A Naperville, Illinois, school has canceled a speech by Bill Ayers, a professor of education, because of objections to his association with the Weather Underground 30 years ago. Ayers was scheduled to talk about his field, urban education, to a high school social studies class. All the students had parental permission to hear him speak. Word of his appearance leaked out and soon self-appointed censors decided the students shouldn’t be allowed to hear this “subversive” university professor, and the school caved in to this foolishness.

It’s bad enough when kids’ education is restricted by the squeaky wheels in the community. Worse yet is the total lack of historical context in which the decision was made. I wonder if the educators in Naperville realize that banning speakers associated with “terrorist” organizations would have precluded Nelson Mandela, Menachem Begin, and Patrick Henry – all of whom were associated with organizations that employed terrorist tactics to achieve political goals.

If Naperville has no excuse for its misguided censorship, even less can be said for Boston College, which has similarly withdrawn a speaking invitation to Ayers. The lesson students take away? Their right to hear from a controversial figure, and to make up their own minds, is easily defeated by reckless and ill-informed claims and the bootstrapped argument that he isn’t worth listening to anyway. It’s a depressing contemporary civics lesson. Apparently black-listing is alive and well in the US.