Friday, May 12, 2006

No Conference Agenda Left Behind

Patricia Polacco is a popular author of children's books as well as an outspoken critic of the administration's No Child Left Behind policies. This post isn't about NCLB (bad as it is), it's yet another post about the not-so-gradual eroding of free speech in this country.

Ms. Polacco had been invited to speak at a conference of the International Reading Association in Chicago last week - an invitation that she gladly accepted. Then she started getting requests from the organizers for detailed outlines of her presentation. No problem, she assumed, they would need information for the conference program, promotion, etc. But then a phone call revealed that was not why they needed her comments in advance.

It seems that the event sponsor - McGraw Hill publishers, which stands to make a bit of cash off of the testing requirements of NCLB - wanted to make sure that she was not planning on bashing NCLB at the conference. She replied that she would not edit her remarks to suit anybody. Her offer to appear was, of course, rescinded.

(You can read the full story currently on her web site:

Now, technically, this isn't a First Amendment case. She's not been prevented from criticizing NCLB by any official government entity. She's only been asked not to present at a private conference held on private property. She's perfectly free to organize her own conference at a different site nearby.

She has, however, been silenced by a major corporation that stands to make a lot of money as a result of policies that more and more educators are saying is destroying education.

She was invited to speak so that her name could be used to sell tickets to the event. That invitation was sent with full knowledge of her opinion on NCLB. The invitation was withdrawn too late for people who registered hoping to hear her. Now they will hear only speakers in favor of NCLB. A little under-handed, wouldn't you say?

Whether or not No Child Left Behind is good or bad may be open for debate, but that debate can only happen if both sides are allowed to speak at public forums, such as a conference of reading educators!

Thanks to my wife, Leslie, a second grade teacher, who brought this one to my attention.

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