Share This Page

After complaints, Franklin Regional stifles a 'Howl'

| 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.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.