Thursday, May 11, 2006

Open Letter by Patricia Polacco, Educator and NCLB Opponent

I came across this open letter via Rory Litwin's Library Juice blog. While I ordinarily try to stay out of the politics, the No Child Left Behind Act is one of the things that I am not happy about. I have seen its negative effects both as an educator and as the parent of a child who is now subjected to obssessive and excessive standardized testing as the result of the act. The letter deals with Ms. Patricia Polacco's non-appearance at the International Reading Association's conference as a result of it being cancelled by the sponsor, SRA/McGraw Hill, who profits from making and providing the exams. Needless to say, the company does not want to hear any dissent about the NCLB. I don't know about the rest of you, but I do find it disturbing that a corporation can so easily censor a speaker at an event for educators. Then again, maybe I am not that surprised given the current climate in the nation. This letter raises some serious questions about intellectual freedom and our First Amendment rights. Anyhow, I will let readers read and make up their minds. Text comes from Ms. Polacco's site.

Here is the letter then:

To All Educators, Librarians, and Media Specialists Regarding the cancellation of my appearance at the IRA in Chicago for May 2 and 3, 2006

A few months ago I was approached by The Buchanan Associates in Dublin, OH to appear at the International Reading Association Conference in Chicago on May 2 and 3, 2006. I was to be part of 5 events. Speeches, 'meet and greet' and book signings.

I was happy to accept the invitation which, I assumed, was coming from the I.R.A. and my publisher. It is always such an honor for me to speak and interact with teachers and librarians from around the country.

But then a very disturbing turn of events transpired. My staff started receiving phone calls and emails from this firm in Ohio requesting that I furnish them with a detailed written outline of what I intended to include in my speeches. I assumed, of course, that this was asked so that a synopsis of my content could be included in a printed brochure furnished to the conferees.

You can imagine my astonishment when I finally called this firm and learned that this was not the reason. They requested my written outline because their 'client' wanted to make sure that I would not discuss my deep concern about NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND MANDATE...as well as my concern that there is a link between this mandate and the SRA/McGraw Hill Company who manufactures, prints, and profits from the sale of these tests to school systems all over our country.

It was then that I closely reviewed all of the emails (I had not up until this time because I had been doing school visits and was not home until now). I then realized that the "client" that this firm referred to, but never names, was indeed, SRA/McGraw Hill! I also learned from the Officials of the IRA that SRA/McGraw Hill was indeed sponsoring the event that I had been invited to. I was shocked!

This "firm" insisted that my speech be "upbeat, non-controversial, and non-political"...I countered with the fact that the plight of the American teacher is far from "upbeat" and they are caught in the vice grip of the most controversial and political LIE that has ever been perpetrated on the American teacher.

I was also quite mystified as to why SRA/McGraw Hill would even select ME and invite me to be part of their program knowing how strongly I feel about this entire situation.

My speeches certainly do inspire teachers...I truly believe they are among the last hero's we have in our country...but I always mention the destructive path that is laying wasted to our schools and that is the No Child Left Behind Mandate!

I did mention to them that I considered this broaching "censorship" and a violation of my freedom of speech.

Finally, after receiving numerous emails from this 'firm' that got more and more 'insistent'...I finally sent them a written refusal to alter my speeches in any way, Certainly I can moderate their length, but I refused to alter the content. I made them aware if they truly had a problem with this, then they could "un-invite" me to be part of their event.

Needless to say, SRA/McGraw Hill cancelled my programs within the hour!

My main concern here, is that I very much fear the conferee's will be led to believe that it is I who cancelled this event. The cancellation was the choice of SRA/McGraw Hill and was generated by a blatant attempt to CENSOR my remarks and the content of what I say to teachers. Which is a clear infringement of my constitutional right to freedom of speech. I pride myself on being an advocate for America's teachers as well as being one of the most reliable speakers at conferences in our country.

My lawyers and I have set a formal request to SRA/McGraw Hill through their representative, The Buchanan Associates in Dublin, Ohio, to post the following signs outside of each venue at the conference where I am schedules to speak.

"DUE TO PHILOSOPHICAL DIFFERENCES BETWEEN SRA/McGRAW HILL AND PATRICIA POLACCO, SRA/McGRAW HILL HAS CHOSEN TO CANCEL ALL OF PATRICIA POLACCO'S APPEARANCES AT THIS EVENT"

Call anyone you know that was either going to attend my events, or that did and were disappointed and tell them why this happened.

I am very disturbed by this on many levels. It seems that we American's are losing, by leaps and bounds, our constitution "guaranteed" rights.

I am insulted and very offended not only on my own behalf, but also because of these various organizations that seek to profit from the misery for our teachers and school children. Profits and money seem to matter much more that truly making changes to our educational systems that would truly help our children. I have to admit that I have a certain amount of pride in taking this stand on your behalf.

Yours faithfully,

Patricia Polacco

4 comments:

SRA/McGraw-Hill said...

SRA/McGraw-Hill welcomes the opportunity to present the facts about Patricia Polacco's scheduled appearances in SRA's exhibit booth at IRA on May 2 and 3, 2006.

SRA/McGraw-Hill and Ms. Polacco signed a very clear contract, which can be viewed at http://www.sraonline.com/index.php/home/statement/2094.

In the contract, signed by SRA on Jan. 10, 2006, and by Ms. Polacco on Feb. 8, 2006, Ms. Polacco agreed to be an SRA/McGraw-Hill exhibit booth speaker at four 30-minute presentations on two very specific topics: heroes who made a difference in her life and the real stories that inspired several of her books. In the two-page contract, SRA/McGraw-Hill was identified by name 14 times. She further agreed that her appearances at the SRA exhibit booth would be limited solely to these four presentations.

Ms. Polacco chose not to honor her commitment to SRA/McGraw-Hill. Shortly before the event, she began insisting that she wanted to use her appearances as a platform for expressing her personal views on public education policy. We respect her right to express her ideas; however, since the SRA educational presentations were focused on writing and children's books, SRA did not believe that its exhibit booth was an appropriate forum for a public policy speech. Ms. Polacco's statements about this event are inaccurate and unreasonable.

SRA's intention was to have Ms. Polacco deliver four presentations that would inspire the people who have the greatest impact on educating our children – classroom teachers.

Angel, librarian and educator said...

Readers: Please note the company has posted a reply to the open letter. Feel free to read and follow the links, and decide. Do note that as of this writing, the link in question only leads to the corporate page, not to any specific document. It may be the link was cut off, or it was not a good link. The profile for the commenter is blank (not publicly available at least), so I have no way of knowing who exactly in the company posted this. So, those are the caveats, but we leave it for readers to decide.

Best, and keep on blogging.

Angel, librarian and educator said...

Correction note to readers: I managed to find the actual link to the company's document. The last part was cut off. I used tinyurl.com to get a small url for the link:

http://tinyurl.com/jbd5a

SRA/McGraw-Hill said...

The link is getting cut of. From the SRA page, search the term "Polacco" and click on "Statement."

http://www.sraonline.com/index.php/
home/statement/2094

Thank you!