Saying that he finds the recent cancellations of two scheduled speaking engagements in Naperville "absurd" and "outrageous," controversial author, professor and former radical Bill Ayers told the Daily Herald Tuesday that educators who withdrew his invitation to the suburb's high school are missing a learning opportunity.
Ayers had been asked to speak at Naperville North High School and at a book shop in the far western suburb.
"This cancellation provides terrible lessons for these young people about the limits of freedom and the importance of obedience, and it must be painful for many of them to watch people they admire collapse under pressure," Ayers wrote.
"It has all the hallmarks of suppression of speech: incitement of fear, intimidation of well-meaning folks, mob rule," he added.
But Naperville's District 203 officials said they were flooded with angry phone calls and e-mails from parents and community members when word got out early last week of Ayers' scheduled appearance. Critics commenting on newspaper Web sites and contacting school administrators repeatedly referred to Ayers as a terrorist, the Herald said.
District Superintendent Alan Leis announced the cancellation on Monday, saying, "Any value to our students would be lost in such a highly charged atmosphere and any debate of issues or viewpoints would be overshadowed by media coverage and anger over the event itself."
He told the paper that he was surprised by "the level of anger and emotion around this issue."
For his part, Ayers told the Daily Herald Tuesday that he believes he's been inaccurately portrayed by his critics.
"They've got this caricature they're beating up, but it's not me," he said in a phone interview.
Ayers said while it's true his Weather Underground group intentionally broke the law, he never hurt or killed anyone and has "met his judicial obligations." He said he condemns acts of terror and has never advocated violence.
He has several times that he regrets some of his actions from the 60s, but opposing the Vietnam War isn't one of them.
"People could say they disagree or I'm nuts or despicable, but they would have to know the U.S. government ... was killing 6,000 people a week," he said. "That was also despicable."