Why Shouldn't High School Kids Read Allen Ginsberg? by the Forward

Why Shouldn't High School Kids Read Allen Ginsberg?

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A teacher at South Windsor High School has been placed on leave after reading out a poem by Allen Ginsberg deemed “highly inappropriate” by school administrators and parents.

The poem in question, “Please Master,” describes — in somewhat graphic detail — our boy Allen’s gay sexual fantasies. You can read the entire poem here, but here is an excerpt:

Parents were less than pleased. “I don’t understand how that actually got into a high school class,” one parent told WTNH. “I can understand parents being really upset about it.”

The teacher has been identified by NBC’s connecticut affiliate as David Olio — and the school was swift in denouncing his actions. “We take seriously the trust that parents place in teachers and administrators, and we do not tolerate the use of inappropriate materials in classroom settings,” South Windsor Superintendent Kate Carter said in a statement.

Should the teacher have read this out in English class? My answer is yes. One option to prevent this kind of uproar could have been sending a notice to the parents first, or a discussion during a PTA meeting. But, consider this: would parents have been as upset if the poem had depicted heterosexual sex instead?

I remember reading “Howl,” arguably Ginsberg’s most famous work, in tenth grade — and that was banned for obscenity in the 1950s. Jack Kerouac talks about drugged out/drunken sexual encounters ad nauseum in both “On the Road” and “Dharma Bums” — classic reads for high school students exploring their rugged, throw-caution-to-the-wind, road-tripping selves. William Burroughs, another Beat pal and author of “Naked Lunch” and “Junkie,” accidentally killed his wife while playing “William Tell” in a drunken stupor.

High School kids know what sex is. It’s on TV, it’s in movies — hell even “Paddington Bear” was given a PG rating. So, why not in literature?


Anne Cohen

Anne Cohen

Anne Cohen was the Forward’s deputy digital media editor. When she’s not looking for the secret Jewish history of Voodoo in New Orleans, or making lists about Ruth Bader Ginsburg , she writes for The Assimilator. She graduated from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism with an M.S. magazine concentration in 2012.

Why Shouldn't High School Kids Read Allen Ginsberg?

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