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

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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.

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Credit Charleston Newspapers
Protesters during the Kanawha County Textbook War

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.

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Credit Charleston Newspapers
Protester of the Kanawha County textbooks in 1974

Subscribe to our Inside Appalachia podcast here or on iTunes here, or on Soundcloud here or on Stitcher here.

We'd love to hear from you.  Send us a tweet to @InAppalachia. You can also talk with our host, Jessica Lilly, at JessicaYLilly, and our producer, Roxy Todd, at RoxyMTodd. You can also send us an email at: feedback@wvpublic.org.

Jessica can be heard on Inside Appalachia and West Virginia Morning the station’s daily radio news program. You can reach her at jlilly@wvpublic.org
Roxy Todd is a reporter and producer for Inside Appalachia and has been a reporter for West Virginia Public Broadcasting since 2014. She’s won several awards, including a regional AP Award for best feature radio story, and also two regional Edward R. Murrow awards. You can reach her at rtodd@wvpublic.org.
Radio journalist Trey Kay is host and producer of "Us & Them," a podcast devoted to telling stories from all sides of the Culture Wars. He co-produces the podcast with West Virginia Public Broadcasting.