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Critics Condemn Dolly Parton’s Scheme Giving Children Free Books, Label It “White Saviorism”

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A picture of Dolly Parton
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Popular singer and actress Dolly Parton has come under fire following her philanthropic decision. Parton decided to donate a million books to underprivileged children. Consequently, she has faced accusations of white saviorism.

Parton established the Imagination Library program in 1995. It originally started in the United States but now extends its operations to the UK, Ireland, Canada, and Australia. The literacy book has been acknowledged as one of the programs helping underprivileged kids increase their literacy rates.

The program grants students in underprivileged areas access to books used by students in privileged areas. However, a recently published academic paper has described the program as racist and lacking in diversity.

The paper criticized the program for lacking cultural diversity, representation of various gender identities, and non-traditional family structures. The paper was written by Jennifer Stone, a speech and language pathologist, and the University of North Carolina published it. 

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According to Stone, Parton’s book scheme has the look of “white savourism” and could be very harmful. Stone claims that Parton’s Imagination Library scheme is oppressive for emphasizing reading and parenting success. The paper claimed that programs encourage the use of books with themes that favor specific norms, which subjugate children.

However, the idea seems to only be shared by Stone as people have responded to her criticism of Parton and her literacy program. On June 25, 2024, critics referred to the paper as intellectual madness as it promoted the idea that “normal families” should be hated.

One of the paper’s critics is Professor Alan Smithers, who is the director of the Center for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University. According to Smithers, this paper just shows the corrupt influence of Western schools and universities on our societies.

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Another critic is an Emeritus Professor at Kent University named Frank Furedi. Furedi called the paper “academic verbal diarrhea.” He further stated that Stone was just lashing out against traditional family values and child-rearing norms

Another critic is the chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, Chris McGovern. According to McGovern, the attack on Parton’s Imagination Library was disgraceful, ridiculous, and despicable. Additionally, he stated that the basis of this attack on Parton’s admirable endeavor is a kind of intellectual madness.

When the initiative was launched nearly 3 decades ago, the program provided books to underprivileged rural youngsters in Sevier County, Tennessee, her childhood home. The singer stated, “If I’m remembered 100 years from now, I hope it will be for books and not for beauty.” She has contributed millions of dollars to the Imagination Library.

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Since 2008, children in UK areas like Bradford, Wakefield, Manchester, Rotherham and Lincolnshire have benefited from the program. Robert Lee Parton Sr., Dolly Parton’s father, was an inspiration to her, as he never went to school or picked up reading.

His contribution to the organization was significant up until his passing in 2000. The program has been the recipient of numerous awards, including Good Housekeeping and the U.S. Library of Congress for literacy initiatives.

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