Controversial Ayers to speak at Naperville North

  • Bill Ayers

    Bill Ayers

Published: 3/26/2009 12:00 AM

Revered as a revolutionary or reviled as a radical, Bill Ayers is a polarizing figure.

And that's why he's speaking to Naperville North High School students April 8.

"I think the issue is when we have the opportunity to bring real-life people from various periods of history, we're causing kids to think and face controversial issues and take their own position on it, and provide students with an opportunity most school districts around the country would die for," Naperville Unit District 203 Superintendent Alan Leis said.

Ayers was invited to speak at the school by his former pupil and current North social studies instructor Kermit Eby. He will lecture during the school's final hour of the day.

Leis said only students with signed parental permission slips who are taking a class at that hour that relates to Ayers' speech will be allowed to attend.

Ayers first gained national notoriety in the 1960s when he co-founded the Weather Underground, an anti-Vietnam war organization responsible for several bombings at public buildings around the country. He is now a professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago where he teaches education classes.

He catapulted back into the spotlight during the 2008 presidential campaign when his ties to Barack Obama were questioned.

Leis said Ayers will be limited to that topic as well as the Vietnam War and his "small schools" movement when he speaks next week.

North Assistant Principal Timothy Wierenga said the school has been fielding calls from upset parents, but he points that student participation is "fully voluntary." Wierenga said the school is treating Ayers' visit like any other kind of "living history" curriculum.

In the past, the school has hosted Holocaust survivors and war veterans to speak to students about experiences they would only otherwise simply read about.

"This makes textbooks come alive," Leis said.

Ayers and his wife, Bernardine Dohrn, will also be appearing at Anderson's Bookshop in Naperville at 7 p.m. that night for a book-signing event and interview for a cable program on Naperville's NCTV.

"We've had lots of people come who are in the headlines," said Candy Purdom, a book store spokeswoman.

Lecture: Ayers to attend book signing at Anderson's Bookshop