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The Company Obama Keeps

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Perhaps as important as the policies of a presidential candidate is the company he keeps. The candidates like to brag about such company when it suits them. For example, Sen. John McCain touts his frequent meetings with foreign heads-of-state to illustrate his national security leadership. And in response to the recent economic crisis, Barack Obama has made it a point to surround himself with folks like former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker.

But there's the flip side, too. Obama's brief association with Jim Johnson, former chairman of fallen giant Fannie Mae, became the subject of an attack ad. Meanwhile, McCain has been attacked for his ties with lobbyists.

So it shouldn't be surprising that Obama is catching more heat on his relationship—whatever it was—with the controversial figure Bill Ayers during their time together working in Chicago for the Annenberg Challenge. In an opinion piece titled "Obama and Ayers Pushed Radicalism on Schools," Stanley Kurtz writes in the Wall Street Journal that some original research he did shows the pair were far more intertwined than the Obama campaign would like others to believe.

Kurtz expands on the commentary even more in this piece in the National Review Online, in which he reprints a lengthier response from the Obama campaign.

His commentaries add to the existing work that's already been written about Obama and the Annenberg challenge. Education Week's David Hoff wrote about the subject in March 2007 and Mark Walsh wrote about Ayers in April of this year. Earlier this month, the New York Times examined Obama's role with Annenberg and Ayers.

13 Comments

What is wrong with promoting "free thinking" in Social Studies classes, where the conversation might actually bring about social reform? The elitists of the haves always need somebody to put down as have nots, otherwise their extended credit lines in the suburbs would mean nothing to them.
That group has been lead around like sheep to slaughter by the Carl Rove mentality and politics to the point they are the leader of the lemmings in America. From your view point and having gone to reading the article about Mr. Ayers, both of you need to THINK and experience life around this wonderful country. The beauty of diversity is magnificant, but the economic inequity needs to be examined. The social structure of class is threatened by "immigrants", too. Why? Because some groups/classes have actually risen up the economic ladder and the 5% controling 95% of the wealth need somebody to be indentuared servents again in the cycle of American immigration/economics.
CHANGE in politics and social order is always "radical" when you are living in the lap of material wealth and social isolationism.
Try practicing some of the Christian doctrine about peace, love, mercy, grace of GOD and realize these not only give hope to others, it actually is the only way to preserve the human race. Until then, I guess some will consider Jesus a radical because his ministry told followers ignore the political supression of the Romans and practice the faith of the early church. Love one another. So is it wrong to start a dialogue about social inequities in the country with the most material wealth in history? No that is called free speech and free will to THINK! Do not label ideas opposite of your limited lifetime experiences as radical. This country is based and flourishes on FREE SPEECH. Stop being a lemming believing the limited view points that you may have been subjected too. Walk a mile in somebody else's shoes, and try to see what the MLK dream is about. Sincerely-white anglo and grandson of a coal miner-educator with a MA today. You can rise out of poverty from generation to generation, if given a chance to THINK and explore free choice in society and religion. That is the American dream-freedom of religion and the opportunity live a better life. That is not RADICAL!

I am deeply disappointed to see this sort of smear and character assassination from EdWeek. There is plenty of dirt and innuendo out there from John McCain's distant past should we want to see it. I for one prefer to focus on current, relevant issues, such as the candidates' positions on closing the achievement gap, vouchers, or funding for science, art, and history education.
You can do better.

Are you serious? This issue has been vetted long ago. Who cares who he associated with 10 years ago? How radical are McCain's friends? Can you spell KEATING? And Palin? Was the weather underground of the 70's any more radical than the Alaskan Secessionist Movement?

Which Presidential candidate offers the greatest potential to significantly move public education out of the dark ages... to close the achievement gap... to inspire innovation... to promote institutional growth?

Ed Week loses its way when its reporters get mired in the crap that sells mainstream newspapers.

There are always different perspectives. Dr. Ayers is considered a very respected teacher and has done more for social justice than many educators. I suppose everyone has decisions in their background that in hindsight are questionable, but does it make sense to take things out of their historical context and say we truly understand the decisions? A morally autonomous person takes into account all the known information at the time and makes decisions that are supportive of the greater good. Dr. Ayer's work seems to have always had at least the goal of understanding the "other".

Please elevate your comments to reflect the capability that Senator Obama has to provide intelligent leadership options for our educational system. There seems to be an innate need to tear down an true "thinker" in our midst. Why is that? It does not seem to be enough to have worked through the system to position himself in such a way that he is truly a viable choice for President. Let's get on board and begin a productive dialogue to challenge him to bring the real "main street" educational issues forward and wrestle with an array of new possibilities. I hope that this country can transcend complextion, class and fear of change. I welcome a more productive insight into what out country needs to do to face the declining opinion of public education. I am hoping to see a venue, such as yours,celebrate the evidence of political and social leaders push forward to alleviate funding inequities across districts, states, communities and who will champion any efforts to remove any stigna of mediocrity as a descriptor of our current educational system.

Obama associates with the wrong kind of people. Hillary had baggage, but not this kind.

Rich Cairn, Kevin Riley, and Sara Davis express well the reaction I had to this post. I had previously read the articles alluded to in the post. Having lived through the turbulence of the sixties, I found Stanley Kurtz's article eerily reminiscent of red-baiting.

For my modest blog, www.morethanascore.org, I decided to take a pass on this tidbit leaving the "Rovean" analysis (and rebuttal) to other venues.

Educators need to know who the candidates seek counsel from NOW, as they formulate their policy proposals for the future of public education and what the appropriate role is for the federal government.

Since when did edWeek become part of Fox news and the fanatical right? How about balance and accuracy? This kind of story speaks more to the writer, and the lack of a platform than anything else. Mudslinging is the last gasp of a failed campaign.

Thanks for all of the great comments and discussion. Keep in mind that our blog is an ongoing dialogue about the twists and turns of the campaign, and we have written extensively about both candidates. You can read our complete coverage of John McCain here, and of Barack Obama here.

Wow, I can't believe I am responding to educators who I thought were schooled not to think in terms of black and white. I am a middle class, Latina educator. I say that with purpose. I think most everyone in this country is missing the boat when it comes to what's really important. Who is speaking to the ills we as a society currently face if our children are not equipped with the basic skills for the 21st century? Who is working to give our kids some hope for their future, inspire them to achieve, work hard and not give up? That is who I want as my President (By the way, are we all in agreement that we want ALL kids in the U.S. to benefit?).

It is very important to examine the acquaintances of candidates for any public office because those relationships can offer insight to the thinking of the candidate--especially one that we know so little about--by design. However, the examination should not be accepted in isolation when making a decision about a candidate. The parts definitely influence the sum.

The radicalism discussed here went bankrupt in the 1990's and failed to change Chicago Public Schools. Racism is is a social crisis that has not been overturned and it begins with curriculum. Our leaders cannot begin to transform society until schools adopt one high level academic standard for all children.

When you look at Washington State, where the Standards Movement is strongest, committees aligned to the movement created two standards and children are divided accordingly.

Students that use textbooks developed by U. Chicago and MSU (Everyday, TERC, Connected Math, IMP, Core Plus, ...) are not learning standard algorithms. In fact, Core Plus teaches no algorithms, it is a radical departure from both structural and cognitive pedagogy. And worse (my opinion), the deception was done deliberately and borders on academic fraud.

Without a strong academic program, the majority of these students will never achieve academically. The high school drop out rates are phenomenal. Half the students enrolled in college are taking remedial math (algebra).

India graduates 5 times the number of engineers that graduate from the US.
Singapore curriculum was designed for a student population where half the students speak a language other than English. Yet an eighth grader in Singapore is far more capable academically than the average American. AND the standards and curriculum are unified (nationalized).

US math and science education should be deplored. Don't buy into their philsophy. Any time you divide students into ability groups you are toying with Facist ideas and it will only lead to the possibility of more violence between communities. I've experienced it first hand.

You can end defacto segregation and social promotion by adopting one rigorous academic curriculum for all students. The evaluation of curriculum should be separated from the writing of curriculum.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised by the overwhelming response in support of Obama/Ayers and the criticism of EdWeek. Unfortunately, it seems that the most vocal in the education arena see politics from only one perspective and demand that nothing be said that puts a shadow on their point of view.

I, for one, am not terribly bothered by the Obama/Ayers association...but I sure as hell am not going to defend it. And I'm not going to criticize EdWeek for simply reporting that there is controversy while also balancing the article with mentions of McCain controversy.

Obama is a big man, he can handle these allegations...and he has. He certainly doesn't need any of us defending an unrepentent terrorist like Bill Ayers to try and make him look better.

Statements like, "Dr. Ayers...has done more for social justice than many educators. I suppose everyone has decisions in their background that in hindsight are questionable" are both ignorant and terribly misinformed.

Bill Ayers actively participated in the carrying out of terrorist bombings that in one case resulted in death. And in a statement made just before 9/11, Bill Ayers told the New York Times, "I don't regret setting bombs. I feel we didn't do enough." For that interview, he posed for a photograph that shows him stepping on an American flag. This is not a man who made some minor mistakes as a youngster and is now repentent. But yet, there are those who would describe participating in terrorist bombings as only "questionable".

So, please don't spend your time attacking EdWeek for reporting that there is controversy regarding the Obama/Ayers relationship WHILE defending Bill Ayers. You act as if EdWeek was the unrepentent terrorist.

If you support Obama, great. But please stop attacking anyone who dares report on the controversy related to our candidate. Let everyone examine the facts and decide for themselves.

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