In a move reminiscent of South Carolina’s months-long battle over Fun Home at the College of Charleston, a high school principal in Pensacola, Florida last week cancelled a One School/One Book summer reading program because he thought Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother was inappropriate for 9th and 10th grade students.
Author and BoingBoing co-editor Doctorow posted a video and article addressing the cancellation on Friday. The reading program at Booker T. Washington High School was developed by librarian Betsy Woolley and English teacher Mary Kate Griffith. It had been approved by the administration, but principal Michael Roberts apparently took a closer look at the book and reviews of it last week. According to Doctorow, Roberts put the kibosh on the program with an email to Griffith:
[T]he 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.
In response, Doctorow arranged for his publisher Tor to send 200 free copies of the book to the school. Like all of his books, it’s also available to download for free at his website. Meanwhile, Roberts responded to the controversy, claiming in an article from the Pensacola News-Journal that “I don’t ban books. I take it upon myself to look at what kids are exposed to and what’s in their best interests.” This feat of doublespeak is worthy of a dystopian novel; while it’s true that Little Brother is still an optional summer read for 11th-graders and AP students, Roberts fails to acknowledge that the One School/One Book program ever existed and was cancelled. Instead, he told the News-Journal that he pulled the book from 9th and 10th grade reading lists due to “language” and “overtures.” (No, we don’t know what that means either.)
In his video, Doctorow addressed the students:
I’m hoping you guys are intrigued that there’s an adult in your life who thinks reading this book will somehow harm you. I hope that will make you want to read it. Your principal hasn’t destroyed this book but has destroyed the chance to discuss this book and talk to each other. When you censor a book, people want to know why you’re censoring it. And they want to see it.
Thanks to his open-access philosophy and the generosity of his publisher, students will still be able to do just that in spite of their principal.
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Contributing Editor Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.