Ayers should be allowed to speak at high school

Here are the facts: Bill Ayers was a member of the Weather Underground, a radical group that opposed the Vietnam War and set off bombs at the U.S. Capitol and the Pentagon. He was even quoted saying that he didn’t regret setting off bombs and that he thought the Weather Underground hadn’t done enoug…Here are the facts: Bill Ayers was a member of the Weather Underground, a radical group that opposed the Vietnam War and set off bombs at the U.S. Capitol and the Pentagon. He was even quoted saying that he didn’t regret setting off bombs and that he thought the Weather Underground hadn’t done enough. But he has also spent more than thirty years in Hyde Park working on education reform which has earned him the title of distinguished professor at the University of Illinois in Chicago. And he was invited to speak at Naperville North High School on April 8, when his appearance was suddenly and unjustly canceled Monday.

Although his Weatherman notoriety is undeniable, that’s not all that Ayers represents and that’s not all that he has to offer. In fact, most of his visits to schools in past years have focused on education reform. He has also come to our university a couple of times. The important thing was that University students were offered the opportunity to hear what he had to say. The students at Naperville North High School won’t get that chance.

His visit to Naperville North High School was going to embody education reform until the school district canceled his appearance due to numerous concerns voiced by parents. Particularly, he was going to speak about the small-schools movement, which seeks to replace too-large schools with smaller, student-centered facilities.

The school district reasoned the cancellation saying that any value that Ayers’ visit could have offered students would have been lost in the controversy. More than 100 parents e-mailed the school concerned about the event. If it were the e-mails and controversy that scared the school district away from allowing Ayers to speak, what does that say about the school’s willingness to encourage discussions from multiple viewpoints?

If students are always presented with one point of view, then that’s all they’ll know. That will only make them more easily influenced by others and less independent thinkers. They will never be able to make an informed decision or have a valid opinion on their own, the way we were when Ayers came here.

Even more worrisome than not allowing students to hear Ayers speak is the cowardice of the school district. They must have taken into consideration that controversy has followed Ayers for over a decade; it’s nothing new. They also must have originally thought that Ayers had something insightful to offer the students. For all they know, right now, he could have. He could have had something brilliant to say, but they’ll never know. And the tragedy isn’t in that the school district and school board won’t hear what Ayers would have said, but that the students will not get to hear what Ayers would have said.

Most visitors that are invited to speak at school events are there for students. They are there to share their knowledge, their opinions and histories so students may gain new insights on how to approach their lives, their studies and their future. To only bring in motivational speakers or non-controversial speakers won’t benefit the students. In fact, it will hurt them.

Controversy aside, Ayers should have been allowed to speak at Naperville North High. For the betterment of the students, the school and the community. Whether he had opinions that were largely opposed or shared, at least the students would have been able to listen to what he had to say and then form their own opinions. After all, that is what getting an education is all about.