Scholastic Profits From Censorship

It was recently revealed that Scholastic is offering schools the chance to opt out of the diverse bookcase for their popular school book fairs.

Rather than using their immense power to defend the freedom to learn, Scholastic is joining the censors. They should place diversity front and center throughout their collection. Instead, they offered an opt-out option this fall, as described in “Scholastic Under Fire for Allowing Schools to Opt Out of ‘Diverse Books’ for Book Fairs” in The Mary Sue and “Scholastic’s ‘Bigot Button'” in Popular Information.

Scholastic launched a “diverse catalog” years ago in response to the critique of Scholastic catalogs for being as white as the Oscars. The diverse catalog provided window dressing, not a solution, to their collection that continues to contribute to a distorted view of the United States.

Through these white-centered book collections, young people internalize a picture of the United States where white people are entitled to be and do anything, while people of color are in the margins and one-dimensional.

The additional danger of a single diverse catalog or bookcase is that it can easily be excluded. Debbie Reese of American Indians in Children’s Literature learned that this was in play at the beginning of this school year. She tweeted, “I’m seeing that districts that book Scholastic Book Fairs have a option to exclude diverse books. Some say it is due to state laws. Is this happening in your school? Not a rhetorical question, I really want to know.”

Educators confirmed that Scholastic was offering that option. Scholastic’s response to the outcry has been two statements, first defending the practice as “protecting teachers” and now saying they have dropped the diverse catalog and “will pivot” but with no concrete plan.

Given the dangerous and increasing levels of racism and homophobia in the United States, Scholastic should state that it will emphasize people of color and LGBTQ+ identity in ALL of its publishing and catalogs.

Scholastic’s Track Record

Sadly, this is not the only example of Scholastic prioritizing profits over educational integrity. While they publish many books that we value, their marketing and communications divisions are as guilty of censorship and misinformation as the legislators passing anti-CRT laws and book bans. Here are just a few examples:

Scholastic, and a Faustian Bargain. As most readers of this post likely know, children’s book author Maggie Tokuda-Hall was asked by Scholastic to remove the word racism from the author’s note of Love in the Library. Tokuda-Hall bravely said no and made the correspondence public in 2023. Her answer was still no when, after a public outcry, they changed their tune. Thanks to Tokuda-Hall, this story became public. How many more times has this practice gone forward, sanitizing and censoring what children read and learn?

Teacher Fired for Reading Book Purchased at Scholastic Book Fair. 5th grade Georgia teacher, Katie Rinderle, was terminated for reading My Shadow Is Purple to her students, a book she purchased at her school’s Scholastic book fair. This will have a chilling effect on teachers nationally. Rinderle is working with her union to fight this unjust termination and a few dozen teachers in the state bravely signed up to read the book aloud in their classrooms. Despite numerous requests, Scholastic has not issued a statement in defense of the teacher, nor to say they stand by the books in their collection. From the safety of their New York offices, they have left Rinderle and other teachers on their own on the front lines of the battle to defend the freedom to learn for all children.

Scholastic Published and Defended Picture Books Celebrating Trump. Scholastic published two celebratory picture books for children about Donald Trump, exemplified by this excerpt: “His buildings reached into the sky. His businesses just grew and grew. Then Trump became our president. People wanted something new.” (They do not publish books about every president, so this was a choice.) Children, teachers, and librarians wrote to Scholastic in 2018 to express their dismay, with comments such as, “Please do not disseminate a work that is so fraught with lies of omission that it amounts to propaganda.” The president of Scholastic publicly defended the books. Early childhood experts responded that the defense was not academically sound, to no avail. Right wing media aggressively attacked the critics. Scholastic remained silent. Eventually, as Trumps’ term came to an end, the books went out of print.

Climate Change Missing From Scholastic News. Scholastic News’ 2017 coverage of Hurricane Harvey said that the storm has acted “strangely,” but didn’t mention even one word about climate change nor the extensive unregulated development that contributed to the devastating crisis in Houston.

Scholastic Published  a “Slavery with a Smile” Book. The School Library Journal called A Birthday Cake for George Washington “highly problematic” and Kirkus Reviews labeled it “an incomplete, even dishonest treatment of slavery.” But neither of these critical reviews generated any action by Scholastic. It was not until a grassroots campaign by librarians, social justice organizations, journalists, and others in 2016 that Scholastic took the rare step of recalling the book. They then used their corporate communications muscle to spin a story in their favor to all the major media outlets, claiming the recall was due to their own high standards. This buried any reference to the grassroots campaign.

Scholastic Sells Trusted Name to Peddle “Clean” Coal. In 2011, Rethinking Schools exposed a partnership between the American Coal Federation and Scholastic that resulted in widely distributed educational materials that described the “benefits” of coal without any reference to the dangers. In a blog post, the American Coal Foundation’s executive director, Alma Hale Paty, explained that they had selected Scholastic to tell their story because its materials are in classrooms across the country and, “Four out of five parents know and trust the Scholastic brand.” As a result of a campaign led by the Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC), Rethinking Schools, Friends of the Earth (FoE), Greenpeace USA, and the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), Scholastic stopped distributing “The United States of Energy” and the materials were also removed from Scholastic’s website.

How to Respond

While we are heartened to see groups call Scholastic to account, our goal should be higher than “more diverse” book fairs. These past few years have seen book bans proliferate and the shuttering of school libraries. In the face of reduced access to books, it is inappropriate to ask children to fill the gap by purchasing them, especially when income will determine how many books a child can take home.

We encourage everyone to challenge book bans and anti-CRT laws and to support efforts to distribute books for free to children. Our Zinn Education Project (with Rethinking Schools) offers suggested action steps and resources.