The principal of Booker T. Washington High School, Dr. Michael Roberts, cancelled the school’s One School/One Book summer reading program to prevent the student body from reading and discussing Little Brother, a popular young adult novel by Cory Doctorow that addresses questioning authority, thinking critically and surveillance.
The administration had selected and approved Little Brother. The school librarian Betsy Woolley had coordinated with Mary Kate Griffith from the English department to develop an educational supplement to encourage discussion around the theme: Moral Responsibility/Voices of Protest. Student-centric, relevant and interesting summer reading program was ready.
What’s the Problem?
Dr. Roberts cited reviews that emphasized the book’s positive view of questioning authority, lauding “hacker culture”, and discussing sex and sexuality in passing (source: Cory Doctorow’s article in Boing Boing).
Why the principal made the wrong call (for his students)
- Educators should encourage critical thinking and debate, not terminate programs because they generate controversy. The principal educator failed to put his students’ development ahead of his discomfort.
- Most high school students are naturally in conflict with authority. Discussing the topic would have given them perspective and understanding in dealing with authority when in conflict with moral responsibility.
- This was a missed opportunity for a school to let students learn with pleasure because the subject matters to them.
Three reasons why censorship should make you angry
- You deserve to decide what you will learn, especially when your censor’s goals are at odds with your own.
- Schools are designed to teach deference to authority. Terminating this program to minimize exposure to ideas and prevent a discussion is disrespectful to teens, and abuses the position of authority.
- Pretending the decision to prevent exposing teens to anti-authority, hacking and sexual content for their own good shows either a disconnect with what teens are already dealing with, or dishonesty.
Cory Doctorow describes why this was a bad idea
What are you going to do about censorship?
The school faculty who worked on the program asked Doctorow for help in resisting this form of censorship. In response, Doctorow’s publisher, Tor, agreed to send 200 copies of the book to the school.
- Perhaps Booker T. Washington’s students could challenge their principal to read Little Brother and join the discussion.
- If you’re looking for a good book to read over the summer, check out Little Brother—you’ll never look at authority the same way again. Then share your perspective with us–or the principal whose email address is on Booker T. Washington’s web site.
- Follow a few sites that support teen empowerment, and work against censorship: HighPrep, Boing Boing and EFF.
We assert that teens thrive when given the opportunity to expand their knowledge, assess how it applies to their lives, then incorporate it into their life design. Please tell us how you feel!