A thankful nod to American RadioWorks and Third Coast International Audio Festival for digging up Trey Kay’s audio documentary “The Great Textbook War” in the midst of shiver-inducing news from Texas, where right-wing activists who dominate the Texas Board of Education are attempting to rewrite U.S. textbook curricula.
The audio documentary revisits the 1974 national media frenzy over one West Virginia school board’s deliberations on which textbooks to employ, pivoting on conservative Christian belief systems. Violent protests ensued and vehement coverage spread through national media outlets for months.
The listening experience here is rich, thanks to a deep well of archived press recordings and original interviews. Kay’s biography also informs the story: He was a seventh grade student in Kanawha County when the war broke out. It didn’t matter then, or now, that Kanawha’s population is slight, around 191,000 in 2008, even though it houses the state’s capitol: America loves the allegory of its small-town self demonstrating the sentiments and antics of the country as a whole. But when the sediment of media flurry settles, the ’74 textbook war and the current battle in Texas are both debates about degrees of mediating information and opinions in the school's domain. One Kanawa parent testifying on tape in 1974 hits a resonant note in each era’s textbook war: “If I have been successful as a parent, nothing my children can read in school will hurt them.”
“Textbook Diplomacy, Part One & Two,” BBC World Service Documentaries