Polycarp had a post a few days ago, This Day in History: W.Va. textbook protest marked pivotal moment. The post is about the anti-textbook protests in Kanawha County, West Virginia in the 1970’s. Apparently, there was a reunion of the protesters held yesterday (see http://www.kanawhatextbookwar.com). In the 1970’s, the protesters wanted public schools to discontinue the use of certain textbooks, believing that they promoted promiscuity and racial hatred while opposing traditional American values and Christianity.
I first learned of the protests from an Opposing Viewpoints book. I think it was the one on censorship. There who two articles on the religious right. The “pro” article was from Jerry Falwell’s Listen America, and it was an articulate critique of secular humanism in public schools. Christian conservative that I was, I shouted “Amen!” I wondered what the “anti” article could possibly offer that could counter such eloquence.
But when I read the “anti” article, I was shocked. It discussed the anti-textbook protests in Kanawha County, painting a picture of violence, firebombings, and ignorance. It mentioned a pastor who urged congregants to pray for the deaths of the school board members. “Certainly this is liberal propaganda,” I thought.
Well, not exactly, for the anti-textbook protesters did cause a lot of mayhem. And yet, there are two sides to every story. I have a book called Textbooks on Trial, by James Hefley, which defends the anti-textbook protesters. Against those who say that the protesters opposed stories like “Jack and the Beanstalk,” Hefley responds that they were objecting to politically-correct rewrites of those stories. Against those who paint the protesters as a bunch of ignorant hicks, Hefley refers to the educated leaders of the protests, including a former executive in the State Department of Education and a former principal. Against those who charged the protesters with racism, Hefley affirms that they supported an African-American candidate for the state legislature, something that the pro-textbook people didn’t do. On the charge of violence, Hefley states that the textbook supporters committed it as well. And Hefley was quick to say that the Klan had minimal involvement in the protests, and that whatever involvement it did have was clearly unwanted.
There is a part of me that sides with the textbook protesters, since I tend to recoil from liberal elitism and left-wing indoctrination in schools. At the same time, I can somewhat identify with the textbook supporters, since I’m not big on right-wing nitpicking of TV shows, movies, and books. I think a variety of perspectives should be in public school classrooms–right, left, and center.
But who was the hero of Kanawha County? In my opinion, it was Marian Ashley, an assistant superintendent who humbly listened to the protesters. In his book, With God on Our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right in America, William Martin states the following:
[Evangelical youth pastor] Mike Edds clearly felt that a reconciling spirit could have accomplished more than elite snobbery or wild-eyed anger. He told of an assistant superintendent named Marian Ashley–“good Christian lady, tremendous influence on my life”–who had driven out one night to a rural church where she knew a protest meeting was being held. “A minister with his army fatigues on,” Edds recalled, “was spouting, ‘It’s time for war,’ which was totally absurd, and she walked into that place and said, ‘I’m an assistant superintendent from Kanawha County schools. I’m here to listen.‘ In a situation that could have become violent, she totally defused it, and she handled herself with grace. They yelled, they screamed, they complained, but she listened. When she left there, every one of those people came up and shook her hand and said, ‘Thank you for listening. Thank you for coming.’ Most of the trouble would never have happened if the superintendent would have climbed out of that ivory tower and said, ‘I’m here to listen to you, not as your superior, but as an equal, as a fellow citizen. Express your concerns. How can we address it?'” (132)
Marian Ashley was one of the heroines of Kanawha County, and in William Martin’s book. She was a genuine role model of Christianity.