High School Principal Cancels Entire Reading Program To Stop Students From Reading Cory Doctorow's 'Little Brother'

from the you-want-to-learn-about-questioning-authority? dept

Welcome to the modern equivalent of a book burning. The principal of Booker T Washington High in Pensacola Florida has apparently cancelled the school’s “One School/One Book” summer reading program all in an effort to block students from reading Cory Doctorow’s (absolutely fantastic) book Little Brother. It appears he may be against the fact that one of the messages of the book is the importance of “questioning authority,” and has decided to show the school what true, obnoxious authoritarianism looks like.

Little Brother had been selected and approved as the school’s summer One School/One Book reading pick, and the school librarian Betsy Woolley had worked with Mary Kate Griffith from the English department to develop an excellent educational supplement for the students to use to launch their critical discussions in the fall. The whole project had been signed off on by the school administration and it was ready to go out to the students when the principal intervened and ordered them to change the title.

In an email conversation with Ms Griffith, the principal cited reviews that emphasized the book’s positive view of questioning authority, lauding “hacker culture”, and discussing sex and sexuality in passing. He mentioned that a parent had complained about profanity (there’s no profanity in the book, though there’s a reference to a swear word). In short, he made it clear that the book was being challenged because of its politics and its content.

Ultimately, the entire schoolwide One Book/One School program was cancelled.

In an attempt to… er… question that authority, Doctorow and his publisher, Tor, are sending 200 free copies of the book to the school. A school trying to ban books is almost always a stupid idea, but it seems particularly stupid in this day and age with this particular book. In the end, all it is likely to do is cause more people to actually read the book and to, you know, question authority.

Filed Under: , , , , , , , ,
Companies: tor

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “High School Principal Cancels Entire Reading Program To Stop Students From Reading Cory Doctorow's 'Little Brother'”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
79 Comments
mcherm (profile) says:

Re: Wait...

Actually, it isn’t even necessary to wait for the next PTA. I can state with a great deal of confidence that had the principal asked he would have discovered that some parents thought it was a good idea and others thought it was not.

Just taking a poll isn’t the way you resolve questions like this — you need principles. A principle principle for principals should be encouraging students to learn and think on their own.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Wait...

” permission was obtained from the parents and those who didn’t get permission got an alternative reading assignment.”

One was offered. Here’s the wording from the ‘educational supplement link’, apparently this was not good enough for the fine Principal:

“Parents are invited to join the conversation by reading and discussing Little Brother with your students.

..

Parents are the ultimate authority in deciding appropriate material for their children, so parents requesting an alternative assignment should contact Mrs. Griffith”

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Gotta watch the fine-print

Parents are the ultimate authority in deciding appropriate material for their children, so parents requesting an alternative assignment should contact Mrs. Griffith”

Available choices parents have for ‘appropriate reading material’ for their children shall be made known after the Principle has determined what books are ‘acceptable’, with reading any ‘prohibited’ books to be strictly forbidden.

Rich Kulawiec (profile) says:

Re: Re: Wait...

“when controversial reading was to be assigned”

There is no such thing. Kids should read EVERYTHING: Homer and Aristophanes, Shakespeare and Jong, Asimov and Hunter S. Thompson, Sagan and Gould, Sun Tzu and Doyle, Faulkner and Rowling, Einstein and Thurber. The great, the minimal, the profound, the romantic, the tragic, the inspiring, the profane, the funny, all of it, as much as they can, as often as they can, whenever they can.

“Controversial reading” is the recent construct of uneducated, fearful people seeking to incite moral panics to suit their own political/social/economics/religious ends. (I find it instructive to note how many those behind these charades have no objection to children reading the major religious work of the western world: the bible. Yet it contains rape, murder, torture, sodomy, racial cleansing, bigotry, racism, homophobia, xenophobia, genocide, war crimes, pedophilia, etc., etc., etc.)

The burning of an author’s books, imprisonment for opinion’s sake, has always been the tribute that an ignorant age pays to the genius of its time. — Joseph Lewis

Dort, wo man Bucher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen. (Where they burn books, they will in the end also burn people.) — Heinrich Heine

When any government, or any church for that matter, undertakes to say to its subjects, “This you may not read, this you may not see, this you are forbidden to know,” the end result is tyranny and oppression, no matter how holy the motives. —Robert Heinlein

Lock up your libraries if you like, but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind. —Virginia Woolf

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Wait...

“Controversial reading” is very far from a new concept. It’s been literally around since my grandmother was in elementary school. “Controversial” means that it’s reading that some parents might object to (usually, very strict religious parents). That it shouldn’t be controversial doesn’t mean it’s not.

“Kids should read EVERYTHING”

I agree completely, but the school system also has to serve families who don’t agree with that. However, I would not that when I was of that age, all but one or two kids would get the required parental permission, so most parents also agreed with us.

Still, I don’t really see a problem with providing an opt-out for those few parents who want to restrict what their children are exposed to. Better that than being unable to serve those kids at all.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Wait...

heaven forbid the parents actually use Google to look at reviews and awards or… gasp READ THE BOOK THEMSELVES to make the most informed decision.

Sometimes being a parent means having to actually do stuff yourself rather than expect everyone else to solve it for you.

Imagine if the parent had read the book, approved the kid reading it… they could have a conversation about it, the topics, the themes, etc…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Wait...

EXACTLY! Present BOTH sides to the controversy. USE the book to educate EVERYONE, students, parents, teachers about the controversy. The book is far less controversial than the subject matter it covers.

I’ll never understand the human propensity for self-delusion. Instead of fixing the errant social construct about which this book was written, let’s just ban the book and put our heads in the sand and pretend that none of this is happening. And people wonder how society degrades.

Edward Teach says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Wait...

Matey, I give thee my word of honor that “Teaching the Controversy” is just heathen palaver for “not teaching a Damned Thing”. I’ve just witnessed a middle school student “study the controversy” about the US Civil War and evolution. The ship of education be founderin, shipmate, on these topics! Not a bad word was read about the infernal evil of slavery, or Satan’s own anti-factual “Intelligent Design”. Those freshwater swab teachers just avoided the topic altogether.

PS
I bought a copy of “Little Brother” years ago so I could give it to my kid. When he turned 11 I had him read it. He loved it. I read it. I would be calling that principal to get an appointment to discuss the book with him. I really wish my kids went to a school were stupidity like this exhibited itself so I’d have a chance to go to an office and chew up some scenery. It wouldn’t do any good, but I would be able to use all my best lines on some officious dope.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Wait...

Yes, yes, yes, but they don’t have to read it all this summer.

“”Controversial reading” is the recent construct of uneducated, fearful people”

Define “recent”. The destruction of texts has been going on throughout history. The printed bible was originally kept under lock and key so that the peasantry wouldn’t be able to read it (even those who could read). And those who kept it so (locked away) were not at all uneducated and knew from their own studies the risks to power of uncontrolled access to ideas and works of the mind.

madasahatter (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Wait...

“Controversial reading” is a convenient buzz phrase for censorship because someone with an IQ less than a rock’s got offend. Questioning authority is based on the premise that essentially there are two groups of people in authority: those who hold it by position and those whe hold it by merit. Those by position are scared of questioning because they did not earn their position. The few who earned their authority by merit are usually less threatened by questioning because they have genuine credibility. Note being elected to a political office gives one positional authority not earned authority.

RonKaminsky (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: False dichotomy

I understand where you’re coming from, but as a parent, I feel that I messed up once or twice when I recommended a book which, in retrospect, my child wasn’t emotionally developed enough to appreciate (or possibly, even, just absorb it without negative psychological effects).

I get the “we overprotect our children” bit, but your post throws up a false dichotomy. Do you actually believe that all children of all ages are capable of absorbing any or all experiences without negative effects?

S. T. Stone says:

People like this, man.

How does a person in the 21st Century not realize that a decision such as this one will make them a target for national outrage? How does a person who likely has access to newspapers, television, and the Internet not realize how much of a censorious jackass a decision like this will make them look?

Regardless of the quality, few people like hearing about attempts to stifle access to (or discussion of) content ? especially books. That way lies madness and a harm upon society that no sane person would dare bring upon his fellow man.

In one act, this principal tossed away their integrity and their principles as an educator because they disagreed with one book?s politics. I don?t see how any rational person would ever trust him to educate a child ? or oversee the education of children ? ever again.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

In one act, this principal tossed away their integrity and their principles as an educator because they disagreed with one book?s politics

In order to toss something away, you first have to have it.

A worse way of putting this is that this act can be viewed as a demostration of long-held values and priorities. Some aspects of this may (or may not– you never know) be a surprise to the parents and school board.

John85851 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

How does a person in the 21st Century not realize that a decision such as this one will make them a target for national outrage?
Easy: because he knows the “outrage” will blow over with the start of the next news cycle. Oh, sure, there will be some people in his town that will get upset, but the rest of the country will move on to the next “outrage” over a kid with a Pop Tart shaped like a gun.

Who cares about that principal not allowing books when we have a dangerous student roaming the hallways with loaded Pop Tarts. I hope the kid doesn’t make things worse by pointing his fingers at people! Has the SWAT team been called out yet?

Wait, what were we talking about again?

aldestrawk says:

Well, now they’ve done it. If Tor and Doctorow are going to send 200 copies to the school the principal is going to have to actually burn those copies. Although, maybe shredding is the modern way, so as to avoid air pollution and an increased carbon footprint. A principal’s job is to avoid controversy at all costs, including sacrificing education. So, the principal will be forced to do this in secret. I suggest Tor publish special copies with an asbestos cover. They can use the same type of cover used for a special edition of Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451”. The publisher claimed the asbestos based material for that cover was safe to handle but it does preclude burning or shredding which would render the material hazardous.

Anonymous Coward says:

“In an email conversation with Ms Griffith, the principal cited reviews ..”

So he didn’t want to pollute his purity by actually, actually READING the book?

There’s really no more to say. Except that I just skimmed it and I recommend he read it for himself, he will indeed see that his worst nightmares about it are justified, and now he’s lost control of letting kids discuss it in class and have teacher input. Foot-bullet.

Felix Atagong (profile) says:

A Clergymans?s Daughter

In Orwell’s A Clergymans?s Daughter Macbeth, Act V, scene VIII the ‘womb’ word is used, enough to make a parent write the following letter:

To my mind it?s a disgrace that schoolbooks can be printed with such words in them. I?m sure if any of us had ever known that Shakespeare was that kind of stuff, we?d have put our foot down at the start. It surprises me, I must say. Only the other morning I was reading a piece in my News Chronicle about Shakespeare being the father of English Literature; well, if that?s Literature, let?s have a bit LESS Literature, say I!

(Taken from: A Clergymans?s Daughter (George Orwell))

Lyn Ronald says:

Re: Banning Little Brother

There really isn’t. It does your argument a disservice to come onto a thread about access to information and the importance of reading only to spread misinformation. The syllabus for some exams in England is being reformed so that kids have to read a twentieth-century British work (alongside a lot of other stuff) but nobody is ‘banning’ anything.

If you’re going to take the moral high ground about other people, you’d better make sure you’re standing on firm moral foundations yourself. If you don’t let facts get in the way of a good self-righteous rant, you’ve lost the plot somewhere along the way.

There’s enough real rubbish going on in the world without making up more. I think you need to read more because you’re clearly still too trusting of your own chosen sources of authority.

Mercy Pilkington says:

Check out the school's summer reading list

This summer reading list, courtesy of the school’s website, has made me hopeful that this was a well-planned attempt to get the kids to participate. This list includes some of the most challenged or banned books of all time, including Fahrenheit 451 and The Absolutely True Diary of a part-Time Indian. The books on the list are required reading, whereas the One Book/One Summer was optional. Doctorow’s book that started this all is actually on the required summer reading list for one of the grade levels.

Mercy Pilkington says:

Check out the school's summer reading list

This summer reading list, courtesy of the school’s website, has made me hopeful that this was a well-planned attempt to get the kids to participate. This list includes some of the most challenged or banned books of all time, including Fahrenheit 451 and The Absolutely True Diary of a part-Time Indian. The books on the list are required reading, whereas the One Book/One Summer was optional. Doctorow’s book that started this all is actually on the required summer reading list for one of the grade levels.

LIST: http://www.btwash.org/summer%20reading%20list%202014.pdf

MatBastardson (profile) says:

When I was a kid...

‘Civil Disobedience’ and ‘1984’ were required reading in school. They were ostensibly raising citizens back then, although it must be admitted that if you backsassed a teacher with a quote from Orwell or Thoreau, it was off to the Vice Principle with you. Seriously, it wasn’t that long ago. Maybe they didn’t really want us to question authority, but they sure paid lots of lip service to those historical figures who did, and we got to read their books.

I think public education has always been about indoctrinating drones, it’s just that now they are making no pretense otherwise.

David says:

Take a look at world literature:

Peruse the Old French Fablieux or, say, read “The Miller’s Tale” in the Middle English “Canterbury Tales” by Geoffrey Chaucer. I have to admit to not having read the genre-similar Decameron by Boccaccio, but I suspect that it contains a similar mixture of the profane and learned in a well-chosen spectrum.

Or the Old French “Roman de la Rose” in its culmination by Jean de Meun combining the learned allegories with the crude.

Doctorow is probably weak sauce in comparison to those…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: What happenned next?

@Mandolin Bee

I apologize for my poor reading skills. I misread this:
http://craphound.com/summerreadingbrochurefinal12.pdf

“Parents are invited to join the conversation by reading and
discussing Little Brother with your students.

“Little Brother was a Florida Teens Read nominee for 2009-2010 and has been categorized as young adult fiction.”

However it now appears that “Little Brother” is on the 11th grade reading list rather than the whole school. (does that mean 15-16 year olds?)
http://whs-ecsd-fl.schoolloop.com/file/1289140567980/1376459413970/4278655134204228924.pdf page #2.


vagabondo

MatBastardson (profile) says:

Clever Marketing Scheme

Maybe he made a deal with Doctorow: ‘I will ban your book at my school. When this news goes viral, sales of your book will skyrocket worldwide, and you pay me a modest percentage of your spike in royalties from these sales.”

For the guy who leaps and bounds to the conclusion that this principal must be a Christian, like all those rednecks down south, that it’s Christians who want to ban books, that no one stops kids from reading the bible, here’s this story which also recently happened in Florida: http://www.dcclothesline.com/2014/05/07/florida-public-school-bans-student-reading-bible/ . In fact I see stories like this one at least as often as I’ve seen the ones about schools banning ‘Huckleberry Finn’ or ‘Brave New World’.

You don’t have to be religious to be a control freak. I think tyranny of the mind is pretty evenly represented among all types of people. One difference though, is that if you don’t send your kid to church, or he refuses to go, nobody gives a shit. If you don’t send him to school, however, the law can take him away from you if deemed necessary to ensure that little fucker’s regular attendance at the child indoctrination center.

Another difference is that no kid ever shot up his church, but lots of kids have shot up their schools.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Freedom of mind

Unless it was forcibly administered by a time traveler she couldn’t have been. Even the typical (first generation very side effect heavy) antipsychotics didn’t come about until the 1950s. Given that she ended up committing suicide by throwing herself into the river loaded with rocks during the very early 1940s proper (which one could argue didn’t exist then) psychiatric treatment would have been the better option by that point.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...
Loading...