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After complaints, Franklin Regional stifles a 'Howl'

By Daveen Rae Kurutz
Wednesday, May 15, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
 

Franklin Regional administrators have removed a controversial poem from the district's curriculum after parents complained about its explicit language and graphic nature.

“Howl,” a poem published by beat poet Allan Ginsberg in 1956, had been used in senior English elective “Alternative Voices” since 2007, but no longer is on the district's approved-resource list, said Shelley Shaneyfelt, director of instructional services and public relations.

“After hearing the concerns of several of our parents and constituents about the negative messages contained in this particular poem and the graphic nature of the language, we have agreed as a district, in consultation with the teacher, to remove this piece from the course,” Shaneyfelt said.

The course will not be offered next school year because not enough students showed interest during the scheduling process, Shaneyfelt said.

“Howl” was added to a list of approved resources for English classes because of its historical significance, Shaneyfelt said.

The poem was the subject of a 1957 California vulgarity trial because of the nature of its language. The poem depicts heterosexual and homosexual sex and uses several vulgarities. A judge ruled that the piece had redeeming social value and that deeming it obscene would dismiss the freedom of the press and freedom of speech.

“Historically, it bears significance as the poem was supported by the Supreme Court, affirming the right to freedom of expression,” Shaneyfelt said.

At least one school board member was incensed at the assigned reading. Board member Dennis Pavlik said two parents showed him the poem and complained about it. After reading it, he labeled it “horrific” and “utterly disgusting.”

“I'm pretty annoyed by this,” Pavlik said after a parent asked him not to read and excerpt from it at a recent school board meeting. “If it can't be read at a public meeting, we ought not be teaching it to our kids.”

The teacher, whom officials won't name, followed proper procedures, teacher union President Dom Colangelo said.

“This course, including the poem in question, was properly submitted to both the public and to the board for review during the cyclical review process,” Colangelo said. “All students were also appropriately warned ahead of time and given the opportunity for an alternate assignment.”

“Howl” was not a required reading, Shaneyfelt said. English teachers are given a pre-approved list of books and resources for courses that can be used depending on the specific needs of the students, she said.

The course is offered to senior students as an English elective and is designed for students who want to study literature from the counter-culture of the 1960s through 1980s, Shaneyfelt said. According to its course description, “Alternative Voices will serve as a bridge from high school literary discussion to college literary discussion.” Students are assigned readings from counter-culture groups to analyze artistic, persuasive and symbolic strategies and connect similarities and differences of the counter cultures.

The course syllabus states, “Mature topics will be read and discussed during the course,” Shaneyfelt said.

“(The syllabus offers) students who might be uncomfortable with such discussions the opportunity to choose another elective or request a different piece of literature, if they would prefer,” Shaneyfelt said. “There are many opinions and points of view to be considered when choosing instructional materials. We try to be responsive to our constituents, parents and students, while maintaining the integrity of the course content.”

Teachers and administrators will begin revising the literacy curriculum this summer as part of the district's cyclical review process. Shaneyfelt said the curriculum for “Alternative Voices” will not be rewritten until enough interest exists to offer the course again.

Daveen Rae Kurutz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8627, or dkurutz@tribweb.com.

 

 
 


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