National anti-censorship orgs protest cancellation of Little Brother summer reading program


Last week's news that the principal of Pensacola, FL's Booker T Washington High School had cancelled its One School/One Book summer reading program rather than have his students read my novel Little Brother has alarmed several national anti-censorship organizations, led by the National Coalition Against Censorship. Their open letter to the principal of BTWHS, signed by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, the National Council of Teachers of English, the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, the American Booksellers Federation for Free Expression, the Association of American Publishers, and PEN American Center, discusses the legal and moral duty of educators to put challenging material in front of their students.

I'm immensely grateful to these organizations and especially the NCAC for their support, and I really hope that the principal reconsiders his decision and that I can have a chance to discuss the admittedly challenging themes and scenes in Little Brother with his students in the fall.

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What the hell is going on in Quebec?


(Photo by Philip Miresco)

Quebec is in the throes of mass protests. A prolonged student strike over tuition hikes triggered a law placing broad restrictions on the freedom to protest, and giving the police the power to arbitrarily declare even "approved" protests to be illegal. Over 500 were arrested in a single Montreal protest, after a prolonged and totally unjustifiable kettling incident. Kate McDonnell of the Montreal City Weblog was on that march, and she's graciously written us a piece on the experience:

Downtown Montreal midday Tuesday, thousands upon thousands of people poured into Place des Festivals and the surrounding areas to begin a march. Montrealers march more readily than most Canadians, but this was a special day – the 100th day of the student strike against the tuition increase ordained by the Quebec government under Jean Charest.

Charest has been premier of Quebec since 2003. A Conservative at the federal level, he jumped for the chance when the Quebec Liberal Party needed a new leader. He has nudged the party steadily rightward ever since. In recent years his government has been rocked by multiple charges of corruption and collusion, but it was the party's planned increase in university tuition fees that sparked the real furor in Quebec.

Early 2011, Charest announced his intention to end a tuition freeze with an increase of $325 per year until a university year (two terms) ends up costing $3,793 in 2017. Sporadic protests were held, but the demo of February 17, 2012 was the beginning of daily protests, mostly in the evenings, most peaceful but with occasional outbreaks by "casseurs" breaking windows, throwing rocks and bottles at police, painting things red.

Concerns about access to education were foremost: yes, Quebec still has some of the lowest tuition fees around, but Quebec taxes are very high, a fact that's tolerated because Quebecers have nearly European expectations for collective health care, education and other services. Statistics show that fewer Quebecers progress to higher education than other Canadians, probably the legacy of a time when the Catholic Church dominated the culture (a hegemony that only ended with the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s). Pundits are in disagreement whether rising tuition rates will lower university attendance.

The most recent ratcheting of tension was last week's passage of a new law, Bill 78, the loi spéciale which limits freedom of assembly, protest, or picketing on or near university grounds, or anywhere in Quebec without prior police approval. A more vaguely worded part of the bill would criminalize the act of encouraging people to demonstrate.

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