In 1965 I was not the greatest of students.
How is it that so many bad students aspire to be good teachers?
I stayed in school mainly to be with my friends.
I thought about this when I read the story of the Ohio high school teacher who was forced to resign after he obliged a student request to read an Allen Ginsburg poem, Please Master.
My Los Angeles high school defaulted to a college track. But I forced my parents to sign me out of that track.
This gave me the freedom to opt out of a required trig class, for example, while taking a bunch of classes I really wanted to take. Like one in international relations and a string of wonderful literature classes.
I was also looking to cause trouble and so spent many a lunch hour with our principal, Jim Tunney. He later became a National Football League chief referee.
In one of my lit classes the assignment was to bring in a poem to read aloud.
I chose Allen Ginsburg’s Howl.
Have I written about this before?
On the one hand I loved the beat poets.
Ginsburg in particular.
I spent many nights at the Venice West Cafe, listening to beat poets like Larry Lipton reading to the sound of bongo drums.
On the other hand I secretly hoped that reading Howl would get me in trouble.
And another lunch with Jim Tunney.
But my teacher, Mr. Battaglia, responded as if I had just read Emily Dickenson.
As the bell rang he called me up and opened a desk drawer, pulling out Andre Malraux’s Man’s Fate.
“Here,” he said. “Tell me what you think by Monday.”
Tell me what you think.
The best thing a teacher can say.