“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.