Little Brother (cover illustration by Richard Wilkinson)

From One Public School Principal to Another

Little Brother (cover illustration by Richard Wilkinson)
Little Brother (cover illustration by Richard Wilkinson)

Serving a community through public education is a difficult and demanding task. Public school teachers get blamed for everything. Little of what they are blamed for is actually within their sphere of influence, let alone control.

But, arguably, the hardest job in the school has to be that of the public school principal. I know. I was a public school administrator for many years. This person is constantly dealing with the competing forces that want to influence what goes on in the school. I had one overarching guiding principle which informed all of my decisions: Always do what you believe is in the best interests of the students. Always. No exceptions.

The students at Booker T. Washington High Schoo11 in my hometown of Pensacola, Florida, had a summer reading project. The entire school was going to read Cory Doctorow’s book, Little Brother. The chairman of the high school English department, along with the media specialist, put together some excellent resources for the students to assist them in reading critically and going deeper with their reading of this book.

I personally read this book shortly after it was published. It’s excellent, and I highly recommend it. The author raises many thought-provoking questions that young people in the 21st-century need to seriously consider. Off the top of my head I can’t think of a more appropriate summer book study for high school students. In fact, while the book does deal with some controversial issues, I suspect most middle school students would find it an excellent read as well—at least at the school at which I was last principal.

Corey Doctorow
Corey Doctorow

The culminating activity for the summer reading project was to be a meeting with the author himself, Cory Doctorow, at the beginning of the school year. The purpose of the meeting was to gain deeper insight into the author’s point of view, promote critical thinking, give the students an opportunity to challenge the author’s perspective, and to give students the opportunity to ask questions. Bottom line: make reading come alive as relevant for today’s young readers.

But, for whatever reasons, the public school principal, after the project was fully set in motion, canceled it. My guess: some narrow-minded parent complained. People complain. It’s one of the things we do best. But rather than canceling the entire summer reading program, the principal could have dealt with this matter far more effectively. The principal should have made his/her decision based on what is in the best interest of the students. Perhaps the principal is narrowminded him or herself.

Personally and professionally I can see no good reason why this would not be an excellent school-wide summer reading project. Numerous high schools around the world have selected this very text for this very purpose. The book raises challenging questions that are worthy of serious thinking.

I encourage every school administrator to do right by their students. Don’t shortchange them. Don’t underestimate their capacity for critical thought or their ability to wrestle with complex issues.

If you, as a public school employee, believe that the role of America’s public educational institutions is merely to create a passive and compliant citizenry, I strongly encourage you to get out of the business of molding young minds! You do a disservice to your country.

And for those of you who wish to read this mildly controversial and highly engaging book, you can do so legally for free by downloading any digital format of your choice. The author is a huge supporter of Creative Commons, one of the many reasons I admire his work. However, I would encourage you to purchase the book to support Corey’s work: a brilliant, thinking, insightful young man who wants to challenge us to think more carefully about how policy and technology are shaping our future.

To meet Cory and hear his thoughtful response to this challenge from the school principal in Pensacola, Florida, watch the video below.

1When I was in high school, Booker T. Washington made the news because two students had sex on the teacher’s desk in front of the class. The horrified teacher ran from the classroom in terror. I guess things are better now?

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