No Criticism Allowed

Author told to put on a happy face or else:

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.

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.

[snip]

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!

Hat tip to reader M.

Certainly a private firm sponsoring a conference has the right to invite (and disinvite) whoever they like. However, what strikes me about this situation is that the conference sponsors and organizers and attendees are all educators, who should, one imagines, be able to handle a little reasoned debate and elevated argument over the most sweeping education reform this administration has enacted. The attendees of this conference should be able to be trusted — hell, they should be encouraged — to listen to an argument without fear that it will bring the whole world crashing down on them.

Despite a national movement on the political right to prove otherwise, the mere existence of an opposing viewpoint is not a violent affront t0 your way of life and you do not have the right to be shielded from something just because you don’t like it. This is, as Ray McGovern so steadfastly reminded us last week, America. We live and breathe and work and play around people different from us all the time, and I know, I know, ’twas ever thus, but it really does seem in recent years that we have grown more and more frightened of hearing one another talk, lest we hear something that makes us question our beliefs, makes us search our souls, makes us open our eyes.

How sad, really, in the land of the free. How sad that this firm sponsoring Ms. Polacco’s conference did not merely let her speak and trust her to do so, and if they really felt she needed to be challenged on her points, then invite another speaker to rebut or debate her. What a bunch of scaredy-cats.

A.