Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” is one of the most controversial poems in the American canon, at least when it involves teaching it in high school.
The first words are famous: “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness.”
Iconic, yes. Fewer know the words that follow: “starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix.” It gets worse from this depiction of heroin addiction, mind you.
And that’s a problem when it’s being presented to teenagers in public schools without alternative assignments.
According to Fox News, a music teacher at Steamboat Springs (Colorado) High School is under fire after filling in the most explicit parts of the poem — already included in a district-approved textbook — during a part of his “Music Literature” class.
When Brett Cason found out that his 16-year-old daughter, Skylar, was assigned the poem — complete with the excised language being included and no warning provided to parents — he was irate. Irate enough to hire a lawyer.
“Students should never feel shame and guilt as part of an assignment at school,” Jeremy Dys, special counsel for the religious freedom group First Liberty, told Fox News. He’s representing Cason.
“Ryan Ayala, the teacher who crafted a lesson around the poem ‘Howl’ by Allen Ginsberg, apologized in a letter to the Casons saying it was the ‘most offensive’ material covered in his class, after he didn’t get parental consent requiring students to fill in blanks such as ‘f—ed in the a–‘ and ‘c–t’ and other lewd language,” Fox News reported.
Ginsberg was openly gay when the poem was published in the mid-’50s, a time when such a personal declaration would be considered shocking.
Now, of course, this wouldn’t be considered remotely controversial, even in high school. Yet, “Howl” remains a divisive and salacious piece of literature, particularly because of its frank depictions of sexual conduct and drug use.
In one infamous snippet, Ginsberg invokes the Canaanite god Moloch in a depiction of gay sex, using the god who required child sacrifice (as many have) as a metaphor for an idol to which adherence required costly sacrifice.
“Moloch in whom I sit lonely! Moloch in whom I dream Angels! Crazy in Moloch! C—s—-r in Moloch! Lacklove and manless in Moloch!” Ginsberg wrote.
“Moloch! Moloch! Robot apartments! invisible suburbs! skeleton treasuries! blind capitals! demonic industries! spectral nations! invincible madhouses! granite c—-s! monstrous bombs!”
Check out the Fox News interview with the Casons here:
Ayala also required students to fill in the graphic parts that were omitted by the approved text, as previously mentioned — meaning the parts about individuals “who let themselves be f—ed in the a– by saintly motorcyclists, and screamed with joy” were filled in.
In another assignment, students were instructed to write about underage sexting, or minors sending sexually explicit texts.
“If they want to teach on controversial materials, they can, but they should warn parents and give them an opportunity to choose an alternative assignment,” Dys said.
You can guess how this is being covered in LGBT media. Britain’s PinkNews painted the father as a retrograde homophobe being represented by an “[a]nti-LGBT+ law firm.”
“I was just blown away… This is not high school material. I mean, we’re talking about a minor. It’s pornography from the ’50s,” he’s quoted as telling KMGH in Denver.
There are also parts of the poem that extol the virtues of drunken pederasty and public sex in — among other places — cemeteries in terms that cannot be printed here and shouldn’t be printed in high school textbooks.
Here I must confess: I read “Howl” in high school, and not because it was assigned.
Even at that age, however, I knew that assigning “Howl” to teens would have been an eye-opening stretch, and not just because of the stuff that presumably needed to be asterisked.
Even in the days before #MeToo, I was decidedly uncomfortable with the idea that Ginsberg thought pederasty and public sex were OK. This is what happens when you allow cultural leftists to make parental decisions for students — and they make profoundly bad ones.
“Howl” is undoubtedly important but, like so many parts of American literature, it ought to be discovered either in college electives or by one’s own. “Howl,” “Fear and Loathing,” “American Psycho” — these are important pieces of our cultural history, but they’re also works no one ought to be forced to read. This is especially true for high schoolers.
You ask yourself whether this should be assigned to high schoolers, even with asterisks, particularly without alternative assignments being offered. I can guarantee you that even liberals and LGBT individuals, looking at this in an objective light, would find themselves hard-pressed to agree.
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