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“When English Language Arts Reaped the Whirldwind”

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Allen Berger

In his opinion column  for the Savannah Morning News, NCTE member Allen Berger dreams of a reading / writing world for students:

“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if students used materials that made them want to keep reading? Stories and fables. Mysteries and plays. Puzzles and songs? Diaries and fiction and non-fiction?

Wouldn’t it be delightful if students engaged in writing activities that gave them a command of language and a love of learning, that encouraged reflection and conversation, correspondence and publication and spiraled upward through the 12 grades?”

But he goes on to describe what happened when James Moffett’s text series Interaction, a resource that might have helped make that dream come true, was adopted and then driven out of Kanawha County, West Virginia—a true Storm in the Mountains (the name of the book that Moffett later wrote about the affair) that tore apart a community and led to the discontinuation of the book series:

“But in Kanawha County, W.Va., some people disliked the series so much they engaged in book-burning, dynamiting and fire-bombing school buses and school buildings, boycotts, shootings, marches and threats to teachers and other supporters of the series.

They said they did not like the way some materials in the series portrayed politics, culture and religion.

Never before had censorship been carried to such a violent extreme in the U.S.”

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John Mayher

In his 1990 review of Storm on the Mountains for English Journal, John Mayer astutely noted what remains true today:

“In a time when proposals for school reform are finally focusing on issues of what and how we teach, James Moffett has provided us with a way of seeing that pedagogies we often think of as ideologically neutral-like having children read real books rather than basal readers, encouraging students to write papers which express their personal meanings, or helping students critique the texts they read and the world they live in-do indeed express an ideology, one not necessarily shared by all our fellow citizens.”

Moffett’s book went on to win the 1992 NCTE David Russell Research Award.