What Do Conservatives Think?

I’ve been dying to know: What will conservatives think of my new book? Will they agree that I’ve tried to take an even-handed approach? Will they protest that I misunderstood the nature of “conservatism?”

Last week we received an encouraging review from a conservative ILYBYGTH reader. Today we read with interest the opinion of a conservative activist who played a leading role in the events described in the book.

Years ago, when I journeyed down to Charleston, West Virginia to research chapter five, Karl Priest was kind enough to take time to talk with me about his memories of the 1974-75 textbook protest. We also talked about his ideas of evolution, creationism, Christianity, and proper education. Since the 1975 protests, Priest has been an educational activist. On his blog, he recently posted a detailed review of my book.

According to Mr. Priest, the book has some good parts, but it also misrepresents the conservative side of the 1974-75 protest. He is consistently kind to me personally, noting that I am “a gentleman and a scholar.” He also concludes by saying,

For anyone willing to study, Dr. Laats’s book provides a comprehensive history of major conservative battles against progressivism.

Mr. Priest also concedes that at some points I capture fairly the thinking of Kanawha County’s conservatives. But he warns that my liberal biases blind me to the truth of the Kanawha County textbook battle. He insists that I “intentionally slurred” the book protesters in the opening of chapter five.

For those who would like to read his detailed critique of my argument, Mr. Priest has added a section to the review in which he moves point by point through the chapter.

Is he correct? In a few cases, I think he makes valid points. For example, he notes that I awkwardly wrote that one protester prayed with a fellow inmate and “saved” him. As Mr. Priest points out, no protester would use such language. The child was saved, but through the power of God, not through the doings of the protester.

More often, however, I think Mr. Priest is blinded by his own partisan interests. I say it with great respect and with gratitude for the time Karl has spent talking with me. In general, however, I think he is overly convinced that the textbook protesters could do no wrong. He assumes too much about the radical nature of textbook supporters.

For instance, he writes that the National Educational Association was not a mainstream group, but rather “an outside left-wing extremist group.” That does not seem a fair statement. The NEA was indeed generally associated with left-of-center politics, but it was entirely within the mainstream of American politics and culture.

As an historian, I have to examine the evidence and come to conclusions about controversial events. Karl is entirely correct that I’m influenced by my own biases, even when I don’t think I am. I encourage readers to check out his review and chime in with their own thoughts.

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