Teacher fired for reading of controversial poem

Discussion in 'High School' started by bandnerdtx, May 31, 2015.

  1. bandnerdtx

    bandnerdtx Aficionado

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    May 31, 2015

    So there's some great online debate going on right now over whether or not this teacher should have been fired for reading a controversial poem with his students.

    Apparently, in an AP course, a student brought in a copy of the very sexually explict poem "Please Master" by Allen Ginsberg, and he asked the teacher to read it aloud. He did, and later, a student complained in another class --- and long story short, the teacher was fired.

    I'm honestly not sure why this is even up for discussion. I can't believe any high school teacher would consider reading this poem with their students. Now, I'm really liberal, and I'm opposed to most censorship, but I just don't understand the defense of this poem.

    What would you think if your senior, in an AP class, read this piece? Would you be okay with it?

    I should clarify... I don't necessarily think he should have been fired. I would be okay with a reprimand. But I don't think this poem has a place in a high school English class.
     
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  3. chemteach55

    chemteach55 Connoisseur

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    I am extremely conservative and agree with you. The teacher made a horrible judgement call in reading the poem and I would not have been happy if one of my children had been in this class but a bad call in judgement should NOT result in the firing of the teacher. There should have been no question in the teacher's mind immediately that this was inappropriate. Sometimes we do over judge the maturity level of a class. It is an AP class but the students are still minors. I agree with you, I do not understand the controversy--a bad judgement call was made of the part of the teacher and the poem should not have been read in class but no one was harmed because the kids went home that evening and probably watched worse on prime time TV!!

    BTW--congrats on the new position--you are going to be great!
     
  4. MikeTeachesMath

    MikeTeachesMath Devotee

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    Yes, I would be okay with it, purely because it is an AP course. It is a college-level course designed to engage college-level thinking. If college-level material cannot be presented, why even bother? If a student cannot handle hearing a mature, college-level poem, should they even be in the class? I think the historical and literary implications of Ginsberg's works around the time of the Beats are extremely important.

    From the termination letter: "and you put the emotional health of some students at risk".

    Seriously? They see worse on Game of Thrones.

    Also, from the article: "the controversy began when one student in the class begged off a test in a different class the next day, claiming he (or she) couldn’t concentrate because of the reading of the poem"

    Again, Game of Thrones.

    And just to clarify: would I be saying this if this was read to a regular English 12 class? No.
     
  5. chemteach55

    chemteach55 Connoisseur

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    Exactly the show I was thinking of--even TV commercials today leave little to the imagination.
     
  6. bandnerdtx

    bandnerdtx Aficionado

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    Mike, I just feel like there are so many other great Ginsberg poems out there, so many other great pieces that talk about homosexuality... why this one that borders on erotica? To me there is a WORLD of difference between a high school classroom, even an AP one, and a freshman college course. At the university level, my now legal adult child has the right to choose courses, professors, etc. They have none of that protection in high school. I don't think "well they hear it in pop culture" is a valid defense. My job should be to expose them to thinking and literature BEYOND pop culture, right? My district has a strict "PG-13" idea behind all high school materials, mainly to protect us from overstepping our bounds. I'm okay with that.
     
  7. czacza

    czacza Multitudinous

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    May 31, 2015

    Not every hs student watches Game of Thrones or other explicit tv shows. At home, parents can have some control over media. In school, however, students can feel they are hostage to teachers' decisions, discussions and dialog. As a student I would be offended and embarrassed to be forced to listen to this poem . Somehow I made it through undergrad and grad degrees without having been exposed to anything like this. I can imagine parents being VERY upset at hearing their students were made to listen to this piece... Yet part of me questions if this situation wasn't a bit of a 'set up' if a student initiated the reading of it.
     
  8. 2ndTimeAround

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    May 31, 2015

    I too think the "everyone else does it" or "they see worse" is a poor argument.

    MY child didn't see worse when she was in AP classes. FWIW, we've had 15 year olds in senior-level classes, even English.

    I don't know if I'd be screaming for the teacher's job, but I would definitely want him removed from my kid's class for the remainder of the year.

    He's been teaching for 19 years and he hasn't learned yet to read what a student is presenting ahead of time? I haven't been a teacher for half that long and I know enough not to trust even the brightest of students. I feel like the kid set him up and he fell for it completely. If the student really wanted to delve deeper into the poem with his teacher, it could have been a private conversation.

    At my school some English teachers assign poor examples of writing for students to analyze. Should 50 Shades of Gray be added to their book list?
     
  9. chemteach55

    chemteach55 Connoisseur

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    I was thinking the exact same thing.
     
  10. chemteach55

    chemteach55 Connoisseur

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    I do not know that I would even privately discuss this poem with the student--that would put the teacher in possibly worse position.
     
  11. bandnerdtx

    bandnerdtx Aficionado

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    May 31, 2015

    I thought it might be a set up, too... which is precisely why it's important to follow district curriculum. I'm not saying that this poem is horrible... far from it. As an English major, I can see the literary merit behind it (it's a wonderful representation of that genre and time period), BUT with the wealth of literature we have at our disposal, is a class full of 17 year olds really mature enough to explore it? My district consensus, based on the input of our English departments, is a resounding "no". If I'm going to take a job in a public school setting, I have to be prepared to teach the curriculum put in place by that district. If I feel there's an educationally sound reason to add something to that list, there's a process for me to follow to make that happen.

    I fully understand the importance of embracing the "teachable moments" but that could have been accomplished by simply telling the students the name of the poem -- the general idea behind the poem -- and having them explore it on their own outside of class.
     
  12. kcjo13

    kcjo13 Phenom

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    In answer to the original question, no I would not be ok with my high school senior reading this poem.

    I just believe that it's not a bad thing to protect the innocence of a child, for as long as we can. To say they see the same on TV or the internet is not acceptable-my kids don't, and they won't as long as they live in my house. We have responsible talks about sex, in the privacy of our house. I don't think a public school classroom is the appropriate setting for my child to be subjected to graphic sex.

    The difference in a high school student taking a class for college credit and a regular college class is that a HS student does not have the option to walk out, or probably doesn't have a choice in what class to take.
     
  13. stephenpe

    stephenpe Connoisseur

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    Wow. 19 years in the classroom and reads it to the AP English class. Probably not. Funny thing is I have a discussion with the 5th grade boys each year after a video about puberty and it is ALL ON THE TABLE. I had one boy (11) asking all kinds of off the wall stuff. I finally asked him if he spent a lot of time on the internet and said "No, I have teen aged sisters." I have seen some of Game Of THrones. Is is that graphic? Was Ginsberg gay? Wondering if the boy that requested the reading was gay.
    I think the principal and supt and interested board members should sit down with that teacher and discuss the merits of that poem and how it would enhance the AP English class.
     
  14. a2z

    a2z Maven

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    I don't think that the conversation with him would be any different than if it was a regular high school class and some of the books that have had parents complaining about the choice. There is never a standard that requires the specific content of any book to be taught when it comes to content that some families believe is too graphic or not public school appropriate.

    I have yet to hear a standards based argument that makes any graphic writing whether it be Beloved or this poem that can hold water. It almost always has an argument that it is of benefit of the student to be exposed to content or attitudes which, unless I am wrong, does not yet include graphic topics or other topics some parents do not want their reading, listening, or watching in school.
     
  15. miss-m

    miss-m Devotee

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    I agree with this. Regardless of any "social merit" this poem may have (and to be honest, I couldn't even finish reading it because it's too graphic), it should not be in a high school classroom. I had a French teacher in high school who showed movies with minimal sexual content, and even those were horrifying to me and I was furious at her for thinking they were acceptable for high school.

    It doesn't matter if SOME students are reading or watching more graphic content in their personal lives -- that's not school, and bringing that into the classroom disregards the students who do not partake in that kind of content.
     
  16. Caesar753

    Caesar753 Multitudinous

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    I'm not sure how I would feel if my own child chose to read that poem. I consider myself to be extremely liberal, and even I think that the poem is exceedingly graphic. I guess I would have to use it as a teachable moment and a gateway to other conversations with my own child.

    Still, there is a huge difference between someone self-selecting that poem and a student being essentially forced to experience it in a captive setting. I don't find it appropriate that the teacher read this aloud in class. As a parent, I would be demanding some sort of consequence for the teacher. I'm not sure that I'd want the teacher to be fired, but I would definitely be asking for, at minimum, a lengthy unpaid leave.
     
  17. kcjo13

    kcjo13 Phenom

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    See, that's my point too...if the one student wanted to discuss the poem, all it would have taken was a cursory glance by the teacher to be able to say "let's discuss this one together after class". As it was, the rest of the kids seemingly had to sit through it. Awkward. I just don't see how graphic sex is appropriate in any high school setting.

    I'm sure this is another case of the general public knowing a small fraction of what actually happened in the situation...but from what I do know, it seems that no matter the previous accolades this teacher had received, he really messed up here.
     
  18. ms.irene

    ms.irene Connoisseur

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    I'm a big fan of Ginsberg and the Beats in general, and took a class on Beat poetry in my MA program, and I was not familiar with this poem -- apparently even for a Masters course, this poem was considered beyond the needs of the curriculum. I would classify this poem as erotica and as such would not consider it defensible to read in class. Howl, the Sunflower, any of Ginsberg's other poems would better represent that time period and genre without being so blatantly inappropriate for teenagers.
     
  19. Linguist92021

    Linguist92021 Phenom

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    In my opinion it is not ok to read that poem in class. There are so many other poems that could fill whatever purpose this one did, and this poem is just too much. I can't justify having high school students having to listen to it.

    First of all I would never just read something to the class a student brought me. I'd read it in privacy and if there were any doubts, I'd ask admin. My students ask me all the time to look something up on Youtube, or a song, etc, and I always just say no, write down the name on a sticky note and I'll look into it.

    If the student seemed genuinely interested in this poem, I'd instruct him to read it and analyze it in private, and write down his thoughts, opinions, and any questions he has. I'd remind him that even though the poem is controversial with very questionable language, his response on the paper must be school appropriate. I would not have any one-on-one conversation with a student about it, but in writing it would be ok. This way if anything ever came up, I could prove that nothing inappropriate has taken place (I'd have proof on paper).
     
  20. Linguist92021

    Linguist92021 Phenom

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    Another thought: the fact that kids at home are exposed to worse (music, lyrics, movies, life in general) is not a good excuse. They're parents are responsible for them at home, we're responsible for them at school, and we have to make the best decisions.

    I don't think the teacher should have been fired, especially for teaching for 19 years, and I assume he was a good teacher, with this being his only issue. There could have been other consequences, but who knows, there may have been pressure from families and other sources.
     
    Carliee likes this.
  21. smalltowngal

    smalltowngal Multitudinous

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    I agree with most of the other posters. I would not want my senior in high school, AP class or not, to be subjected to this poem. The firing seems a bit extreme, but other teachers have been fired for a lot less.
     
  22. MikeTeachesMath

    MikeTeachesMath Devotee

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    I've thought this over and changed my mind. I agree it shouldn't have been read as a class, but I still 100% disagree with him being fired.

    I remember reading "Howl" when I was in AP Lit., but I seem to have remembered it being more explicit than it actually is. Or maybe I did used to find it more explicit, but now I don't. There are still a few lines that are very vulgar (specifically the "saintly motorcyclists" part in Verse 1), but nothing like this.

    We read poems on the same level as (and beyond that of) Please Master when I took a contemporary literature class as a college freshman, so I think that's why I initially thought that a HS senior in an AP class would be able to handle it (since I sort of see HS seniors in AP classes at the "same level" as college freshmen), but I see everyone's point about the differences between AP classes and college freshmen classes.
     
  23. kcjo13

    kcjo13 Phenom

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    I imagine the firing came as a result of snowballing stories, and a very vocal lynch mob.
     
  24. ms.irene

    ms.irene Connoisseur

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    I also didn't mean the teacher should be fired -- that seems extreme for one moment of bad judgement in an otherwise positive teaching career. However, it's also possible that there were other incidents leading up to this, but we don't know if that's true or not. It sounds like a case of poor judgement + over-reactive community = teacher punished harshly.
     
  25. GPC0321

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    I cannot imagine any teacher reading this to any high school class, even AP seniors, and thinking it was okay. Should he have lost his job over it? Maybe not, though I think if a teacher in my school read that poem to a class he/she'd be asked to resign. I live in a very conservative, rural area, and our parents get a bit freaked out over the language in Of Mice and Men and the rape scene in The Kite Runner. I cannot imagine what they'd do if a teacher read this poem to a class!
    We are forbidden to show any R-rated movies in our district. Period. Which really sucks sometimes, but it is what it is.
    It isn't about the students all "seeing/hearing worse than that" when away from school. I have freshmen girls who have seen Fifty Shades of Grey because their mothers BOUGHT IT FOR THEM. (The heck??) But I also know of a junior girl's mother who called to complain about Of Mice and Men.
    Better to be safe than sorry.
    I agree that this seems like a set-up by the student who asked the teacher to read it. Shame.
     
  26. Rhesus

    Rhesus Comrade

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    Introducing that poem into class, even at the suggestion of a student, was a very reckless decision and deserving of punishment but not the end of his career. My feeling is that the punishment might not have been as severe as termination if it hadn't immediately gotten out onto twitter and picked up a lot of media traction.

    The teacher had an exemplary record for 19 years. There were petitions from staff, students, and the community trying to prevent termination in favor of a serious but less severe punishment. Large numbers of people turned out at the BOE meeting speaking on the teacher's behalf to try to persuade the board.

    Media/PR damage is a serious thing, especially in the electronic age. Be careful out there.
     
  27. readingrules12

    readingrules12 Aficionado

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    With everything we are taught today about what is appropriate and inappropriate in a classroom, I have to wonder, "What was this teacher thinking?" While being fired might be a bit harsh, this teacher definitely should receive disciplinary action of some sort. As someone who is a teacher and leader against child sexual abuse, I find a teacher reading this very troubling. Possibly the firing might have been over this and possibly some other wrongful deeds in the past. The media doesn't know the whole history of the teacher even though they know he was "an award winning teacher".
     
  28. Rhesus

    Rhesus Comrade

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    There were no misdeeds in the past; he had a 19 year record of exemplary teaching and other professional activities.

    A student chose the poem. The teacher should have shut it down, obviously, but he had a very strong belief in students guiding their own learning and let his philosophy go way too far in this case.

    The whole thing escalated into a firing because it became a media bloodbath almost immediately.
     
  29. Upsadaisy

    Upsadaisy Moderator

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    And if I were a parent of one of those students I would have been a very vocal opponent participating in the bloodbath.
     
  30. Rhesus

    Rhesus Comrade

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    So would I, but the parents of kids in the class were divided on the issue of termination (they were unanimous about the inappropriateness of the "lesson" and the need for a serious punishment).
     
  31. Caesar753

    Caesar753 Multitudinous

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    Rhesus, do you have direct knowledge of this teacher and this situation? What I'm really asking is how are you certain that he has never had any other disciplinary issues in the past?
     
  32. Rhesus

    Rhesus Comrade

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    Sent you a pm.
     
  33. Carliee

    Carliee Rookie

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    College level is about complexity, not sexually explicit language. I'm 50 and only read a couple of lines. When I was assigned a Kerouac text in an upper level college class, I threw the text across my boyfriend's apartment and refused to read past a certain point. My prof was fine with me not finishing it. There are plenty of college level options that aren't sexually explicit.

    Also...not every student watches or is allowed to watch shows like "Game of Thrones." I wasn't even supposed to watch "Bewitched" or "I Dream of Jeanne." If my high school had offered AP courses, I would have been in them, and Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" nearly did me in as a Senior. I have students who don't watch R rated movies due to their personal values and those of their families.

    The film policy at my high school is that a permission slip must be sent home in order to show any R rated film. We're supposed to preview lower rated films. One of my colleagues showed "Psycho" and had parents request an alternate "text." I just showed "Persepolis" to my 11/12 grade film studies class. I cringed enough over scenes like that. I can't imagine someone reading Ginsberg to their class.
     
    Last edited: Feb 21, 2016
  34. Carliee

    Carliee Rookie

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    As I've pondered this a bit more, I think the fact that it's a subordinate/master sexual relationship makes this poem even more inappropriate in the classroom....especially given to the teacher by a student.
     

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