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Award-Winning English Teacher In Connecticut Forced To Resign For Reading Allen Ginsberg Poem To Class

Intellectual and academic freedom are dead and buried. Or at least that certainly seems to be the message coming from a school system in Connecticut which forced an award-winning Advanced Placement English teacher who had been an educator for 19 years to resign or be fired. His crime? He read a graphic poem by Allen Ginsberg to his class.

David Olio was pushed into resigning by the South Windsor School District after parents learned that the Ginsberg poem “Please Master”  had been read in his class. The poem is an examination of homosexual affection that Ginsberg wrote in 1968.

A student brought the controversial poem to class for a reading and discussion of the work by the AP English students and instructor. But when school officials discovered that Olio had allowed the poem into the class, they sent him a letter of discipline which said, in part:

“Reading the poem in class showed egregiously poor professional judgment. You violated the trust placed by the Board of Education in you as a teacher, you brought discredit upon the South Windsor Public Schools, you undermined public confidence and parent trust in you as a teacher, and you put the emotional health of some students at risk.”

Put the emotional health of some students at risk? Are you kidding me?! With a freaking poem?!

But not all parents are as open-minded as I am, and one complained to a local TV station:

“I don’t feel that the content was appropriate whether it was a senior class or an honors class. It was a little bit much. I’m not sure what the reasoning was behind reading that particular poem.”

Oilo’s colleagues, friends, and students rushed to his defense. One former student said:

“There has been a definite tonal change since I grew up here. It makes me think of Mrs. Flanders from The Simpsons: ‘Will no one think of the children??’ I mean, if there are parents in town who think their teenagers don’t know what a blow job is, they are sorely mistaken.”

Oh, but high school students don’t know anything about sex, do they? Don’t make me laugh!

On a personal note, I had an English teacher in 10th grade who encouraged the class to read Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs as a way of showing us that even things we thought might be off limits to writers were grist for the creative mill. I promptly went to the public library, checked out Naked Lunch, and read it. And it is one many books that helped me realize I wanted to be a writer. Another teacher urged me to read Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis,” which quite literally helped me better understand myself and the world around me.

As Kafka himself wrote:

“I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound or stab us. If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow to the head, what are we reading for? So that it will make us happy, as you write? Good Lord, we would be happy precisely if we had no books, and the kind of books that make us happy are the kind we could write ourselves if we had to. But we need books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. That is my belief.”

It is also mine. And I find it shameful that this fine educator of future minds has been banished into the intellectual forest by the ignorance of adults who think they can protect their children from the real world.

Read The Ginsberg Poem For Yourself

http://hellopoetry.com/poem/73/please-master/

This article was originally published by the same author at LiberalAmerica.org.

 

By Andrew Bradford

Proud progressive journalist and political adviser living behind enemy lines in Red America.

5 replies on “Award-Winning English Teacher In Connecticut Forced To Resign For Reading Allen Ginsberg Poem To Class”

Exactly WHAT happened to the First Amendment in Connecticut? This is ridiculous. This is an advanced placement English class. Ginsberg is a recognized poet of the beat generation of the 1950s. Was this teacher supposed to ignore his existence? What’s next, pretend Byron didn’t exist because he was “mad, bad and dangerous to know?”

I thought at least the northeast United States had grown up a little. I would expect this south of the Mason-Dixon line. Only church sanctioned sex permitted or acknowledged there. I would have thought Connecticut to be more intellectually evolved. Guess not.

The “letter of discipline” was even more egregiously out of line than the Ginsberg poem. This is 2015, not 1955. Do the conservatives expect to teach children like they will live alone in a cave. There is a real world out there, and children should be taught to cherish and examine ideas. If the poem seemed “over the top,” an administrator should of just had a little informal chat in the hallway between classes, that the poem was a little too controversial. There was no need for the reprimand. In fact, the disciplinary action brought attention to the fact that the school is run by reactionary bigots. They certainly did not want this publicity, but they brought it on themselves.

Wonder how this new generation will be encouraged to take the road less traveled, if they are encouraged to only learn about the value of fences . Are we so worried about a mind still growing in knowledge that we have to limit experience to the prejudices of the known?

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