Why are Ginsberg Poems Off Limits for High School Seniors?
David Olio, a 19-year veteran teacher in the South Windsor Connecticut School District and winner of the state’s highest award for teaching excellence asked his AP poetry students to bring poems they found on their own to class for discussion. When one student arrived in class with Allen Ginsberg’s “Please Master,” Olio read the poem aloud.
The poem is an explicit account of a sexual encounter between Ginsberg and another man (possibly Neal Cassady) that is, perhaps, not suitable for younger children. But the students in Olio’s class were seniors, some of whom were receiving college credit for the course.
The day after the class, Olio was placed on indefinite, unpaid leave by the school district. Seventy-two hours later, the district began termination proceedings against him and three weeks later, Olio resigned.
District Claims Poem “Discredits School System and Puts Student Emotional Health at Risk”
In its letter of termination, the South Windsor school district wrote that Olio showed “egregiously poor professional judgment,” and that, by reading the poem, he had “violated the trust placed by the Board of Education in you as a teacher… brought discredit upon the South Windsor Public Schools, undermined public confidence and put the emotional health of some students at risk.”
But Olio has defenders, both within the central Connecticut town and outside. One of the United States’ most respected literary critics, , wrote a letter to the school board on his behalf. “ VendlerTo add Ginsberg’s poem to school-censored works of Twain, Faulkner, Whitman, etc., is to deny freedom to read what one likes, and share what one likes with others, which is the basis of intellectual life, Given what students are already exposed to via TV and film, Ginsberg’s poem, which concerns a well-known form of abjection (whether heterosexual or homosexual) reveals nothing new.”
Many are asking whether the sexually explicit nature of the poem is enough, in and of itself, to get a veteran teacher fired or whether the theme of homosexuality is at the root of Olio’s termination.
Read More About The Case and Censorship in American High Schools on The Daily Beast
Read the Poem “Please Master” by Allen Ginsberg