Letter to the Editors 20.4

Dear Editors,

A few months ago I was approached by the Buchanan Associates in Dublin, Ohio, to appear at the International Reading Association Conference (IRA) in Chicago on May 2 and 3, 2006. I was to be part of speeches, “meet and greets,” and book signings.

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

Then a very disturbing turn of events transpired. My staff started receiving phone calls and emails from the 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 the 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 (NCLB) mandates… as well as my concern that there is a link between these mandates and the SRA/McGraw-Hill Company, which 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 the emails. (I had not up until this time because I had been doing school visits and was not home.) I then realized that the “client” that the firm referred to, but never named, 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!

The firm insisted that my speech be “upbeat, noncontroversial, and nonpolitical.” 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 a part of their program, knowing how strongly I feel about this entire situation.

My speeches certainly do inspire teachers.I truly believe teachers are among the last heroes we have in our country, but I always mention the destructive path that is laying waste to our schools and that is the NCLB 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 the firm that got more and more insistent, I 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.

This 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 sent a formal request to SRA/McGraw-Hill through their representative, the Buchanan Associates in Dublin, Ohio, to post the following sign outside of each venue at the conference where I was scheduled to speak:

Due to philosophical differences between SRA/McGraw-Hill and Patricia Polacco, SRA/MGraw Hill has chosen to cancel all of Patricia Polacco’s appearances at the event.

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

I am very disturbed by this on many levels. It seems we Americans are losing, by leaps and bounds, our constitutionally guaranteed rights. I am insulted and offended not only on my own behalf, but also because of these various organizations that seek to profit from the misery of our teachers and schoolchildren. Profits and money seem to matter much more than 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.

Yours faithfully,

Patricia Polacco