A space to reflect on my readings and musings, scattered and rescattered


Am I radical?

Well, probably not. I didn’t have to ask too loudly. Not radical, not doctor, not yet. I had the engaging experience though of hearing Bill Ayers speak last weekend at a conference I attended on Writing Centers and he forced me to ask that question (easily answered) and then the one about what it would mean to actually be radical. As he spoke, I was amused at his pointed jokes toward those of us in the audience from his alma-mater and buoyed by his discussion of K-12 educational initiatives he’d been a part of, the impressive grants he and the Chicago school district had won and implemented. But more than that, he just plain baffled me. What exactly was he talking about when he referenced his memoir Fugitive Days or his time underground? Well, what he meant was this: that he and others blew up buildings as a radical act of civil activism. And, then, he was an elementary school teacher and now education professor.

Here’s a summary of 2002 documentary that documented this radicalism, The Weather Underground:

A sobering documentary about a group of 1960s "committed freedom fighters" known as The Weather Underground. A radical offshoot of the Students for a Democratic Society, the Weathermen didn't just march or sit in; they rioted and bombed -- not to change the American political scene but rather to destroy it. The organization was part of a global trend of revolution that sprang from the belief that not acting against violence is violence.

I plan to watch the doc this weekend. Review to follow.

But back to this broad notion of radicalism. Looking back at the keynote address that he shared, I re-hear his words (well, his words as best I remember them). He said that anyone portraying the 60’s as glamorous is just looking to sensationalize. Activists then weren’t perfect, didn’t know what the hell they were doing, but they were doing. Didn’t know if their choices were the best ones, but they did what they thought they should in the ways they thought best. He also said that we have to see ourselves as living in political times. And despite the fact that I’d thought about this before, it made me think again about what value my liberal politics have if I don’t act on them. This education thing I do is only a small part of my citizen role.

I’m not going to take on Ayer’s early methods; but his contemporary method—as higher ed faculty researching and influencing K-12—is close to my own politicized career choice and this gives me pause. The association doesn’t make me an extremist or a radical. But what if it did? What if the very fact of being or wanting to be university faculty were constructed as radical? Just because maybe it is. Hmmm. At any rate, I wonder if I rely on this education role and my political view of it too much. It is not radical in and of itself. I’m wondering how I make and remake this role to be radical day-to-day and how my personal life—my general average citizen life—can and should be more radical. How do I act like I’m living in political times? Does this mean actually attending those CodePink protests I signed up to get emails about? Does it mean submitting opinion pieces to my local paper (which doesn’t feel too local when you live in NYC)? In other words, how do I raise a calculated, risky (but not too risky, of course) stink that just might be radical? Can we do that as educators? And if I believe yes (I was reading Freire and Horton yesterday!), then how? This radical thing takes more work than acknowledging that classrooms are political places, ahem, political spaces.

Oh, and then I read articles like this one in the NYTimes this week that make my blood begin to boil. Ironically, the PI on this traditional, not-too-radial, not-so-much-socially-focused (if the Times as given if a fair write-up) project and Ayers teach in the same place. Grrr, just when I was feeling inspired.


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