This column by ACRU Senior Fellow Robert Knight was published October 11, 2011 in The Washington Times.
As a school board member in Kanawha County, W.Va., in the early 1970s, Alice Moore ignited what might be considered the opening battle of America’s culture war in education.
Mrs. Moore challenged the board’s choice of textbooks and supplementary materials, touching off a yearlong protest that riveted the nation in 1974. Among other things, it alerted parents that the educational establishment was not only anti-Christian but aggressively so. The uprising presaged today’s Tea Party revolt against overbearing government.
Thousands took to the streets, miners went on strike, and several unoccupied schools were bombed. One person was critically hurt when shot by a man who opposed the book protesters. A pastor who led the protests, Marvin Horan, was convicted on one count of conspiracy and spent three years in prison, denying he had anything to do with violence. The Ku Klux Klan crashed the party, and book protesters spent much effort distancing themselves.
“The Great Textbook War,” a radio documentary by former Kanawha County resident Trey Kay, won a Peabody Award in 2009 for its “thoughtful, balanced” approach to the conflict, as well as an Edward R. Murrow Award in 2010. Several books have been written about the topic, including Protester Voices: The 1974 Textbook Tea Party, by Karl C. Priest, who taught for 34 years in West Virginia schools.
On Oct. 7, Mrs. Moore received the Dr. Robert Dreyfus Courageous Christian Leadership Award from South Carolina-based Frontline Ministries and the Exodus Mandate Project, which encourages parents to home-school their children or put them in Christian schools. Dr. Dreyfus is a longtime home-schooling proponent.
“We see this as one of the first shots in the culture war, after Phyllis Schlafly’s defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment,” said E. Ray Moore, president of both groups. “What’s happening today had its beginnings in the great textbook war of Kanawha County. It’s time that Alice Moore was recognized for her courage.”
The media and leftist groups called Mrs. Moore, some pastors, teachers and parents “book burners” and “racists.” It didn’t matter that Mrs. Moore’s mentor in the challenge was Arizona’s black state school board president, Stephen S. Jenkins, who alerted her to the leftist agenda behind multiculturalism, and that some books portrayed blacks in extremely negative ways.
Mrs. Moore’s side was deemed “censors” even though they obtained copies of the challenged texts so people could read for themselves. Contrast this with former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who said of the massive Obamacare bill, “we have to pass it so you can find out what’s in it.”
The upshot of the protests, which drew network coverage after the miners’ strike began, was that eight books were dropped and 65 percent to 80 percent of elementary school parents opted out of using the approved texts. Publishers discontinued some of the books as news of their content spread across the country.
Many of the 320 language-arts books adopted had subtle biases, according to Mrs. Moore, but others were loaded with graphic violence, profanity, sex and “values clarification” designed to replace biblical principles and parental authority with moral relativism. Here’s a question from a second-grade textbook from the D.C. Heath Communicating series (1973) by Morton Botel and John Dawkins:
“Have your parents ever punished you because they thought you had done something wrong when you hadn’t really done it? What happened? How did you feel?”
In the third-grade book from that series, children compare the fable of Androcles and the Lion to the biblical account of Daniel in the lions’ den, thus equating them as fiction. Elsewhere, a passage about American Indians’ belief in the Great Spirit asks, “If you were a god, would you walk around the earth checking on people?” Kanawha County parents from all walks of life correctly perceived that the textbooks were messing with their kids’ minds and souls.
“One of the elementary school books had a poem that referenced God, but they used a lowercase g,” Mrs. Moore recalls. “In another section, they had a plural reference to ‘gods’ capitalized. Another book had a series of prayers that an animal might make to God, and they were all complaints. The text suggested that the children try coming up with their own prayer that an animal might make.”
The American Civil Liberties Union, which has cardiac arrest over Christmas carols and graduation prayers, apparently had no problem with the religious references and made no effort to aid the protesters.
In Texas, the state textbook committee in 2010 angered liberals by rejecting a review panel’s recommendations to kick out Christmas and Independence Day and ignore such famous Americans as Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein and Neil Armstrong. Texas, the largest purchaser of textbooks after California, has been a thorn in liberals’ sides since 1961, when the late Mel and Norma Gabler began exposing errors and bias. Famous example: One history book had six pages on Marilyn Monroe and only a brief mention of George Washington. The Gablers helped pave the way for the West Virginia revolt in 1974, and they spoke there during the protests.
From the powerful national teachers unions to academia, what former U.S. Education Secretary William Bennett calls “the blob” is clearly on the side of the radical left. The U.S. Department of Energy has even created a school curriculum called Solar Decathlon, which tells kids that solar power is moral, unlike the evil oil and gas industries, which probably are run by fundamentalist Christians. OK, I’m exaggerating, but it’s green propaganda.
If parents think their schools are safe, they’re whistling in the dark. In Virginia’s Loudoun County, the most conservative in the Washington area, School Board Chairman John Stevens boasted recently to The Washington Post Magazine that after a 2008 library challenge to the homosexual penguin book And Tango Makes Three, more copies are available because of donations by families – including his.
In the name of “tolerance,” the left is working hard to indoctrinate children. But the spirit of the 1974 Kanawha County textbook uprising is alive and well – when parents wise up.
Alice Moore’s award is a reminder not only of her courage but that of thousands who have stood between children and the “blob” that would turn them into Earth worshippers who hate America, capitalism and Christianity.