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.

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