At Booker T. Washington High School in Pensacola, Florida, an English teacher and the school librarian collaborated on a fun summer reading event. In addition to the typical summer reading lists high schoolers have, this school decided to participate in One School/One Book, in which all of the students were invited to read the same book over the summer so they could participate in a number of activities en masse in the fall. The faculty worked together on discussion materials and the activities, all centered around their pick for the project, Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother.
And then the principle pulled the plug on the program, citing the book’s message of questioning authority as grounds for its inappropriateness. In an interesting twist of fate, the principle also reportedly cited a parent’s concerns about profanity in the book, despite the fact that there isn’t any. After organizing all of the work, promotion, and supplemental materials, the faculty members were told to choose a different book or cancel it.
But here’s where the internet took over and made it even more fun. First, word got out about the program’s cancellation, so Doctorow and his publisher Tor donated 200 copies of the book to the student body. But more important is the very, very hopeful possibility that this was all a ploy to teach kids to actually question authority.
A look at the school’s website links to their required summer reading list. Not only is Little Brother required reading for incoming eleventh graders, but other notably challenged or banned books are on there, including 1984, Fahrenheint 451 and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. The second title, by Sherman Alexie, has been banned not only for profanity but for its references to masturbation, among other topics; if that is part of the required reading list, we can only hope that Doctorow’s book is being challenged/banned to actually encourage participation in the summer event.
The principle is either just another sadly typical example of what’s wrong with public education, or is quite possibly the most brilliant strategist ever to work with teenagers. Hopefully this educator is taking this stance and willingly risking ridicule and derision in order to serve as an example of the very type of authority young people should question. Unfortunately, this blog post from Cory Doctorow tells a very different story.