David Olio, an award-winning English teacher in Connecticut, was forced to resign by South Windsor School District officials after reading the sexually-charged 1968 poem “Please Master,” a graphic account of homosexual affection by celebrated American author Allen Ginsberg. (You can read the entire poem here). A student had brought the piece to Oilo’s advanced placement English class in hopes of having a reading and discussion. Olio, who friends describe as “earnest to a fault,” thought nothing of it and obliged.
School officials, however, found out and quickly pressured him to quit, writing in Oilo’s disciplinary letter that “reading the poem in class showed egregiously poor professional judgment.” The letter, obtained by The Daily Beast, would go on to lambast the popular teacher:
You violated the trust placed by the Board of Education in you as a teacher, you brought discredit upon the South Windsor Public Schools, you undermined public confidence and parent trust in you as a teacher, and you put the emotional health of some students at risk.
Moral panic would, predictably, follow. One parent would tell local TV affiliate WTNH, “I don’t feel that the content was appropriate whether it was a senior class or an honors class. It was a little bit much. I’m not sure what the reasoning was behind reading that particular poem.”
Oilo’s colleagues, friends, and students were quick to defend him. Said one former student “There has been a definite tonal change since I grew up here. It makes me think of Mrs. Flanders from The Simpsons: ‘Will no one think of the children??’ I mean, if there are parents in town who think their teenagers don’t know what a blow job is, they are sorely mistaken.” At a Board of Education hearing, several current students testified on his behalf and even Olio’s own church minister was quoted as saying “every time David talks about teaching you can see his face brighten, his hands start to move, and the energy emerge…This is my preacher talk now, but I believe this is what God has created David Olio to be and to do.” Even the student who brought in the poem that caused the controversy says Mr. Olio had inspired him to be an educator.
But it was all for naught, last week Olio’s 19-year career came to an unceremonious end. The origin of the dust-up? This is where it gets even more cynical. According to David Freelander:
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. The story quickly blew up on social media in the town before the local press picked up on it and disciplinary proceedings began.
And there you have it. Academic freedom — and the career of a widely respected teacher — done in by a lazy student, social media moral panic, and CYA-obsessed school administrators. Per usual, our response to a “won’t someone think of the children” controversy was far more damaging to our children than anything Ginsberg could have possibly thought up.
h/t The Daily Beast