© Michiel Hendryckx via Creative Commons

AP English Class Reads Explicit Ginsberg Poem, Award-Winning Teacher Penalized

In 1957 Allen Ginsberg’s poem Howl dealt with subject matter that the public was not at all prepared for or accustomed to even regard as art. The poem depicts explicit homosexual love scenes, which was at the time, misunderstood and rarely accepted in mainstream society. The historical absence of rhetoric for these kinds of topics is well known; however, recent events at a Connecticut high school have us questioning if we have moved away entirely from the paranoia that surrounds homosexuality or even expressions of sexuality be it gay, straight, or queer.

David Olio is a high school English teacher in South Windsor School District. He teaches advanced placement level English. When a student brought in a lesser-known Ginsberg poem, Please Master, Olio admitted he was unfamiliar with it but decided to read it aloud and analyze it with the rest of the class. Shortly after the reading, Olio was placed on unpaid leave by the district. Apparently word has gotten around about the reading of the poem that featured sexually explicit material. Here is an excerpt from the poem:

please master, please look into my eyes,
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

Olio is an award winning and well-respected teacher in his community, causing many to speak out on his behalf. A parent whose child is in his AP English class commented “I also feel sorry for the remaining teachers who will undoubtedly feel like they need to censor themselves, even at the collegiate class level”.

Though many testify that Olio should not be penalized so harshly for his mistake, others question if this is even a justifiable way to explain the situation. Was reading the poem a mistake? Perhaps our modern society is treating Please Master with the kind of undeserved scorn and censorship that Howl originally received. It is a blurry line that separates the subjects that are appropriate for teachers to discuss with their students. We have to consider whether this supposed line is restricting intelligent and important discussions from taking place in the classroom.