Chicago Historical Society
Bill Ayers's mugshot after one of his arrests at the Democratic National Convention in August, 1968
The Reader's archive is vast and varied, going back to 1971. Every day in Archive Dive, we'll dig through and bring up some finds.
Like Walt Whitman, we are all large, we all contain multitudes, but Bill Ayers seems to contain more than most. He has been a jock, a frat boy, a college dropout, a campus radical, a terrorist, a fugitive, a laborer, a nursery school teacher, a professor of education, a revolutionary, and a self-admitted beneficiary of white privilege.
Back in 1990, Ben Joravsky tried to put all the pieces together in some way that made sense. For his profile, "The Long, Strange Trip of Bill Ayers,"
he spent many hours with Ayers, talking about matters large (Ayers's criminal past as a member of the Weathermen) and small (the pleasures of listening to Cubs games on the radio). He sat in on Ayers's classes at UIC and talked to Ayers's family and current associates about his talents as a teacher and his contributions to educational reform in Chicago. Despite himself, Joravsky was charmed.
He must have worn me down. After a while my natural inclination to distrust education professors, whose sheltered university environment is a world apart from the reality of inner-city classrooms, began to weaken.
Then I started thinking about his past and I began to wonder: Am I being deceived? He had already demonstrated his ability to lie and maintain not one but several phony identities. How did I know he wasn't lying now?
Because Joravsky is Joravsky, he didn't just wonder, he asked. The result is that rare thing, a profile that is both critical and fair.
"You Can't Fire the Bad Ones!": And 18 Other Myths About Teachers, Teachers Unions, and Public Education. By William Ayers, Crystal Laura, and Rick Ayers (Beacon). Book launch party Thu 2/1, 7:30 PM, Women & Children First, 5233 N. Clark, 773-769-9299, womenandchildrenfirst.com, free.