The calm has returned to the community now that William Ayers has come and gone.
Security staked out the campus last week as Ayers’s anticipated arrival finally took place on Thursday, March 19. According to Deputy Anthony Floyd of MUPD, over 60 officers from 10 jurisdictions patrolled the campus.
“There were no arrests, no injuries, no violence,” Floyd said.
Nearly a dozen people stood outside the Student Memorial Center to both support and protest the event, and anyone who passed by took a few moments to gawk at the news stations that lined the street.
Anyone who entered Lehr dining room to listen to the Ayers lecture on urban education was searched by security and made their way past officers who kept an eye on the hallway that led to the dining room.
Two sophomore students, Courtney Wallace and Emily Masters decided to attend the event after reading Ayers’ book, “To Teach: the Journey of a Teacher.“
“He did a really good job of touching on important things and what it means to teach in the city,” Wallace said.
Both girls plan to attend an urban seminar in May at a Philadelphia school.
Wallace and Masters were both aware of the controversy surrounding Ayers’ visit to campus, but didn’t let it deter them from attending.
“He’s obviously directed his passion towards something else, and that’s education,” Masters said.
Ayers began his lecture to a room lined with members of the local press, students and members of the community filling the seats and police officers standing by the doors. He never mentioned in his lecture the hubbub that had been leading up to his visit, but focused on his career as an educator and what he had learned from his experience.
“Fifteen minutes into being a preschool teacher and I was getting questions that I couldn’t answer,” Ayers said. His preschool students in 1965 questioned him on everything from why a ball bounces to why the homeless man sleeps in the gutter.
“Life with children forces you to be smarter than you are and better than you are,” Ayers said.
His own son, Zaid, now 31 years old, challenged Ayers to answer questions he never thought to consider as an adult.
Ayers addressed what he considers the “toxic habit” of labeling kids based on what they cannot do. According to Ayers, when cultural deprivation patronizes the way teachers talk about kids it makes all urban kids “at risk.”
He encouraged teachers to be welcoming and encouraging to their students.
“Be wide awake and aware of the kids before you,” Ayers said. “Create an environment deep and wide enough to challenge them to a deeper and wider way of knowing,” Ayers said.
One of the key elements of urban education that Ayers mentioned was the universal truth: “parents always want something better for their kids, even if they can’t provide it.”
While the school systems often push for obedience and conformity, Ayers believes democracy holds the fragile ideal that every human being is invaluable.
According to Ayers, teachers have to hold onto the ideals that often get lost in the school system.
“Questioning common sense is risky, but you have to do it,”?Ayers said.
He believes in creating a curriculum of questioning to allow students to think for themselves, of doing and making so that students aren’t just receiving from teachers, and of learning from something, not just about it.
Whatever curriculum a teacher creates for their students, it is the character of the teacher that matters.
“To be an inspired and affective teacher you have to create a rhythm to criticize yourself each day,” Ayers said. “Tomorrow you’ll be a better person for criticizing yourself today.”
The lecture ended with questions submitted earlier that day by students on Ayers views of urban education.
Evelyn Lyons, a retired MU librarian attended the event with Mimi Shapiro, a roster artist through MU that teaches at different elementary schools throughout the city.
“[Ayers] is an expert and I’m not,” Shapiro said. “Different kids have different styles of learning and different needs.”
Both ladies have attended Lockey lectures in the past and were pleased with the selection of Ayers.
“Lockey lectures have always been good and there was never any fuss about it,” Lyons said.
All but two protestors had left the area following the lecture, and they stood quietly by the door, holding their signs as police officers and students walked by them.
The end of the long-awaited lecture left the campus quiet.