Many of you may have seen the recent reports of the suspension of one our South Windsor High School teachers for presenting “inappropriate” content to students.  What you may not know is that my daughter was in that class. 

While both the news media and social media characterized this event as some sort of gross misconduct, the fact is that this was a college level AP English class with 17 and 18 year old students.  They were discussing various poems and one of the students asked if they could discuss a particular poem by Ginsberg.  I don’t know if Mr. Olio was familiar with the poem in question prior to playing the reading but I’m sure he was familiar with the controversial nature of Ginsberg.   This is a teacher who encourages students to push the envelope by allowing them to explore difficult themes so I’m certain that was his intent by allowing this particular reading.

When my daughter first told me about the class in question she said that some students were uncomfortable with the poem content and complained to their parents and the parents in turn complained to the school.  My first question to her was ‘when the poem was being read, did anyone ask Mr. Olio to stop playing it?’  Answer:  “No.”  I’m quite certain that had any of the students asked Mr. Olio to stop the reading he would have done so right away.  There is a line between being provocative and being disturbing and for some this reading crossed that line but it didn’t cross the line for everyone.  I don’t know how Mr.  Olio was supposed to know that it was provocative with one person but offensive to another without students speaking up.  I spoke on behalf of Mr. Olio at the Board of Education meeting on this very premise.  It’s my belief that this whole situation should have been handled by the students and Mr. Olio and not by the parents and administration. 

When the suspension first took place my daughter was very upset about the situation and the media firestorm that followed.   I told her to stay away from the media because even comments intended to help would continue to add fuel to the fire and keep the story going.  I was hoping that once the media situation died down that the administration would be able to quietly bring Mr. Olio back from suspension.  At the Board meeting I found out that the school had initiated termination proceedings against Mr. Olio.  If you could have been at the Board meeting and heard person after person, including present students, speak about how inspirational Mr. Olio is as a teacher, you would find this move as baffling as I do.  I can only surmise that this action is less to do with what the administration actually thinks of the situation and more to do with the fact that they don’t know how to bring back a teacher who has been branded by social media as unsuitable for the job.  Ironically, the very same rights that allow the news and social media to paint this picture are the very same rights that Mr. Olio allowed the students to exercise in that class.    

Per Wikipedia, in 1957, one of Ginsberg’s poems became the subject of an obscenity trial because it depicted heterosexual and homosexual sex at a time when sodomy laws made homosexual acts a crime in every U.S. state.  The judge in the case ruled that the poem was not obscene, adding, "Would there be any freedom of press or speech if one must reduce his vocabulary to vapid innocuous euphemisms?" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allen_Ginsberg)

I find it interesting that in 1957 a judge tossed out an obscenity case and that very same reasoning is now being used in 2015 to end the otherwise impeccable 20 year career of a respected, inspirational teacher.

At the end of the day maybe this won’t make a difference, maybe he’ll still get fired.  If that’s the case I feel sorry for the future students who will miss the opportunity to be inspired by Mr. Olio.  I also feel sorry for the remaining teachers who will undoubtedly feel like they need to censor themselves, even at the collegiate class level, in light of the one strike and you’re out policy we appear to have adopted.  If nothing else, maybe this will get the attention of other administrators who might take this opportunity to hire an out of the box teacher who can inspire their students.

Thanks for taking the time to read this.  I know its long but in our world of 140 characters or less I thought a man’s reputation deserved something more.