May 15, 2006

Patricia Polacco's Pen

Woe to those who cross a writer, for they shall find that writers have big mouths, fast typing speeds and a long, long reach.

At least, that's what SRA/McGraw-Hill should have realized when they decided to take on children's writer Patricia Polacco. A Bay Area resident, Polacco has a Ph.D in Art History with an Emphasis on Iconography. After years of thinking that her art lay in other directions, she began writing in her early 40's, and got her start with SCBWI. A prolific author, she has opened her heart and home to the writing community and is an avid speaker and teacher about the writing process.

Recently, she was asked by what she assumed was simply a booking group, to take part in the International Reading Association Conference in Chicago on May 2 and 3, 2006. The booking group asked Polacco's staff for a specific outline and information about her talks, and grew more insistent as the date approached.

Polacco wondered why. She was told, "They requested my written outline because their "client" wanted to make sure that I would not discuss my deep concern about the "No Child Left Behind" mandate ... as well as my concern that there is a link between this mandate and the SRA/McGraw Hill Company, which manufactures, prints, and profits from the sale of these tests to school systems all over our country." Polacco, reasonably concerned, did a little deeper digging - and found that the Buchanan Associates are not a booking or advertising firm, they represent... SRA/McGraw-Hill.

Questions as to why SRA/McGraw-Hill would want to invite this woman and pay her to speak... well, they because she is well known, and outspoken and well respected among teachers and writers and librarians. They thought to put her under tremendous pressure to say "upbeat, positive, non-political" things. About them. And then un-invited her when she wouldn't cave in.
She responded in kind, with lawyers.

And then t r u t h o u t got involved, and reported on a link between the current presidential administration, which implemented the No Child Left Behind laws, and the publishing company.
And because the 'pen' is now a mighty fast keyboard, the world passed the word, and now you know, too.

I guess, if fair is fair, these folk had the right to un-invite Polacco because her content disagreed with their requirements, especially since this was a paid gig, but it's pretty tacky to have invited her and then tried to write her speeches. More questionable is that a publishing company is so sold on trying to promote the flawed No Child Left Behind as a good thing, when it has been described at best as 'incomplete' by countless teachers and other educational professionals -- the very people with whom SRA/McGraw-Hill wants to work and support -- that they were unwilling to allow Polacco to speak if she even referred to the legislation. Possibly a Reading Association Conference was the wrong venue for such flashpoint topics... but then, why would a company representing SRA/McGraw-Hill ask the outspoken Polacco in the first place? Strange.

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