Rick Ayers

Rick Ayers was a well-regarded teacher at Berkeley High for 11 years, instrumental in starting the Community Arts and Sciences (CAS) small school and helping with the school newspaper.

But since his departure, Ayers has taken to criticizing what he considers a dangerous force at Berkeley High: the Parents of Power or the Parents of Privilege, a group he defines as white people with high incomes. The latest salvo: an article on Huffington Post about the science lab controversy in which he compares this group of parents with the white Southern racists who fought the Civil Rights movement. Ayers argues that their concern about eliminating the science lab is really just a smokescreen to ensure their kids get into good colleges.

“But a closer look at Berkeley High reveals something more sinister — that the gap persists because of groups of people, conscious active people, who move aggressively to thwart any effort to even make a little progress in developing equity between students. Generally, we are advised to keep silent, to not name this partnership of a handful of elitist teachers and privileged parents ,” wrote Ayers.

He goes on to say that the “Parents of Privilege are another category altogether — wielding their social capital and political connections to get their way, even if it is against the interest of all students, even if it is against the interests of their own kids.”

And then he delivers the cruelest blow:

“An interesting aspect of the breathless protestations of the Parents of Privilege is the way they evoke the term “choice.” They should have a choice of which teacher they have, a choice of the curriculum, a choice of the way city parcel tax money is spent, a choice of how the schedule is set up. So much freedom! But really “choice” here has a similar ring as the “state’s rights” calls of the southern whites who were resisting integration. … Yes, racism comes dressed up in many covers and Berkeley has its own liberal version of it.”

The irony of this attack on white privilege is that Rick Ayers comes from a rich, white, Chicago family. His father, Thomas Ayers, was the chairman and CEO of Commonwealth Edison. He also served on the boards of Sears, Northwestern University, the Chicago Symphony,  and The Tribune Company, the owner of the Chicago Tribune. You can’t get much more establishment than that.

Rick’s brother, Bill Ayers, was a co-founder of the Weather Underground, the radical revolutionary group that fought the Vietnam War by bombing government and university installations. Rick Ayers, who was drafted, joined the group after he went AWOL. Both brothers spent time underground trying to evade police capture.

Clearly, Rick Ayers, who has authored many books on education, rejected some of the values of his upbringing. Was courtesy one of them?

Coming up on Berkeleyside: A teacher’s response to Ayers’ editorial.

Frances Dinkelspiel

Frances Dinkelspiel (co-founder) is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California,...

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  1. Liberals rarely see how offensive and prejudiced they are. They are full of uppity sarcasm and lack kindness. Humility, tolerance, and good manners is foreign to them. Some are simply bullies. Glad I’m miles away from Berkley. I’d much rather be around poorly educated but humble people than the yuppie liberal group. Enjoy your law degree.

  2. Well, this is reason number #15,159 why so many white liberal parents send their children to private schools: they won’t be berated by thin-skinned teachers and officious school administrators for trying to have a say — gasp! — in their child’s education.

  3. I think adjuncts are so ill-treated at most universities that they don’t get any recognition on websites or anything else. Being an adjunct is not something that anyone would want to brag about.

  4. I’m aware that Rick Ayers is working towards a graduate degree at Cal where he is teaching undergraduates in science education (not his background) and that they call him “Professor” even though he isn’t, at least not there. But he has identified himself as an “Adjunct Professor” at USF. I did not find him listed at all as a professor of any kind at University of San Francisco, “Adjunct” or otherwise.

    So I’m just wondering if he’s as sloppy in fabricating information to inflate his credentials as he is at fabricating offensive, non-substantive, specious arguments about the Berkeley Educational Community to inflate his ego.

  5. At least now the gloves are off. Mr. Ayers comments seem a mixed bag of obnoxiously bogus polemic and spot on accurate parts and, in any event, seem unlikely to directly contribute to solutions. There’s a lot of that to go around (and I’m sure I’ve served up my share, best intentions notwithstanding).

    I wonder what it will take to break things out of the current stalemate of entrenched positions. Perhaps the current outburst of ugliness and national exposure will do it but still, as mature adults who actually do “think of the children” – perhaps we can find ways to improve the situation more deliberately and cooperatively, with that namby-pampy hippy value of “positive energy”.

    For my part, I’ll mention that while I have and will likely to continue to disagree with much that Ms. Menard offers, her focus on the discipline issues strikes me as correct and important (though not obviously always *entirely* accurate). If that sounds underhanded at least understand that it is not meant to be. There is, within that part of her… I don’t know if it’s the right word but I’ll say “agenda” … there is within that “agenda” in those areas much that proves insightful and on the mark. Kids that age are not supposed to be, and yes this is a loaded term, emancipated. A certain baseline of discipline is surely the foundation of any school that can possibly succeed. There is no point at all in discussing the finer points of curriculum design or schedule management if attendance is not taken and truancy laws enforced. There is no hope when many students seem to agree that various teachers show up to class stoned and/or don’t care about classroom participation. The news emerging to these eyes in those areas is beyond shocking.

    I also am encouraged but cautious to see a fairly widespread sentiment against the small school form of organization in its present form. I keep saying “in its present form” when I talk about reforming past the small schools and perhaps I should be more direct. They do not appear to do any good whatsoever but it is impossible to tell because their structure and administration precludes any consistent and meaningful measurement! They intuitively make no sense to me in almost every aspect (BHS is far to small to be organized as if it were a small liberal arts college). They appear to create factionalization of the faculty and inefficient use of budget. They are a train wreck. The one aspect of them I like is the notion that for each student there should be a few faculty members who pay attention to them throughout their BHS career, and for each faculty member there should be a manageable number of students to pay that kind of attention to.

    I so far, sadly, don’t see how BHS is going to smoothly make the transitions it will be forced to make. Perhaps, in that “hippy dippy” spirit, Berkeleyside readers can begin to organize here in broader and more thoughtful organization that we have seen from the community so far. One thing I would particularly like to see (in addition to a pony and a rainbow) is some (far better and more energetic) grass-roots motion towards effective organizing from some of the more sane faculty.

  6. This post is from Huffington post comments section


    My older son was a black kid who was in one of the Berkeley High small schools. He got all As and Bs which surprised me since all I ever saw him do was play video games, when he wasn’t cutting classes to smoke pot at the park across the street. He had no skills. He couldn’t figure out how to balance my check book. He couldn’t read a credit card statement. But sure, he got into college. Then he flunked out his sophomore year because he was unprepared and undisciplined. Now he’s unemployed. Thanks a lot Rick Ayers and Berkeley High. I’m not white and I’m not elitist and I’m sick of you white progressives who sneer at the idea of curriculum and really good education. My younger child is in the big school and actually learning things. The high school better not go ahead with cutting science labs in favor of media techs and african drummers for the small schools if they want to actually educate anybody. You small schools people should really listen to critics instead of insulting them. Maybe they have a point.

  7. The list of “ironies” is only eclipsed by the list of lies.

    Rick Ayers claims advisories periods are one of the most important reforms embedded in the high school redesign. Yet during Slemp’s school board presentation on equity grants last week, the current CAS administrators stated CAS will not be scheduling a separate advisory period since the advisory program goals are best accomplished within the standard curriculum. DUH!!

    When will the school board stop this insanity?
    This is nothing more than a power struggle rooted in identity politics.

    The list of south and west Berkeley kids left out of any of the”solutions” include:

    1. Berkeley residents not enrolled in any certified home, private or public school
    2. home hospital program special ed students with no oversight or monitoring
    3. Chronic truants
    4. teens on probation and chronic truant

    additionally BHS collects ADA for out of district kids attending BHS truant 100 or more days, Slemp will not process these kids back to home districts

  8. My oldest son was a CAS student during the formative years Ayers and company contracted with BayCES promoting their ideologically focused education redesign, which is increasing resembling a MELTDOWN as opposed to a school improvement plan.

    Ayers is not as highly regarded as you suggest. While UIA/PCAD/BayCES/ and Slemp took control of the democratic process going so far as to obtain a federal grant without school board review. We concerned citizens/parents focused on student well being and achievement brought forward models for addressing K-12 curriculum alignment, truancy, AOD, literacy, targeted case managed social services, and school based mental health etc.

    Black conservation intellectual Thomas Sowell answer to Ayers.
    Education & the Fallacy of “Fairness”
    By Thomas Sowell

    A recent flap in a Berkeley high school reveals what a farce “fairness” can be. Because this is ultra-liberal Berkeley, perhaps we should not be surprised that a proposal has been made to eliminate four jobs as science teachers and use the money saved for programs to help low achievers.

    In Berkeley, as in many other communities across the country, black and Latino students are not performing as well as Asian and white students. In fact, the racial gap in academic achievement at Berkeley High School is the highest in California– no doubt a special source of embarrassment in politically correct Berkeley.

    According to the principal, “Our community at Berkeley High School has failed the African-Americans.” Therefore “We need to bring everybody up– that’s what this plan is about.”

    Surely no one, not even in Berkeley, seriously believes that you will “bring everybody up” by eliminating science teachers. This is a proposal to redistribute money from science to social work, by providing every student with advisors on note-taking, time management and other learning skills.

    The point is to close educational gaps among groups, or at least go on record as trying. As with most equalization crusades, whether in education or in the economy, it is about equalizing downward, by lowering those at the top. “Fairness” strikes again!

    This is not just a crazy idea by one principal in Berkeley. It is a crazy idea taught in schools of education across the country. A professor of education at the University of San Francisco has weighed in on the controversy at Berkeley, supporting the idea of “projects designed to narrow the achievement gap.”

    In keeping with the rhetoric of the prevailing ideology, our education professor refers to “privileged” parents and “privileged” children who want to “forestall any progress toward equity.”

    In the language of the politically correct, achievement is equated with privilege. Such verbal sleight of hand evades the question whether individuals’ own priorities and efforts affect outcomes, whether in education or in other endeavors. No need to look at empirical evidence when a clever phrase can take that whole question off the table.

    This verbal sleight of hand is not confined to education. A study of incomes of various groups in Toronto concluded that Canadians of Japanese ancestry were the most “privileged” group in that city. That is, people of Japanese ancestry there had higher incomes than members of other minorities and higher than that of the white majority in Toronto.

    What makes the “privileged” label a particularly bad joke in this case is a history of blatant discrimination against the Japanese in Canada in years past, including a longer internment during World War II than that of Japanese Americans. But, to some on the left, the very concept of achievement must be banished by all means necessary, regardless of the facts.

    Achievement by overcoming obstacles is a special threat to the left’s vision of the world, and so must be magically transformed into privilege through rhetoric.

    Those with that vision do not want to even discuss evidence that students from different groups spend different amounts of time on homework and different amounts of time on social activities. To admit that inputs affect outputs, whether in education, in the economy or in other areas, would be to undermine the vision and agenda of the left, and deprive those who believe in that vision of a moral melodrama, starring themselves as defenders of the oppressed and crusaders against the forces of evil.

    Redistribution of material resources has a very poor track record when it comes to actually helping those who are lagging, whether in education, in the economy or elsewhere. What they need are the attitudes, priorities and behavior which produce the outcomes desired.

    But changing anyone’s attitudes, priorities and behavior is a lot harder than taking a stance as defenders of the oppressed and crusaders against the forces of evil.

    To the extent that doing the latter misdiagnoses the problem, it makes solving the problem even harder. That does no good for those who are lagging, however much it exalts those who pose as their defenders. “Fairness” indeed!

  9. I’m not particularly struck by the irony that a son of a rich, white family attacks rich, white privilege. There’s nothing wrong with that. Friedrich Engels, after all, came from a wealthy German industrial family.

    What strikes me as more problematical with Ayers’ argument is the equation of “choice” with “state’s rights” and the basic assertion that the dispute at the high school is a form of class and race war.

    What I heard from the members of the school board at last week’s meeting was an understanding that the school system needed to deliver the best to all students, and that dressing up problems as white versus black, or rich versus poor only serves to obscure an understanding of both issues and potential solutions. That doesn’t make for such easy rhetoric as Ayers’ inflamed column, but it might help Berkeley’s schools do a better job for its students.