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


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.