Friday, May 12, 2006

SRA/McGraw-Hill, Patricia Polacco, contracts, and comments in blogs

Today, SRA/McGraw-Hill placed a statement in the comments of a post on my blog. That same statement was placed on other blogs, as well, in posts also talking about the Patricia Polacco "disinvited" controversy at the recent IRA Convention. Ms. Polacco, a well known children's book author, is an outspoken critic of No Child Left Behind. McGraw-Hill (and others) make money from selling materials used in NCLB.

Other than being impressed with the hustle of SRA/McGraw-Hill's folks -- who really should've made a Blogger profile that allowed us all to fully check them out -- at first I thought their statement made some sense. This wasn't a case of censorship, but of someone signing a contract and then attempting to do something different. But there was also a link to the contract signed by Ms. Polacco and SRA/McGraw-Hill. Hmmm.

While that contract gives Ms. Polacco two topics to speak about and "proposes" how the talks be geared, there is certainly no languange in them that implies her speeches would have to be approved (let alone non-political, non-critical, or anything else). So, if it's true, as Ms. Polacco states in her open letter that it wasn't until some time later that she was asked to send in her speech to have it okayed, well, I can fully understand her surprise and dismay. That said, Ms. Polacco also says she didn't know that she had been hired by SRA/McGraw-Hill, but the signed contract would seem to contradict her statements. Still, in the comment left on blogs, SRA/McGraw-Hill makes no mention of Buchanan Associates of Dublin, OH... with whom Ms. Polacco states she dealt. Clearly, there's differing accounts here, but I continue to go back to a more basic issue: the way I read it, that contract doesn't state that Ms. Polacco's speeches must be approved or "non-controversial."

I posted a question for SRA/McGraw-Hill here on my blog, asking if they can clarify if that contract gives them the right to approve the speeches in question. I'm curious, too, if the other two authors who did presentations for SRA had to submit full speeches for approval. I'd also like to hear from McGraw-Hill about what role Buchanan Associates played in this, if any. It also seems to me that SRA/McGraw-Hill had every right to cancel on Ms. Polacco. Censorship? Well, yes, on some level... but it still seems legit.

While there are clarifications needed from both sides, I find it interesting that SRA/McGraw-Hill tries to place the blame solely on Ms. Polacco for "insisting that she wanted to use her appearances as a platform for expressing her personal views on public education policy," but fails to discuss what gives them the right, based on the contract they show, to control what she says.

And finally, SRA/McGraw-Hill ends their statement with the following:
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.

Apparently, then, SRA has made themselves the arbiter of what will inspire teachers. A more accurate statement, it appears to me, would be for them to say that they only want teachers inspired in a positive, non-controversial, upbeat way... or at least some way THEY define. I don't like their attempt at spin, and I'd be curious to hear if any teachers who come by here like that attitude.

Still, I hope this whole imbroglio starts some constructive dialogue about the issues at play here. I look forward to SRA/McGraw-Hill's reply to my question(s), and also look forward to any comments from others.


Melinda R. Cordell said...

Hey Gregory --

I doubt they're going to reply. I think they figured "Well, we got the word out, now we'll go mess with some other author." Okay, maybe they didn't think that.

What bugs me: do they think they're going to read their letter and say, "Oh, then Ms. Polacco's wrong. Never mind!"

I can think of another way to handle this: support Ms. P's views on NCLB by calling your congressman, and maybe mention the fact that McGraw's stalking nice authors on their blogs. (grin)

Greg Pincus said...

I don't know if SRA/McGraw-Hill will answer. I don't know if Ms. Polacco will clear up other information, either. I'd love to hear from both, but I do agree that taking action is far, far better than simply shrugging one's shoulders and ignoring what's going on. Hey, I'm sure some readers of this blog would have a totally different point of view than mine or yours... but we should ALL be speaking out and taking action. Silence is the enemy.

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