’ speech in 1932 to the Progressive Educators, “Dare Progressive Education be Progressive?”:

    Just a snippet:

    “You will say, no doubt, that I am flirting with the idea of indoctrination. And my answer is again in the affirmative. Or, at least, I should say that the word does not frighten me. We may all rest assured that the younger generation in any society will be thoroughly imposed upon by its elders and by the culture into which it is born. For the school to work in a somewhat different direction with all the power at its disposal could do no great harm. At the most, unless the superiority of its outlook is unquestioned, it can serve as a counterpoise to check and challenge the power of less enlightened or more selfish purposes.”

    Counts is studied and revered in Schools of Education, and has been for the last 80 years. He is presented as the creator of the “Social Reconstruction” approach to Education. This approach dominates American public schools. Counts’ critique of American culture, and his solutions–destruction of Normal-America and Normal-Americans–are the root of the “Change” and “Protest” actions coming from K-12 schools and higher education. All Education majors are indoctrinated into the Counts belief system. They all believe that they are “creating change” to re-make America’s flawed culture.

    This, then, is the enemy, and the virus quietly eating away our education and academic cultures.

    The scratches of Bill Ayre’s babbling and the overt Socialist parties are superficial.

    A solution requires focusing on rooting out the cancer. The superficial wounds are meaningless. The disease is much, much deeper.

  3. John Watkins

    Kent, as usual, zeroes in on the culprit. The cancer. And as always, he ignores the the compromised immune system that allows the cancers (which inhabit everyone) to grow unchecked. Quit looking around for solutions, Kent, and look up.

  4. “Quit looking around for solutions, Kent, and look up.”


    I pretty conscientiously avoid prescribing solutions.

    The comment above is pure diagnosis and analysis of the diagnosis.

    I only mention that the solution must deal with the deep infection–not with the superficial manifestations of that infection.

    The cancer is in our culture–not ourselves.

    Where is it I should look? Up? Where?


  5. John Watkins

    We are the culture. It’s made up of people. Cancer isn’t some blob outside of us. It’s made up of our own cells, repugnant as that may seem. So, look up, and try and see that thing you never admit exists (and which holds the cure)- Heaven.

  6. Brother John!

    Absolutely! I’m with you! But until we’re there, we’ve got plenty of labors to undertake here in this vale of tears!

    Counts and his ilk specifically reject heaven, spirituality, Godliness, morals, right and wrong.

    Here on earth, we are empowered to fight evil. Let it be so.

    Looking up, while my feet are firmly planted on the ground.

  7. Mactoul

    Abortion and other social innovations are invariably justified in America on self-ownership grounds. All social innovations/perversions are loudly and enthusiastically cheered on the libertarian thinkers. I conclude that the danger from libertarian philosophy is not less than those generated by socialist philosophy. Much more, I should say, for socialism is discredited in a way libertarianism isn’t. And America is naturally more hospitable to the libertarianism.

  8. Interesting comments, Kent. I’ll need to read more about George Counts. Interestingly, he grew up in Baldwin City, Kansas, which is just a 15-minute drive from my home in Lawrence.

    I wonder if we need to back up a bit from Counts, specifically to John Dewey, the second person I quoted above. After all, he headed the Columbia’s Teachers College that Counts taught at. Before he was at Columbia, Dewey was head of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Chicago and for two years he was director of the School of Education of the same institution. This is where Counts received his education.

    Interestingly, Bill Ayers atttended the Columbia’s Teachers College, as did fellow Weatherman Kathy Boudin, who received her Ed.D. there after spending years in prison for her role in the Brinks robbery.

    But the link between Dewey and the Weather Underground go back much further. Dewey was active in the League for Industrial Democracy (LID). Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) developed from the Student League for Industrial Democracy (SLID), the youth branch of LID. LID, which descended from the Intercollegiate Socialist Society, was founded in 1905 by notable socialists Upton Sinclair, Jack London, Clarence Darrow, and Norman Thomas. The Weather Underground was a faction of SDS.

    In 1896, the Dewey School, now known as the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools (UCLS), opened. According to UCLS’s website, “Conceived by the world-famous educator, John Dewey, the school was truly a laboratory from its incep-tion—an experimental school where his theories of education could be put into practice, tested, and scientifically evaluated.”
    After Obama’s reelection in 2012, Bill Ayers penned an open letter to the president in which he noted that his three sons attended UCLS. Two of the sons are Ayers and Dohrn’s biological children. They adopted the third, Chesa Boudin, af-ter his parents, Kathy Boudin and David Gilbert, went to prison for their roles in the 1981 Brinks robbery and murders. Gilbert, a founding member of Columbia University’s SDS, continues to be imprisoned at the Auburn Correctional Facility in New York.

    Given that UCLS is a private school, we have to assume that Ayers and Dohrn approve of its curricula. The homework as-signments for Peggy Doyle’s seventh-grade humanities class (2011-2012) gives us an idea of what types of material the Ayers children might have encountered:

    • For Wednesday, September 7: Read “Theme for English B” in Social Justice in a Democratic Society and make a list of as many cultural identifiers as you can for the narrator of the poem, using specific language from the poem to support your ideas.
    • For Thursday, September 8: Start work on Identity Collage, due on September 14th. Read “High Yel-low White Trash” by Lisa Page in Social Justice in a Democratic Society and annotate as you read.
    • For Tuesday, October 11: Begin reading “America Before Columbus” on pages 62-70 in Social Justice Reader and start answering the questions for “Amer-ica Before Columbus” due in class on Wednesday.
    • For Thursday, October 13: Read the handout “Why Textbooks Lie” and write a one-two paragraph summary of the main ideas and arguments that Lowen (the author of the article) uses.
    • For Wednesday, November 30: Read “Che: The Man Behind the Myth” in SJDS and annotate.
    • IN CLASS Tuesday, December 13: Using your ear buds, listen to some of the following Protest Songs plus links and complete Rockin’ the World: Ques-tions about Protest Songs.

    In past years, Doyle and another seventh-grade humanities teacher at UCLS, Sam Nekrosius, instructed the students to read “Columbus and Western Civilization” by Howard Zinn.

    Of course, it should surprise no one that radicals such as Ayers and Dohrn sent their children to a radical school such as UCLS. However, shouldn’t we be a little concerned when top advisors to Obama also sent their children to the same school? As Ayers noted in an April 2013 piece published by the Wash-ington Post, Obama’s former chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan sent their children to UCLS. Duncan himself attended UCLS for twelve years. (In Reading Obama, James T. Kloppenberg, the chair of the histo-ry department at Harvard University, writes that David Axel-rod, who served as Obama’s chief strategist, also attended UCLS. While Axelrod attended the University of Chicago, he spent his K-12 years in New York.)
    And there is one more member of the Obama administration who sent his children to UCLS. When Bill Ayers became an issue during the 2008 presidential campaign, Axelrod tried to downplay the relationship between the domestic terrorist and Obama. “Bill Ayers lives in [Obama’s] neighborhood,” Axel-rod said. “Their kids attend the same school. They’re certainly friendly, they know each other, as anyone whose kids go to school together.” That’s right. The Obamas’ daughters, Malia and Sasha (similar names to Malik and Chesa–coincidence?), attended UCLS, although years after the Ayers children did. Michelle Obama was even on UCLS’s board of directors before her husband was elected president. Her brother, Craig Robinson, was the head basketball coach at the school before he started coaching at the college level.

    We agree that there is a fire, but perhaps we should point to Dewey as the ultimate arsonist. Or perhaps it’s more important to focus on putting the fire out. How do we do that?

  9. Kevin,

    I’ve written a book that goes into detail about this issue. Specifically, I did a counter-intelligence analysis of Counts, and his colleagues. I’d be happy to send you a copy of the book–it’s in paperback, audio, or Kindle. See my email address below.

    Yes, Dewey was one of Counts’ mentors at Columbia. You’re in the right era, and have identified the Comintern’s targets. Dewey got cold feet. Counts jumped in and was a

    Dewey was a target of the Comintern influence operation, and briefly acted as an agent of influence for them. However, after a short period, he rejected a deep relationship with them, and went off on his own–wandering without ideology–except for his nonsensical and destructive student-centered learning approach–for the last part of his life.

    Dewey continued on the periphery of the Comintern atmosphere, though. He was one of the big names recruited to serve on the “jury” of the “Trial of Trotsky.”

    So, Dewey is a red herring here. Counts is the devil incarnate of the Comintern influence op. He was in whole hog. He had a “translator,” Nucia Perlmutter Lodge, who he “serendipitously” met on his first trip to Russia, months after joining the Rockefeller-funded Teachers College International Institute, as its Russia “expert.”

    Within a year, Counts returned to Columbia, and had published a book, “his” translation of a children’s book in Russian, which just “happened” to “land on his desk” lauding the Communist planning geniuses for their economic and social miracle–proving the correctness of collectivism, and the deadly sin of American individualism.

    Here’s Counts’ version of this, in the preface to the The New Russia’s Primer, a children’s story of the New 5 year plan. What you’re seeing here is a recruited agent’s explanation of the provenance of the influence payload he’s inserting into our culture. This is rare:

    “THIS little volume came to my desk near the end of November, 1930. It was sent to me without comment by a Russian friend who was aware of my interest in both education and social planning. Although the author was entirely unknown to me at the time, a single glance at the contents of the book convinced me that here was a document of rare quality. A careful examination corroborated and strengthened this fist impression at every point. I showed it to my friends, and they were all of the same opinion. Practically every page carries the marks of genius. I decided at once, therefore, that it should be made available to the American reader.”

    So, yes, Ayres and Obama are symptoms and manifestations of the virus which has destroyed our culture. But they are no more the disease than is a bubo in your groin as you die from a systemic bacterial infection causing the Black Death. Symptoms aren’t causes. Focus on the symptom, and you lose the battle against the infection.

    Counts was the initial infection of the Comintern’s covert influence operation designed to destroy our culture. They targeted education/academia, Hollywood, and the media. Counts was a two-fer–he was active and influential in both education and academia. Counts is, I believe, the most destructive agent in the war to take down Normal-American culture.

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