I read some pretty subversive stuff in high school under the watchful eyes of teachers.
Like the one about the little boy who helps an ex-con on the lamb. He ends up in a tortured love affair with a beautiful, icy young woman who is groomed by her mentor as a sort of weapon of mass destruction against men, reeling them in and callously breaking them, our hero especially.
Or the one about the single mom with the stalker, psycho ex-husband who follows her everywhere. Her baby-daddy is a man of the cloth, so tortured by the memory of their affair that he scourges himself daily as penance. The saddest part is that he really loves her; and she him, but they are prisoners of the rigid morality of their day. Sure their child is a bit curious, wild-natured maybe, or maybe just a free spirited-little girl, now that I have two of those myself and see what they are like up close.
Or the one about the orphan who goes to live with his aunt and uncle. he struggles to fit in at all stations of his life, failing as an artist, an apprentice and other endeavors. He struggles in medical school, but ultimately becomes a doctor, thought he is haunted by his infatuation for an indifferent woman who leaves him twice, even as he discards better women in her favor. Once Mildred the Awful is gone for good, Philip’s new girlfriend thinks she’s pregnant and even though it turns out to be a false alarm, he marries her anyway, because settling into a companionable marriage seems like the best course.
Looking back there is a lot of “the dire consequences of bad romantic choices” in there. Seems like our teachers were trying to tell us something.
That may have been what you got as a child of the 1980s, I guess, when our sexual education was tinged with a new disease that would certainly kill you and had then no known treatment.
In my day, we read the perils-of-government-overreach classics like “1984,” “Animal Farm,” “Fahrenheit 451.” But paranoia at what the State could do to its citizens was not as prevalent as it is today.
Where Cory Doctorow’s “Little Brother” fits in on that continuum I’m not sure. It does touch on growing up with a level of anxiety about terrorism and a deeply rooted belief in the ability of technology to level the field against The Man that likely speaks to the world high schoolers of today inhabit.
These are teens whose literary canon includes state-mandated battles to the death, video games that turn out to be real and creepy “Them” stalking earth’s last survivors.
Is “Little Brother” too much for freshmen and sophomores at Booker T. Washington High School? The principal Dr. Michael Roberts thought so. He wanted it limited to juniors and above for the summer reading list, for language and overtones he didn’t think were appropriate for younger students.
The move gained notoriety when “Little Brother’s” author, Cory Doctorow, posted a YouTube message to the students at Washington, expressing his dismay at Roberts’ decision. Doctorow is sending 200 copies of the book to Washington High, as well as a numbered, signed limited edition copy of the book and a poster he says he wants to be auctioned as a fundraiser for the school.
But one presumes English teacher Gloria McLeod thought the kids were ready for it; she’s the one who assigned it to them in the first place.
I think the kids of “The Hunger Games,” “Ender’s Game,” “The Fifth Wave” and “Divergent” can handle it.
Certainly they’ll have some thoughts to share once they finish “Fahrenheit 451,” which incoming sophomores are to read over the summer. All those words and ideas about who has a right to which thoughts.
Comparing the mindless entertainment the people in Bradbury’s novel are force-fed on the “walls” of their homes while a war to which they are oblivious wages around them to what passes for consumed media in their own world.
Lord knows there are probably passels of them reading “Little Brother” now that someone said they shouldn’t. For some kids that’s all it takes.
That Doctorow took to YouTube to touch his audience shows, ironically, how freely stories like his travel nowadays.
Unassigning Cory Doctorow’s book isn’t doing any of those kids a favor.
The teachers who gave me “Great Expectations,” “The Scarlett Letter,” and “Of Human Bondage,” did me a favor. They wanted me to learn about the musicality of words written in different eras about similar themes. They wanted me to see how a writer’s times influence his work. They wanted me to ponder morality, redemption, revenge and fate.
They wanted me to think. For myself.
That is the gift they gave me, a gift for which I can never thank them enough.