Cancellation of Ayers speech a cowardly move

By Molly Lynch

Growing up in southern Illinois, I can’t even begin to count how many times I heard that schools in Chicago’s suburbs were the best places to learn.

Search any Newsweek Top 10 list, and almost every year, it is mentioned that high schools in Chicago’s suburbs are commonly known for having better teachers, nicer facilities and more outlets for extra-curricular activities.

A part of me always wondered how differently I would’ve turned out had I graduated from high school in an affluent suburb, and one name I constantly heard when it came to top high schools was Naperville.

The cookie-cutter suburb made headlines recently, as Naperville North High School caved into its own foolishness,  announcing plans to cancel an April 8 visit from William Ayers, an education advocate and member of the 1960s radical Weather Underground Organization that protested the Vietnam War.

Before finally deciding to eliminate Ayers’ visit all together, school officials were requiring students to obtain a signed permission slip from their parents because the subject matter they would be hearing would be “controversial.”

Ayers was also limited to topic discussions: his involvement in the Weather Underground and his “small-schools” movement, an idea seeking to replace overpopulated schools with student-centered facilities with a more intimate learning environment.

While there are members of the Naperville community who are understandably sensitive about Ayers’ past, banning him from speaking is a disservice to students.

Ayers is most commonly recognized for his co-founding of the Weather Underground and the terrorist acts associated with the organization, but he also has a past that is rich in education reform.

As a professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago, Ayers has been responsible for shaping the minds of several students planning to go into the education field. He has also authored several books on education reform, even working with President Barack Obama.

While his actions in the 1960s and 1970s don’t sit well with some people, the whole point of inviting a controversial public speaker is to get community members and students to think in a more critical fashion.

School district officials said the reason for the cancellation was that too many people would be lost in the controversy of his visit.

Yes, Ayers could be considered controversial—but what does the cancellation of the speech say about Naperville’s educators wanting to promote a learning environment that incorporates the vocalization of several different viewpoints?

There is no way that Naperville school  officials were unaware of the controversy surrounding Ayers.

His involvement with the Weather Underground is something that happened more than 30 years ago. Still, there must have been a point when school officials thought Ayers had something insightful to offer. Why else would they want him to speak in the first place?

But, like too many schools situated in affluent suburbs, it seems as if Naperville was more concerned with maintaining an image up to parents’ approval, rather than providing something that could potentially benefit its students.

Naperville North High School has a responsibility to its community—every school does.

But the biggest responsibility the high school holds is to its students.

By sheltering them from listening to what Ayers had to say, only one viewpoint is presented, preventing students from learning something that will serve them throughout their entire lives—to be able to form their own opinions.