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ERIC Number: EJ1171798
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2010-Apr
Pages: 12
Abstractor: ERIC
ISSN: EISSN-2154-6282
Reflections on a Life in Teaching
Ayers, William
i.e.: inquiry in education, v1 n1 Article 6 Apr 2010
In this article, William Ayers reflects on his teaching experiences starting in 1965 when he found that teaching, from his first day until the present, has been linked for him to the persistent longing for freedom, and the never-ending quest for justice. He describes the "Children's Community"--"an experiment in freedom and integration"--housed in a shabby church basement where he began his work. From here he took his students on a multitude of field trips to get them to think and to be bold and adventurous. Trips became a big-letter statement about the centrality of first-hand experience as adventure and investigation and learning. Later in that turbulent and propulsive decade, Ayers became an organizer for the East Side Community Union in the Lakeview section of Cleveland, Ohio. The Community Union was an extension of the Southern Civil Rights Movement into the North--a grass-roots effort to organize disenfranchised and marginalized citizens of the ghetto into a powerful force capable of effectively fighting for their own needs and aspirations. The Community Union lived for only a few years. While it lasted, there was struggle, hope, possibility, occasional heroism, and one of the most loving attempts to change all that is glaringly wrong in society. Ayers observes that changing communities from places of despair to places of hope and action is parallel to efforts to improve schools. Each involves creating a sense that things could be otherwise, awakening aspirations, creating collective capacity, challenging old norms and expectations, and confronting structured relationships of power. He explains how his teaching story, like so many, is punctuated by crisis: How can I possibly succeed in a crowded and underresourced classroom, a place with too many kids, too little time, and negligible support? How could I motivate a group of resistant students who seemed to hate the place? How could I be true to my deepest values and broadest purposes in a place seemingly determined to undermine both? How could I even survive? A large contradiction that productively punctuates much of teaching is the tension of working in real classrooms in real schools and systems while fighting to hold on to and find ways to enact humane values and best thinking about learning and teaching. This is a contradiction Ayers never resolved in his own teaching, but one that he thinks must be acknowledged and addressed continually as a space of struggle, a place to live, a tension to teach into. He argues that by giving children and young people a reason to learn beyond the individualistic goal of getting a job and making more money, by encouraging them to exercise their minds and their hearts and their soul power, teachers would tap into the deep well of human values that gives life a richer shape and meaning and by reorganizing education in this fundamental way, in turn creating safer, livelier and more peaceful neighborhoods and communities.
Center for Practitioner Research at National Louis University. 122 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL 60603. Tel: 800-443-5522 x2277; e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Opinion Papers; Reports - Descriptive
Education Level: N/A
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers - Location: Ohio (Cleveland)
Grant or Contract Numbers: N/A