Education

Florida H.S. Principal Kills Discussion of Little Brother, YA Novel About Questioning Authority, Thereby Underscoring Book's Theme

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Cory Doctorow's 2008 YA novel Little Brother is all about questioning authority, thinking critically, and reverse-engineering surveillance (read Ronald Bailey's rave about it here).

Needless to say, if you're a principal at a high school, that's the last thing you want your students to be thinking about. (Back in my day, teachers and administrators were all stressed out over Pink Floyd's The Wall.) 

Needless to say, if you're a principal at Booker T. Washington High in Pensacola, Florida, you butt in at the last minute to scotch a school-wide reading and discussion of the book. And you do it without realizing that the author is incredibly well-connected and blogs at the hugely popular site Boing Boing. And he's not going to roll with this act of ham-handed clampdown (yes, terribly mixed metaphor). Take it away Cory D:

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. Little Brother is now an optional title for grade 11 AP English students.

Doctorow and his publisher, Tor, are sending 200 copies to the school and the author will participate in a videoconference in the fall with as many students are interested.

Read more here.

You know, school doesn't have to suck. Maybe the Pensacola principal is an ardent devotee of school choice and is bringing down the system from within. In any case, he's managed to teach an enduring lesson to his students about capricious, stupid, and rotten authority. So there's that.

Reason TV caught up with Doctorow in 2010 to talk about what he calls "the war on kids," Boing Boing, and what was then his new book, For The Win.

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  1. Quick Skinner…..press the “INDEPENDENT THOUGHT” alarm button!

  2. It is amazing how stupid and insecure these idiots are. You are an adult you fucking moron. They are kids. You should be able to win any argument against them. It is not a fair fight. I guarantee you, put me in a room with a bunch of 8th graders and I will have them convinced or least very frustrated by their inability to answer my points, of how fascism or anything else is the answer. That is because I am adult and I know and understand the arguments better than they do. This moron apparently doesn’t and is terrified of having an intellectual confrontation with an adolescent. That is pretty pathetic when you think about it.

    1. To be fair, there isn’t a lot of “intellectual” involved in 14-year-olds.

      OTOH because of that, telling junior high students a book is bad for them is the single most effective way to get a 100% readership rate. Given such a challenge illiterate students will actually learn to read so they can keep up with their peers.

  3. I actually really liked the book. I only read it because of Baily and Reason’s coverage of it back then. It was much better written than almost anything I have read since. And it does not compare to the stupidity I was forced to read in school all those many years ago (Z for Zachariah anyone?).

    On a side not, when I was in San Fran a few months back I was walking around some of the same neighborhoods in the book and felt the sudden urge to look for a wifi signal.

    1. So far, it is the only readable book-length story I have experienced from Cory Doctorow. I lump Mr. Doctorow in with Chuck Palahnik as people who are good at the craft of writing, but write stories that I find entirely uninteresting.

  4. Last book I read by Doctorow, Makers, had a dystopian society and it was all the fault of tuh evul corporations. There was some evil government but they were just pawns, of course. For example one of the protagonists was obese, but there were no cool hip restaurants around so he was forced to eat at Pancake House and they served tons of unhealthy food but he didn’t want to waste food, so, oh well. I imagine this ties into Doctorow’s own personal rationalization for being obese himself.

    1. tuh evul corporations

      A common theme these days. What I’d love to see is such authors try to come up with an alternate business model, not involving the government (which is actually the biggest corporation) in control.

  5. I thought Little Brother was worth reading but a very flawed book.

    The always thought provoking Cory Doctorow has a new book out, Little Brother. I highly recommend it, even though I think he is very wrong on numerous points. You can download it for free at the link above.

    It is very difficult to write a political novel. I should know, I’ve started 3 or 4 of them, and they all turned out badly. When the author is convinced that he is right, the protagonists tend to preach at each other, and the antagonists tend to sound like evil simpletons. In Little Brother, Mr Doctorow has managed to avoid the former pitfall, while falling deeply into the latter. While the central theme of the book is interesting, there are several improbable plot twists, a deficiency of analysis, and a deus ex machina ending. Thus, while I think everyone should read this book, and will actually enjoy it, it will not be the classic that, say 1984 would be. I will, however, be giving it to my children when they are old enough to understand it.

    1. For another example, see The Unincorporated Man. They concept is much more interesting than the story.

      And Im still pretty sure the author has no idea what libertarians believe.

      1. Overall, I concur. Although the legal wrangling over ownership was fun.

    2. One of the great challenges in fiction is writing good villains. A lot of fantasy authors sidestep this by just hanging an “evil” sign around the antagonist’s neck. Ditto sci-fi, which just hangs an “alien” sign off of some tentacular appendage.

      But the really interesting villains are the ones who start from understandable or even laudable goals, but then just go . . . awry.

      1. And when you make realistic villians, people criticize them as 2D cardboard cutouts. See Shrugged, Atlas for an example.

  6. The book burner has a PhD. His email address is easily found on the high school’s web site. Let’s fill his box up.

  7. I see the Amazon blurb reads “…his city has become a police state where every citizen is treated like a potential terrorist.”

    So, non-fiction, then?

  8. BoingBoing would be a much better site without Doctorow.

    1. I couldn’t agree more. Doctorow may be a great author, but I’ll never know. He’s so insufferable on BoingBoing that I have no desire to read any of his long form work. For somebody who is so concerned about authority and privacy, he sure loves regulation. Government control of the internet is bad when it’s called SOPA, but good when it’s called Net Neutrality. Control of your medical care is wonderful, but control of your cell phone records is awful. He doesn’t seem to grasp that the consequence of big government is big government.

  9. “Little Brother is now an optional title for grade 11 AP English students.”

    OK, so the kids have the option of either (a) reading it or (b) not reading it. Or I should say, (a) reading it for credit, (b) not reading it, or (c) reading it outside of the curriculum.

    If this is censorship, then more, please!

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