Monday, June 9, 2014

Pensacola Principal Cancels Summer Reading Program

A Florida principal has been making waves in the book world the past few days, having cancelled the summer reading program in his high school. Why? Because he doesn't want kids reading Cory Doctorow's  Little Brother and starting to question authority.

Because, you know, kids don't do that already or anything. Good plan, principal. Good plan. Let's see how well that works for you.

Techdirt tells us more:
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. 
Read the original post HERE

The rest of Doctorow's response to this ordeal sums it up kind of perfectly:

I don't think this is a problem because my book is the greatest novel ever written and the kids will all miss out by not reading it, but because I think that the role of an educator is to encourage critical thinking and debate, and that this is a totally inappropriate way to address "controversial" material in schools. Little Brother is recommended by the Florida Library Association for use in schools, and has been chosen as a One School/One Book title in other schools -- it's even been a One City/One Book choice for all of San Francisco. I've visited dozens -- if not hundreds -- of high-school groups around the world to talk about it. 
The school faculty who worked so hard on this asked for our help fighting back against censorship, so my publisher, Tor, has agreed to send 200 copies to the school. For my part, I'm sending them two of these Litographs posters that have the full text of the book, and a copy of the UK-only, slipcased, limited edition Little Brother for their annual charity auction. 
And I'm still doing that videoconference this fall, with as many students as want to read and talk about the book -- even (and especially) if they disagree with its message.
I'd like to thank Ms Woolley and Ms Griffith for their tireless work to promote intellectual liberty; as well as Joan Bertin from The National Coalition Against Censorship for all her help (and thanks, too, to Charles from the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund for introducing me to Joan!). 
Read Doctorow's entire blog post HERE

Personally, I think Doctorow and Tor are handling this entire thing admirably, fighting back for the sake of not only the young people of Pensacola but of books as a whole. As bestselling author Neil Gaiman commented on Twitter this morning, "It's useful to remind people what books are for." All books teach us something (whether intended or not), they help shape who we are and what we believe by making us think and challenge and even just enjoy. Trying to take that away from high school students because one man's ego is too big and too scared is ludicrous. I'm not one to wish ill will on people, but honestly, that man should not be a principal--he clearly doesn't have the kids' best interests at heart--and I hope something good comes of this. Preferably in the form of him getting sacked. *halo*

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