The right to know is the birthright of every child born in this democracy. The challenge is to recognize and nurture that right, to inculcate the attitudes and skills that make it a reality. The welfare of the child and of the nation depends on the exercise of this fundamental right.
The problem is that the right itself is exercised not in the abstract but in the concrete – in the ways a young person develops the habit of probing, questioning, weighing facts, defending a position, understanding the sources, the barriers, the politics and economics of access to information by and about the government.
It is through stories that young learners come to understand what lies behind the published narrative, the editorial, the decision, the report, the media analysis or, in the midst of a campaign, the hype.
Young people need concrete examples of how, when and why access to good information makes a difference. Then, and only then, can they appreciate their inalienable right to know.
Even in this digital age, the written word remains an effective teaching tool. Good books communicate connections, convey the ways in which information comes to be, illustrate how it is shared or secreted. A good story well told demonstrates the power of information to shape decisions that ultimately determine action.
The Young Adult Services Association (YALSA), a division of the American Library Association, has just issued a shout out for a timely tool that breathes life into the complexities that surround exercise of an individual American’s right to know. Impressionable young readers are the target audience for Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War. (1) The book, written by noted young adult author Steve Sheinkin (http://stevesheinkin.com) was recently selected as recipient of YALSA’s 2015 award for excellence in nonfiction for young adults.
Most Dangerous is the story of the iconic American whistle blower, Daniel Ellsberg. The intriguing drama illustrates the basic right to know while it tells a captivating tale of intrigue, resistance and roles. The book is published by Roaring Book Press, an imprint of Macmillan’s Children’s Publishing Group.
In an interview Sheinkin offered while he was still buried in writing, the author previews the essence of the adventure:
My new book, which will be out in September, is Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War. The subject, obviously, is the Vietnam War, and at the center of the action is this brilliant young Pentagon insider, Daniel Ellsberg, who starts off as a hard-core Cold Warrior. He sees the war from the inside, spends time in Vietnam War, gradually turns against the war, and decides to risk everything to try to end it. He’s the guy who leaked the Pentagon Papers – the top secret documents that exposed years of government lies about the Vietnam – to the New York Times. He’s still around, and is often interviewed about the more recent bombshell leaker story, that of Edward Snowden. Anyway, the book’s going to be kind of similar to Bomb, in terms of being a big, fast, complex, morally ambiguous thriller, with lots going on at once. At least, that’s what I’m going for!
Though young readers will no doubt focus on the thriller aspects, the implicitness of the right to know is essential to the narrative. The narrative is so compelling that the book will appeal to writers whose teenage years are long past.
Intergenerational discussions may be fostered by inclusion of digital resources including a well-known documentary that earlier generated broad and heated discussion. The documentary is accessible on Hulu (http://www.hulu.com/watch/337497). A description of the documentary is available on the PBS website: (http://www.pbs.org/pov/mostdangerousman/film-description/
(1) The title of Sheinkin’s book originated with the comment of Secretary of State Henry Kissinger who referred to Daniel Ellsberg as “the world’s most dangerous man.”