Kanawha County textbook controversy

Kanawha County textbook controversy

The Kanawha County textbook controversy was a somewhat violent school control struggle in the 20th century United States. It led to the largest protests ever in the history of the county, the shooting of one bystander, and extended school closings.

It has been mislabeled as a book banning controversy, but it actually had little to do with banning books from being read entirely, rather with preventing children from having to read certain kinds of textbooks in county schools.

chool Board Ruling

On 12 March 1974, the English Language Arts Textbook Committee of Kanawha County, West Virginia recommended 325 books and textbooks to the school board for use in Kanawha elementary schools. Among these were titles such as "America Reads" and "Language of Man".

School board member Alice Moore telephoned Mel Gabler, a self-proclaimed "textbook evaluator" who ran Educational Research Analysts, a non-profit organization in Texas. Gabler in return sent pamphlets and outlines of some of the ways in which the content of the books allegedly conflicted with good values, moral uprightness, and patriotism. Moore, the wife of a fundamentalist minister, reported her concerns to the board and local newspapers. On 23 May, Moore came to the school board meeting and charged that the textbooks were "filthy, disgusting trash, unpatriotic and unduly favoring blacks". She generated much publicity for her cause and won the support of the local Parent-Teacher Association and the Magic Valley Mother's Club. However, the West Virginia Council of Churches supported the books.

On 27 June the school board met again, with over 1,000 local residents observing, and voted to approve the books. This was met with much consternation from conservative groups. Reverend Marvin Horan called for a boycott of all public schools. Fliers were distributed around the county containing faked, purposefully lewd "quotations" from the books.

Boycott and Violence

The boycott escalated quickly. 9,000 out of 45,000 elementary school students in the county were kept home from school. Thousands of miners, bus drivers, and trucking workers joined in the boycott. The Department of Education called for a compromise, but Reverend Horan denounced them, demanding that the boycott continue until the books were permanently removed and the supporting members of the school board fired.

Reverend Horan conspired with other radicals to set fire to several elementary schools and attach explosives to school buses and carpools. Reverend Charles Qugiley asked Christians to pray that God would kill the three board members who voted to keep the books, leading one student to point out, "They're shooting people because they don't want to see violence in books." The boycott escalated into rioting, as angry workers attacked cars and a CBS news crew. Kanawha's sheriff asked for state troopers to be sent in, but West Virginia Governor Arch A. Moore, Jr. denied the request. Schools were closed several times to avoid further violence.

In April 1975 Marvin Horan was sentenced to three years in prison, effectively ending the demonstration. In Fall 1975 the school board restored the full line of books that they had approved before to all county schools. However, most schools ignored the curriculum and returned to the textbooks they had used in the 1940s.


Joe L. Kincheloe in "Understanding the New Right and its Impact on Education" (1983) made the argument that the victory of Kanawha County School Board Member Alice Moore and her fundamentalist Christian allies in the 1974 controversy represented a defining moment in not only educational politics but American political history as well. Arguing that the Kanawha County textbook controversy was the first major victory by political fundamentalists, Kincheloe wrote in the early 1980s and in subsequent work that the victory was a key moment in what he and Aaron Gresson (2004) have labeled the right-wing recovery movement. This movement has profoundly shaped subsequent American education and electoral politics, as proponents have attempted to regain the power they perceived to have lost in the 1960s liberation movements. In the case of the Kanawha County controversy, Moore and her supporters perceived that progressive secularists were undermining Christian values in their embrace of diversity in educational textbooks a la 60s liberationism. Thus, in Kincheloe's interpretation the West Virginia controversy assumes a historical significance lost on many of those who have written about it over the last three and one half decades (Kincheloe, 2001).


* Foerstel, Herbert N. "Banned in the U.S.A." Greenwood Press, 1994. p.1-7
* Kincheloe, Joe L. Understanding the New Right and its Impact on Education, 1983. Bloomington, Indiana: Phi Delta Kappa.
* Kincheloe, Joe L. Getting Beyond the Facts: Teaching Social Studies and Social Sciences in the Twenty-First Century, 2001. NY: Peter Lang.

External links

* News stories from the "Charleston Gazette": [http://www.wvculture.org/HiStory/education/textbook01.html school closings] , [http://www.wvculture.org/HISTORY/education/textbook02.html shooting] , [http://www.wvculture.org/HiStory/education/textbookletter.html letter] .

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