Doctorow's novel does something books like MT Anderson's Feed and Ernest Cline's Ready Player One does not: in short, it offers meaningful commentary on the war on terror as well as questioning how technology can both bind and liberate us.
The narrative forces the reader into the passenger seat and has a way of saying, "Relax, I got this." For me, this feeling came after being PWND by technical jargon, and since I am constantly negotiating with the books I read like any pretentious, MFA toting, fiction-writing know-it-all, being PWND by Doctorow's narrative is seriously refreshing. And fun.
Lame ass teachers' pets are bound to protest any of the following: the criticism of standardized testing, the criticism of the department of homeland security, the ugly and critical depiction of water-boarding, the intimate relationship between the teenage protagonists, and the directive to hack whatever moves.
I'd like to address each of these in order. Standardized testing is first...
So it's revealed that the protagonist's girlfriend once swiped and published a standardized text costing the department of education a considerable sum of money to write and distribute new tests. While this is a bold move on Ange's part, and not something I would necessarily be proud of my own kids doing, it creates an interesting discussion: to what extent should tests rule what we do in education? In this teacher's opinion, not much. Too much emphasis on standardized testing undermines the classroom teacher's expertise, authority and ability to impact lives in meaningful ways. Standardized tests, especially the multiple choice ones, often raise recall and skill/conceptual knowledge (the two most basic expressions of learning according to Webb's Depth of Knowledge and Bloom's Taxonomy, see below figure) to the Glow of Divine Authority that limns (see Words Both Curious and Valuable) standardized tests in this country to the extent that they decide collegiate placement, scholarships, teacher evaluation, and teacher pay (some would argue)... and as a good friend of mine once said, these tests inform a kind of educational caste system. It also creates a phony learning environment; my favorite example of this comes from one of George Orwell's essays titled "Such, Such Were the Joys...":
"... the supply of possible questions was not inexhaustible. They were the kind of stupid question that is answered by rapping out a name of quotation. Who plundered the Begams? Who was beheaded in an open boat? Who caught the Whigs bathing and ran away with their clothes? Almost all our historical teaching ran on this level. History was a series of unrelated, unintelligible but — in some way that was never explained to us — important facts with resounding phrases tied to them. Disraeli brought peace with honour. Clive was astonished at his moderation. Pitt called in the New World to redress the balance of the Old. And the dates, and the mnemonic devices. (Did you know, for example, that the initial letters of ‘A black Negress was my aunt: there's her house behind the barn’ are also the initial letters of the battles in the Wars of the Roses?) Flip, who ‘took’ the higher forms in history, reveled in this kind of thing. I recall positive orgies of dates, with the keener boys leaping up and down in their places in their eagerness to shout out the right answers, and at the same time not feeling the faintest interest in the meaning of the mysterious events they were naming."
These tests should be written to encourage creativity, as well as a student's ability to evaluate, synthesize and analyze sources... otherwise stop wasting our time and your resources.