Connecticut teacher fired for reading Allen Ginsberg poem to AP class


#1

[Read the post]


#2

This teacher made a very bad decision. And that’s a shame.
But a district willing to dismiss him over it isn’t worth working at.


#3

Reading literature in a literature class is not shameful.

Priggish values that stifle education are shameful.


#4

I’m sorry- I wasn’t very clear in my original comment.
The teacher’s bad decision wasn’t because what he was reading something unworthy of study; the problem is that he must have known what the reaction might be (if that reaction was reasonable is an entirely separate issue).
Schools that teach Minors are tricky about this stuff. As a teacher, you’re exposing students to all sorts of material- and regardless of the merits of that work, the community is going to have a reaction to it. Nude figure drawing is a totally valid method of learning to draw, but a given community might find it objectionable.
The poem he read is graphic- not suggestive, not blunt, not nuanced. Graphic. And while I’m not saying that the poems has not worth, I’m pointing out that a teacher who can’t gauge a community’s response to something like this either a) doesn’t know the community very well or b) doesn’t care.
Likewise, this guy has an established reputation for quality at his school- he’s a known quantity. Letting him go over this seems a shame. I see it as one of two things:

  1. They have a frightfully low threshold for this sort of thing.
  2. This isn’t the first time he’s strayed (from the community expectations) and they’d had enough.
    A shame all around.

#5

Well said. :smile:


#6

Did you even RTFA?

“During a class discussion of gratuitous language, a student raised
questions about the Ginsberg poem, “Please Master.” The piece was
undoubtedly relevant to the discussion”

Sounds like the perfect place for a poem that is ‘graphic.’


#7

Well, it’s quite the poem, but as they say, when poetry is outlawed…

http://allpoetry.com/Please-Master


#8

It’s just porno right? It’s not like the guy won the Pulitzer Prize or something.


#9

Over-reaction should be the over-reactors problem alone.

I live near this area, and I am always eager to point out that conservatives types who are entrenched usually insist upon consensus. It’s bogus - it’s a stuffy area that loudly shouts down and intimidates those who are happy to explain that not everybody shares their unhealthy brand of provincialism.

Problems with the responses tend to be: 1. reliance upon reactionary tactics, and 2. simple ignorance. If one does not know much about teaching, or literature - then what possible reasoning could one have for complaint? I send my kids to school in hopes of them being taught by experts. If I thought that a rabble’s perception of common-sense morality was enough, I’d have them going to school on a street corner instead. If somebody is proven wrong, it needs to be by those who know better.


#10

I don’t disagree, but the idea of teachers being experts has been under attack for years, and it’s taking its toll. There’s so little trust that stuff like this happens.
Part of the issue is that because everyone goes through k-12 education, everyone thinks that experience makes them experts on education. They then feel entitled to weigh in with their own ideas about how things should be done.
I honestly think the teacher here must have been looking for trouble- there’s no way you do that poem in a room full of minors without any waivers or preparation and expect things to go well.


#11

Why is that?

I am strongly pro-education, and a Ginsberg fan. To me, it seems obviously beneficial to challenge people. Reading challenges include not only mechanics but also content. Avoiding material because one personally disagrees with it is an appeal to ignorance, and has no place in a school. If there’s controversy, this can be used to make the townspeople debate whatever is bothering them, they might learn something. Get people to articulate how and why they dislike the work, rather than caving in to tantrum appeals for not reading it in the first place.


#12

It’s because education is the deeply imperfect product of the community. A community unwilling to have that conversation will be unforgiving of the educator that pushes those boundaries.


#13

000snip000

please master order me down on the floor,
please master tell me to lick your thick shaft
please master put your rough hands on my bald hairy skull
please master press my mouth to your prick-heart
please master press my face into your belly, pull me slowly strong thumbed
till your dumb hardness fills my throat to the base
till I swallow and taste your delicate flesh-hot prick barrel veined Please
Master push my shoulders away and stare into my eye, & make me bend over the table
please master grab my thighs and lift my ass to your waist
please master your rough hand’s stroke on my neck your palm down my backside
please master push me up, my feet on chairs, till my hole feels the breath of your spit and your thumb stroke
please master make me say Please Master Fuck me now Please
Master grease my balls and hairmouth with sweet vaselines
please master stroke your shaft with white creams


Why would anyone have a problem with this?


#14

But people take it for granted that “community” implies consensus, when my experience is that it does not. What do I, as a Connecticut resident, do if a vocal mob in my area decide to subject our school to their ignorance?

That’s a good question, but properly answering it would be a critical exercise. The trend being fought here is that of teaching kids to be uncritical. Which is what happens when people feel “safe” to read or hear media only that agrees with their own values. People don’t learn much this way. Teaching people critical thinking and rhetoric enables them to experience media and articulate what they think of it, good bad or indifferent.

Explaining why one has a problem with a Ginsberg poem would be perfectly cool.
Decreeing that because oneself dislikes a Ginsberg poem that others should not experience it would be anything but.
A person who uses their head should be able to read anything whatsoever without losing their wits.


#15

I don’t think it’s a matter of like or dislike. I rather like the poem…I’m a gay man and think it’s a decent poem.

I also think the early work of William Higgins is something worthy of study…especially the sound tracks and the entire ‘look’ of the films…and how the films changed in the 80’s in reaction to AIDS.

Do I think it’s worthy of teaching in High School? Nope.


#16

I think that’s it, right there.
It’s not a debate about the merits of the poem or it’s author- this is about a community deciding that they don’t want material like this taught, without warning or preparation, to their minor-aged children.
Nobody invested in literature or its study can claim Ginsberg isn’t worthy of study.
But there’s a reasonable debate to be had about the merits of studying Ginsberg (and that poem, specifically) with 17 year olds.
As far as the “A student brought it up” or “the conversation was about graphic language…” arguments: there a plenty of other good examples of graphic language you could use in a classroom, and there are plenty of things that students will bring up that have no business in a classroom.


#17

What is “material like this”? Appeals for warning or preparation make the poem sound like something dangerous. Doesn’t that seem to frame it to students as being somehow of a distinctly different character than anything else? It seems disingenuous to teach kids that erotic poetry should be treated in a manner akin to radioactive isotopes or such. It seems like a self-perpetuating loop - if you people are taught that something is conceptually dangerous or problematic, then it becomes perceived as embodying these characteristics. FWIW I’d try to shield kids from media which actually harms people, such as advertising and political propaganda, long before worrying about erotic poetry, which is about as pure as anything gets.

Besides people dancing around literature, this also relates to public schools difficulty in effectively teaching kids about sex even in health/sex-ed classes. It seems to be an eggshell-walk of euphemism and indirectness because there is the pretense that the subject is important, and that they are safer knowing something. Yet people seem horrified to simply explain and show sex clearly for vague reasons. Teaching kids that sex is a secret, separate aspect of life rather than being normal and integral seems like an awful idea. It usually seems to be the parents, rather than the students, who have problems with it.


#18

I agree with you completely. I am an open minded parent of gay and gender non-conforming children, and a child of hippy - civil rights activist parents. I am okay with a lot. But as a teacher of 20 years I also know not to be stupid. Don’t be alone with a student, ever. Don’t touch anyone unless they initiate the touch, and even then, better safe then sorry. I am not the P in PG. If a kid comes to my room when they are not supposed to be there, make sure someone knows where they are. It’s a different time now than it once was. If your student get’s kicked out of their house, don’t let them sleep on your couch for a week, hook them up with the local shelter for runaway youth, give them some cash, and make sure they have the local crisis team number programmed in their phone. Is Ginsberg literarilly significant? Of course. Does that mean I should read The Master outloud to my students? I do not teach college, if I value my job, the answer is no. On the other hand, should a school submit to overly anxious conservative parents on a witch hunt because they hope Fox News will feature them on their nightly news? Ah, no. Stupidity all round.


#19

A student brought it up. The teacher read it – or, perhaps, played a recording of it being read – and led or moderated the classroom discussion. Two students objected after the fact, but not during the discussion. That suggests to me that perhaps they weren’t ready for a college-prep classroom. Too many kids are placed in AP classes not because they’re ready for it, or will contribute in a meaningful way, but because the parents are pushy and controlling.

It’s one thing to side with the two students, or blame the teacher, but what about the kid who brought it up? In a college-prep classroom we get into thorny issues if we have to censor Johnny Smith’s contributions because he’s into gay stuff or the beat poets or whatever. I remember being subjected to a graphic monologue about anal sex in high school chemistry class, about how disgusting it was, about how degrading it must be to be gay. I walked out and complained; the teacher had to apologize to me, and that was it. Granted, that was twenty-five years ago, but I suspect it’s not the content of the poem, but the viewpoint that the parents found so offensive. Well, then they should shelter their kids rather than placing them in a college-prep AP class.

I taught high school juniors and seniors. There’s nothing in that poem that would have shocked them. But pragmatically, there’s nothing in the school board’s firing of Mr. Olio that shocks me. Ginsberg’s words can set a room on fire. And that’s the point, right?

Let’s not forget the other victims here. Whether Mr. Olio deserved it (no), or should have known better (yes), a couple of immature students and their narrowminded parents have deprived the rest of the students of a rare and precious thing: a teacher who trusts and respects them, a teacher who cares more about them than his paycheck, a teacher who treats them like adults.


#20

There are teachers out there that have their students read multiple Ayn Rand novels over the course of years. I don’t really understand why these seemingly decent people get to keep their jobs.