Bill Ayers and the SPLC's Teaching Tolerance Project

By The Social Contract Editors
Volume 28, Number 3 (Spring 2018)
Issue theme: "The SPLC File - An Exclusive Report on the Southern Poverty Law Center"

Project Exploration co-founder and Executive Director Gabrielle Lyon, who received a Presidential Award for Excellence in Science Mentoring during a White House ceremony on January 6, 2010, served as a Fellow with the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance project. Lyon interviewed Bill Ayers for the Teaching Tolerance site in 1998 [An Unconditional Embrace, Spring 1998].

In the interview, Ayers, a former Weather Underground fugitive and self-described communist, is portrayed merely “as a civil rights organizer, radical anti-Vietnam War activist, teacher and author” and as an educator who has “developed a rich vision of teaching that interweaves passion, responsibility, and self-reflection.” Nowhere in the interview is there any mention of his extremist ideological views
or militant terrorist activities with a group of revolutionaries that bombed American installations.

Lyon asked Ayers about the effectiveness of the educational system as a vehicle to bring about “social change.” Ayers replied:

Because I began teaching right after my release from jail, I’ve always linked teaching to social justice. There’s a whole group of teachers who came out of the ’60s who asked themselves, “What can I do with my life that would be consistent within an agenda of social change and hopefulness towards a more humane social order?”The most common choice has been to teach; teaching is seen as an extension of their involvement in social change.

The irony isn’t simply that the SPLC’s Teaching Tolerance website praises the work of someone who organized bomb-wielding revolutionarie— tolerant domestic terrorists?—but that the SPLC frequently advises law enforcement agencies and heavily influenced the now discredited DHS report on the threat of “right- wing terrorism.” Is it really a good idea to have an organization that promotes the work of a former fugitive from justice—one who is unapologetic about his violent past, once on the run for his role in bombing military installations—advise law enforcement agencies and train police officers on domestic terrorism?