Open letter from Patricia Polacco RE: International Reading Association Conference

This open letter has been circulating elsewhere, but deserves the widest circulation possible, in my opinion….

“I’m sharing this open letter from Patricia Polacco because it raises chilling questions about intellectual freedom. Many of you heard Polocco speak at the ALSC preconference last year and will recall that she was very critical of NCLB.”

Kathleen T. Horning
ALSC Vice President / President Elect

Urgent Notice….

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 a 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 ‘insistences’…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 sat, SRA/McGraw Hill cancelled my programs within the hour!

My main concern here, is that I very much fear the conferees 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 scheduled to speak.


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 may levels. It seems that we Americans 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 profi 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

10 comments on “Open letter from Patricia Polacco RE: International Reading Association Conference

  1. Thanks for the tip. It does deserve wide dissemination, and I placed it on my blog as well. It does raise some serious questions about freedom of expression and corporate clout.

  2. I agree that this information deserves the widest circulation possible and I find it quite troubling. I must admit, however, that I do not see how this is a clear infringement of [Ms. Polacco’s]constitutional right to freedom of speech unless the International Reading Association is a government agency.

  3. I don’t think there’s been an assertion of a legal case. But it is an intellectual freedom issue having to do with corporate power and corporate interference in scholarly and professional communication. Anyway, that’s how it looks to me.

  4. 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

    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.

  5. Hmm, seems the company is doing a little PR blitz. They posted this same reply over at my blog as well. It does seem like the company wanted, at least given the language in the contract, a very “clean” (read “safe”) set of topics. Still, the incident does raise questions about right to speech versus corporate desires. I know one thing. If I ever get into a position where I could be invited to speak, I am making sure I read absolutely every piece of correspondence, and I am standing for what must be said. Of course, we all know there is no way I will get invited anywhere.

    Best, and keep on blogging.

  6. Liz wrote:
    “I must admit, however, that I do not see how this is a clear infringement of [Ms. Polacco’s]constitutional right to freedom of speech unless the International Reading Association is a government agency.”

    This is a narrow, legalistic reading of the 1st Amendment that is more “letter of law” versus “spirit of law” that is, unfortunately, gaining ground. Spirit of the law is hard to argue, since it’s fuzzy and subjective, resting a great deal on the opinion of judges hearing the case (though in the end that still counts for a great deal, as I recall from my reading of Louis Menand’s writings on Justice Oliver Wendell Homes).

    Howard Zinn also points out that the scope of the 1st Amendment, strictly speaking, is less sweeping than most Americans realize.

    I DO think the broader view is the way it *ought* to be, but reluctantly agree with Zinn and with Liz that the way the 1st Amendment is actually written, the broader view of legally protected free speech (i.e. that of attempting to resist free speech being stifled by power centers other than governmental entities) is on shaky ground at best.

    But legal status is one thing; What’s moral and (professionally) ethical is often another question entirely, and this incident should be very offensive to all of our collective sense of library ethics regarding intellectual freedom.

    ALA, SRRT, somebody should issue a statement on this in support of Ms. Polacco. The company’s smarmy PR statement adds insult to injury and sounds very much like the writing style of a corporate lawyer or PR hack. Do they think educated humanists can’t see through such drivel? Of course, their statement is aimed at the general public, hoping for an audience less well endowed with critical thinking/reading skills. Contrary to what the PR hack says, Ms. Polacco’s comments are dead on accurate and entirely appropriate. I think Ms. Polacco is very noble to counsel activists to focus their energies on the NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND act, and not on her, but I think at least an SRRT resolution or something would be a good thing to put out.

  7. Truthout’s Editor’s Note on this sotry is interesting:

    “Editor’s Note: Popular children’s author Patricia Polacco has been censured by McGraw-Hill for her statements critical of President Bush’s education reform program, No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The Nation has reported that “the amount of cross-pollination and mutual admiration between the Administration and that empire [McGraw-Hill] is striking: Harold McGraw Jr. sits on the national grant advisory and founding board of the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy. McGraw in turn received the highest literacy award from President Bush in the early 1990s, for his contributions to the cause of literacy. The McGraw Foundation awarded current Bush Education Secretary Rod Paige its highest educator’s award while Paige was Houston’s school chief; Paige, in turn, was the keynote speaker at McGraw-Hill’s “government initiatives” conference last spring. Harold McGraw III was selected as a member of President George W. Bush’s transition advisory team…. An ex-chief of staff for Barbara Bush is returning to work for Laura Bush in the White House – after a stint with McGraw-Hill as a media relations executive. John Negroponte left his position as McGraw-Hill’s executive vice president for global markets to become Bush’s ambassador to the United Nations.” Neil Bush left McGraw-Hill when he started his educational software company, Ignite. – vh/TO’

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