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Mike Petrili and the Meese Police

Earlier in the week, Mike "Milli" Petrilli asked if I "favor electing former terrorists to key positions of authority within the education research community." Here's the backstory: In his Memo to the AERA, Petrilli suggested that the AERA council should unseat Bill Ayers as Vice-President Elect of Curriculum Studies. I disagree. While I do not condone his actions, Bill Ayers was democratically elected, and the right of professional associations to self-govern should be respected.

Mike believes that Ayers' presence reflects badly on the whole association, but guilt by association is a shaky principle. I don't judge Mike Petrilli, whose colleagues at the Hoover Institution include upstanding guys like Ed Meese and Donald Rumsfeld, based on his association with them, nor do I believe that AERA is tainted by having Ayers among its leadership. Mike might argue that Meese and Rumsfeld have records of accomplishment that justify their affiliation with Hoover. The same is true regarding Ayers and AERA.

All that said, Mike deserves props for his memo to ED in '08's Roy Romer.

I don’t imagine that any readers of this blog condone terrorism or human rights violations, although we might not always agree about what counts as terrorist activity or a violation of human rights. Was Bill Ayers a terrorist? Many people think so, although he was never convicted of terrorist activity in the U.S. Moreover, he hasn’t renounced his actions 40 years ago, which in my view are different than the record of scholarship and social activism that he has generated over the past two decades. It’s not the kind of scholarship that I do, but educational research is a big tent, and I have friends who think quite highly of what he’s accomplished.

Outsiders to AERA may not understand that Vice-Presidents of AERA Divisions are elected by the divisional membership, not the members of the association at large. 25,000 people did not vote for Ayers; Division B, Curriculum Studies, is one of the two smallest of the 12 AERA divisions (along with Division F, History & Historiography).

Nothing has or will preclude Mike Petrilli from joining AERA and running against someone he disagrees with. (Sure, he’d have to pass the entrance exam, which Jay Greene has helpfully posted on his blog – see Buzzword Bingo.) But were he to do so, I'd suggest a more substantial strategy than name-calling and guilt by association. And I think it’s pretty silly (hmm…Silly Milli Petrilli?) for someone who is not a member of a professional association to presume to dictate to the association how it should govern itself.

An update: Over at Flypaper, Mike Petrilli denies any moral equivalency between the actions of Ed Meese and Don Rumsfeld and those of Bill Ayers, congratulating himself that "If Hoover puts a former terrorist on its board, I promise you, I won’t stand by idly and cheer." Only the "loony left" thinks that Rumsfeld's a war criminal, he claims. I don't share Petrilli's sense of moral certitude. Is it really that easy to pick out who the good guys and the bad guys are? In a country that champions freedom of speech, should the fact that someone has or has not publicly renounced their past actions disqualify them from office in a private association?

I predict that Rumsfeld will be indicted, tried and sent to jail long before Mr. Ayers, Petrilli's moral certitude or not.

What I posted on Flypaper, edited slightly:

I'm a lawyer now involved in k-12 education with a long background in national security.

Putting on my lawyer hat - Ayers was a fugitive from justice, but all charges against him were dropped in light of prosecutorial misconduct.

Putting on my national security hat - to describe him and the Weather Underground as terrorists is a bit of hyberbole. As a tactic of political struggle, terrorism refers to the indiscriminate use of force against innocents. The Weather Underground targeted government and military facilities - and warned potential victims prior to their actions. Their actions were criminal, but they were not Al Quada, the IRA, Bader-Meinhoff, or the Red Army faction. The group didn’t kill anyone in a bombing but one of their own during the bomb making process. Rather than practice the indiscriminate killing of innocents to create fear among the public at large, they sought to avoid such collateral damage, while damaging symbols of government and military power.

It devalues the serious nature of terrorism to slap the label "terrorist" on every misguided or even deranged person with a bomb.

Putting on my k-12 hat, the man may have radical views, but presumably members of AERA haven't found them to be a bar to his role in an organization focused on research. If AERA is too radical for some, they might form a separate group.

As a citizen of this free society, I also have something to say. To call someone who has never been found guilty of of a violent crime, let alone terrorism - the highly charged word "terrorist," is to take political debate back to the chilled atmosphere of McCarthyism. "If you don't agree with me, you must be a Communist - or in this case a terrorist (and I, by implication, must be a patriot)."

I don't agree with Mr Ayers politics or many of his views, but I'll be damned if I'm not going to protest actions and tactics that can only drag political discourse into the mud.

To paraphrase one historic response to Senator McCarthy - "Have you no shame?"

Comments are now closed for this post.


Recent Comments

  • Marc Dean Millot: What I posted on Flypaper, edited slightly: I'm a lawyer read more
  • Clyde: I predict that Rumsfeld will be indicted, tried and sent read more
  • skoolboy: I don’t imagine that any readers of this blog condone read more




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