Terminated for Reading an Allen Ginsberg Poem?

Screen Shot 2015-06-07 at 10.59.15 AMIn February two students complained about an Allen Ginsberg poem that, at the request of a fellow student, was shared in Olio’s AP English class at South Windsor High School in Connecticut. A media uproar followed, and Olio was essentially forced to resign.

Most of the facts do not appear to be in dispute – and are more nuanced than the ‘students forced to read shocking homoerotic poem’ media narrative. The overriding question is whether a celebrated teacher with nearly two decades of experience should be forced from the classroom for a single decision – even if one views that decision as a lapse in judgment.

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; it is also an exceptionally graphic account of a sexual encounter between two men.

So it is not shocking that the story quickly became fodder for local media. “South Windsor Teacher Reads Graphic Poem About Gay Sex to Classroom” read one headline, with the story saying students were “subjected” to the poem. A TV newscast warned viewers the piece was “too graphic to detail in almost any part,” and bizarrely noted that the local police were not involved in the investigation.

School officials reacted swiftly: Olio was suspended immediately while the board started its investigation. Scores of current and former students and co-workers spoke up in his defense, but in April he bowed to pressure to resign.

It would take weeks for more thoughtful articles to appear. —National Coalition Against Censorship