Textbook Wars, Cultures Clash Over Education in Appalachia, Then and Now

Oct 16, 2015

A young girl protests the new textbooks in Kanawha County, W.Va. in 1974
Credit Charleston Newspapers

What should children learn in school? It’s a question that’s stirred debate for decades, and in 1974 it led to violent protests in West Virginia. People planted bombs in schools, shot at buses, and shut down coal mines. This week on Inside Appalachia, we feature Charleston native Trey Kay, the host of Us and Them.

In 1974, Kanawha County was one of the first battlegrounds in the American culture wars. Controversy erupted over newly-adopted school textbooks. School buildings were hit by dynamite and Molotov cocktails, buses were riddled with bullets, journalists were beaten and surrounding coal mines were shut down by protesting miners.

Textbook opponents believed the books were teaching their children to question their authority, traditional values and the existence of God.

Textbook supporters said children needed to be exposed to a wide variety of beliefs and experiences, and taught to make their own decisions.

Protesters during the Kanawha County Textbook War
Credit Charleston Newspapers

This version of The Great Textbook War was originally produced by American Radio Works.  This documentary was funded by the West Virginia Humanities Council. It was honored with George Foster Peabody, Edward R. Murrow and DuPont/Columbia awards.

Protester of the Kanawha County textbooks in 1974
Credit Charleston Newspapers

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