You recently disinvited author Phil Bildner from speaking to your schools about children’s books that promote tolerance, compassion, empathy, and friendship. Your administrators say it was because of a comment Phil made during several presentations he gave to your students last year. They said the comment was “not in alignment with the values of Round Rock ISD,” although they go on to acknowledge that the “intent of the statement” was not in question. (http://www.oif.ala.org/oif/?p=6813)
I have had the pleasure of speaking at Round Rock ISD schools a couple of times in the last few years. You used Wonder as a “One Book, One Community Read” in 2014, and you invited me to talk to thousands of your students about kindness. Your City Council even declared February 10th “Choose Kind” day in Round Rock ISD.
I have also had the pleasure of seeing Phil Bildner’s presentations to children. I would be hard-pressed to find a more passionate, compassionate, electrifying advocate for children’s literacy. He is also one of the kindest people I have ever met.
I am writing this letter because I am mystified and saddened by your decision to disinvite Phil this fall. Whether the reason for the cancellation was, as many believe, because Phil booktalked George, or it was, as you state, because of a comment he made that was “not acceptable” to you, the message you are sending to those of us who have ever visited—or plan to visit—your schools is the same: unless every comment that comes out of our mouths is in “alignment” with your belief system, we will be subject to the same treatment as Phil. If it can happen to him, after all—who has tirelessly visited your schools for seven years in a row, has built strong relationships with your teachers and librarians, and has inspired thousands of your students with his message of empathy and tolerance—it can happen to any of us.
The fact is, Round Rock, when you disinvited Phil Bildner, you disinvited me. You disinvited all of us who may have opinions that differ from yours. You disinvited anyone who encourages children to question the status quo and think for themselves. You disinvited every author who may wish to talk about books that feature protagonists like George.
You have the right to invite or disinvite any author you want, of course. And I have the right, as an author, to not return to your district to speak at your schools—at least until you rescind your decision about Phil Bildner. I have the right, as an author, to bring this important issue to light so that other authors may consider doing the same. Round Rock ISD, I ask that you reconsider this decision not only because it is the right thing to do, but because your students are the ones who stand to lose the most. They are the ones who deserve your best, your wisest, and your bravest choices.
The truth is, I’m tired of intolerance. I’m tired of the unkindness that breeds intolerance. I’m tired of the ignorance that fuels it and the fear that spreads it. We must all—authors, publishers, teachers, librarians, and school administrators—work together to stop intolerance in its tracks when we see it. Kindness can never grow where intolerance has taken root.