We're land grant. We do for the local economy what any military base does for its immediate environment . . . just without the weekend passes and subsequent strip clubs.
We're the center of the show otherwise known as the University of Illinois system, which, along with the rest of the state's public universities, boasts a surprisingly tight knit group of education colleges. Sooner or later, everyone knows everyone else, or, at worst, everyone knows someone who knows a particular someone else. For instance, I know one of Tony Romo's professors. Tony Romo, like a lot of quarterbacks at Eastern Illinois University, thought it best to prepare for something other than a career in the NFL. Apparently teaching crossed his mind for at least a class or two. I've tried to get notes to Jessica Simpson through these degrees of separation, but my cousin in Cincinnati knows a guy who knows Nick Lachey, and he's still clearly not ready to let me have any contact.
Healing takes time, and sometimes we say things we don't mean. I apologize, Nick. I never should have asked.
Amidst 38,000 U of I undergrads, anytime I needed anything, I'd just pop in on my adviser (who also happened to be the dean of the college). Worse, I'd do it unannounced. Charm? Maybe. Taking advantage of the tight knittedness? You bet. The relationship we formed was special. I could say things to her that perplexed me, confused me, tormented me. By the end, she was more of a counselor than anything.
I could even say things to her that I didn't mean, and she'd forgive me.
There were others in the College of Education: Powerful intellectuals, role models in the land of perpetual thought experiment. They taught me to fear the lecture, to make student engagement the 'thing' [as it were], to develop even a little bit of contempt for the traditional classroom. You can be a political moderate and also be a teacher, but if you want to be a good teacher in the 21st century, your angle on the job preparation better be progressive, or it's over before you've even started. It might be that so many teachers get branded as liberals because, in order to be any good at teaching, you have to be anything but traditional in terms of your professional world view.
After I graduated, one of the most influential professors I had took a new position within the system but away from the line-of-sight abundant cornfields of downstate Illinois. He went to UIC (The University of Illinois-Chicago, not to be confused with its faux Ivy semi-namesake, the University of Chicago where the President-elect taught constitutional law). It was at UIC that he met and got to know Bill Ayers. Through this connection I met Dr. Ayers several years ago. In fact, I knew who Bill Ayers was before I'd even heard of Barack Obama. Before the President elect was a 'skinny guy with a funny name', Dr. Ayers was the 'Weather Underground' guy. But that title didn't remain for long. Pretty soon, he came to be known as the educational genius guy.
Spend five minutes with Bill Ayers and tell me if you can find the word terrorist anywhere on your mental radar. I dare you, one rational person to another. But I don't need to be his apologist. He's now cleared his own air in a predictably eloquent manner consistent with the style and grace I've come to expect of him. I can write these words and stand before you as someone who also doesn't condone the manner in which he chose to protest the Vietnam War. I get to do this because it's what rational people get to do. They also get to expect that other rational people will take them at face value.
I'm saying (writing) something that I do mean, and I don't need anyone's forgiveness because there's nothing wrong with saying (writing) it.
A few of us 'in the know' (I'll let them come out on their own as it's only my place to do so for myself) used to laugh out loud when we'd hear Governor Palin talk about Bill Ayers. We sat, drop-jawed, when America watched as Saturday Night Live took an entirely different approach to its candidate-as-guest formula and vindictively mocked her from less than fifteen feet away (Go to 1:07 remaining for the most Really Pathetic Blog relevant moment). I remember calling a friend the next day and saying, "It's not taking." His only response was to tell me that there was already a deal in the works to do a second printing of Ayers' book. We'd shake our heads in flagrant condescension toward anyone who'd fix a meaningful and attentive eye on one of the Obama-Ayers ads (even though the McCain people had the good sense to stop short of broadcasting the worst one of all).
It's a long road to post-partisan America. Since being elected, Barack Obama has called in several Senate markers to spare Joe Lieberman from a Democratic Party tar and feather jamboree, put Eric Holder (a Reagan appointed federal judge) in charge at Justice, kept Secretary Gates (a Bush appointee), put a moderate Republican in the most vital cabinet position of the day, and 'team-of-rivaled' his biggest rival of all.
And he met with his opponent. Snubbing him would have been bad politics for a guy who wants to change Washington. After all, things are a mess. There's no time to worry about healing. And two guys who ran against each other for President surely said some things they didn't mean along the way. It might not be realistic for President elect Obama to go out to every senior citizen in the U.S. and apologize, but I wonder, in the case of Senator McCain, since he could actually pull it off . . . ???
Probably not, and maybe it's best left that way. You can be sure that Dr. Ayers, who took the only rational path available (aka, shut up and stay low) when he "saw no viable path to a rational discussion," doesn't expect it to happen either.
In the meantime, I'll just keep enjoying the ride as the guy who tried to get into contact with Jessica Simpson via a professor at EIU only to be thwarted by my cousin representing Nick Lachey. All of that took place after having gone through the trenches working for John McCain in 2000, around about the same time I got to know Bill Ayers, several years before working for Barack Obama in 2008.
There's no truth to the rumor that I have a dry erase board in my office with a picture of me in the center of a real world Kevin-Bacon-game, person-to-person connection matrix. No truth at all. But yes, I can get to Prime Minister Putin in three.
Now, about the time I met Kareem Abdul Jabar at O'Hare airport when I was nine years old, he was carrying this really exotic piece of luggage that . . . .