Teacher Fails to Notify Parents of Sexually Explicit Poem ‘Howl’ Assignment

FILE--Poet Allen Ginsberg reads his poem "Howl" outside the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington in this Oct. 19, 1994, file photo. Ginsberg, a founding member of the beat generation of writers, has been diagnosed with terminal liver cancer, his doctor and friend said on Thursday, April 3, 1997. (AP …
Dennis Cook/AP Photo

A Colorado English teacher created controversy by assigning the sexually explicit poem Howl to his high school students without obtaining the approval of parents.

Ryan Ayala, an English teacher at Steamboat Springs High School in Colorado, assigned the poem Howl by Allen Ginsberg, and required his students to read aloud and write about the sexually explicit material.

Ginsberg was a controversial figure who was regarded as the founder of the Beat Movement. He promoted gay rights and the anti-war movement during the 1960s.

As FOX31 News reported, Howl, published in the 1950s, was considered controversial from the outset due to its graphic language about sex and drugs. In 1957, the poem was the subject of an obscenity trial but was ultimately not banned.

Despite a school district policy that says parents may opt-out of an assignment they feel is inappropriate for their children, parents were not given a warning or that option for the sexually graphic assignment.

“The second we started reading the book it just went south,” Skylar Cason, a Steamboat Springs High School junior, told FOX31. “It was so filled with sexual content that I wasn’t aware of and I wasn’t prepared for.”

Skylar’s family is weighing legal action against the school district.

“She came home and shared it with us and, of course, as a parent the way we’ve raised our kids I was like, there’s no way a teacher in a public school would have done this,” her father, Brett Cason, said. “It’s their responsibility to come to us as parents and say, hey we’re going to talk about some controversial material here. If you want to opt out here’s your opt out form and we’ll give you an alternate assignment.”

On behalf of the Casons, First Liberty Institute sent a letter to Steamboat Springs Superintendent Brad Meeks, making several requests, including that Ayala apologize to all the parents of the students in his class and that all teachers and administrators of the school district receive “sensitivity training concerning parental rights in public education.”

In its letter, First Liberty noted the school board “approved the use of Howl for use by its students, but only in the form of a book with the most vile and vulgar terms of the poem preremoved by the publisher.”

The letter continued and described the nature of the assignment:

Mr. Ayala ignored the SSSD Board’s determination to limit the content of the poem. Rather than communicate his points of art and authenticity and the effects of each on the era of 1960’s jazz music by use of the approved, publisher-censored text, Mr. Ayala read every word of the text out loud. Indeed, he informed his students that he believed it was unnecessary for the book to be censored. Instead, they were to listen as he read aloud words like “f*ck,” “a**,” “c*nt,” “c*ck,” descriptions of sexual violence against women, and vivid literary depictions of heterosexually and homosexually erotic acts, and then his students were to fill-in-the-blanks with the missing words.

According to Steamboat Pilot & Today, Jay Hamric, director of teaching and learning for the school district, said since he assumed his post a year and a half ago, no parent has officially objected to course material until now.

Hamric said the review committee agreed that Howl “has educational value and merit.”

FOX31 reported Ayala sent a letter of apology to the Casons, which read, “I’m sure you felt blindsided by the opening assignments and I should have made this exceedingly clear to all involved parties.”

Meeks said in a statement a review committee explained the failure to inform parents of the assignment “was simply an oversight as a result of not understanding the policy.”

“We regret if members of our community were offended,” the statement read.

Meeks added that, while the committee has decided Howl “will continue to be part of the curriculum, it also determined that parents were not given advance notice that would have allowed them to opt their child out of participating when it was part of the curriculum this fall.”

“For that, we apologize,” he said. “We are working to ensure that all of our teachers are aware of proper procedures around incorporating controversial materials and follow them. Students who choose not to engage in the material will be given an alternative assignment.”

Breitbart News sent an email to Ayala, asking him about his motivation for requiring the poem in his English class and whether he had followed the school’s normal procedure for introducing controversial subject matter. Ayala did not respond to the request for comment.


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