Friday, May 29, 2015

Why nobody wants to teach in public schools

Urge and urge and urge,
Always the procreant urge of the world.
Out of the dimness opposite equals advance, always
substance and increase, always sex,
Always a knit of identity, always distinction, always a breed
of life.

To elaborate is no avail, learn'd and unlearn'd feel that it is so.


I believe in you my soul, the other I am must not abase itself to you,
And you must not be abased to the other.

Loaf with me on the grass, loose the stop from your throat, Not words, not music or rhyme I want, not custom or lecture, not even the best,
Only the lull I like, the hum of your valvèd voice.

I mind how once we lay such a transparent summer morning,
How you settled your head athwart my hips and gently turn'd over upon me,
And parted the shirt from my bosom-bone, and plunged your
tongue to my bare-stript heart,
And reach'd till you felt my beard, and reach'd till you held my
--Walt Whitman

And remember, this didn't happen in Texas, or anywhere in the 'benighted' South:

It was the kind of moment teachers covet. An Advanced Placement English class focusing on poetry, and a student brings in a poem that caught his eye, hoping to discuss in the waning moments of the period how the poet uses language in his work.

The teacher, David Olio, a 19-year veteran of the South Windsor School District and winner of Connecticut’s highest award for teaching excellence, didn’t know the poem in question, but he took a look and walked the students through it in the remaining time.

The poem the student discovered and brought in was “Please Master,” an extremely graphic account of a homosexual encounter published by Allen Ginsberg in 1968 that begins: “Please master can I touch your cheek / please master can I kneel at your feet / please master can I loosen your blue pants.”

Clearly, “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” this wasn’t. But the students were 17- and 18-year-olds, some of whom were taking the AP course in conjunction with the University of Connecticut and receiving college credit.

One day after the class, Olio was placed on indefinite, unpaid leave by the district. Seventy-two hours later, the district began termination proceedings against him. Three weeks after that, he agreed to resign.

Reading the poem in class, the district found, showed “egregiously poor professional judgment,” Olio’s termination letter stated. “By so doing, 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.”

The unceremonious dismissal of a beloved teacher has thrown the town of South Windsor, population 25,000, halfway between Hartford, Connecticut, and Springfield, Massachusetts, into tumult. The local newspaper denounced him in editorials. Alumni, town residents, and Olio’s current students crammed into Board of Education hearings to testify on his behalf.
It's the reference to the editorial against the teacher I like the best.  I teach a dual credit class on behalf of a local community college, in a high school (not a public school).  I teach a contemporary poem that includes the line "they can go fuck themselves."

It's a sentiment I find myself wanting to direct to the Olio Board of Education, especially for the language in their dismissal letter.  19 years of exemplary work, and this is what they do to you.

So far I haven't been fired for such an offense.  Maybe I should be more daring, and teach Whitman..... 


  1. That's a pretty outrageous overreaction, to end what sounds like must have been a very successful career in public service as a school teacher over one poem he hadn't even planned on including in his lesson.

    Mark Twain's remark about God creating idiots for practice before he created school boards has seldom had a better piece of evidence to back it up.

  2. Mr Olio made no mistake in taking up the poem for discussion, except in the eyes of the small minded, and the students will be deprived of learning from a dedicated, open-minded teacher who delighted in his work.

    " 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."


  3. TC--yup. Twain nailed it.

    June--I know, right? Lamest excuse possible. To me, the worst part is, this was a dual credit course with a college. In a college classroom not only would the outrage of the parents be ignored, but the excuse of the student would gain a zero for the exam.

    At least in my classroom.....