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.

9 Replies to “Howl.”

  1. Jim Tunney was your principal? I’m more impressed by that than all your cool classes. He was my favorite ref in the 70’s. Go Steel Curtain!


  2. Yours is a great story. I have always loved Howl which I encountered in college,

    I graduated from a public high school in Dallas, Tex., in 1956. I never took a standardized test, nor did my classmates, who have led productive, middle class lives regardless of whether or not they graduated from college. We read Shakespeare, we sang in the school choir, I lettered on the debate team. We wrote and produced a musical comedy for our senior play. I feel sorry for today’s students, too much testing, too little of the arts, and since they are the future, I worry about our nation.

  3. Fred,
    Why aren’t you writing about this with the same amount of disgust that you wrote about Daley’s gift that keeps on giving at Navy Pier? Political buddies can’t steal from Joe taxpayer, but your union buddies don’t get same treatment.
    What would Jim Tunney say? Rules are Rules or my team gets a break?

    From your favorite Chicago news source

    Illinois school districts still fatten pensions, pay millions in penalties

    Tribune investigation: A 2005 pension law was intended to rein in big salary spikes that boost retiree benefits and pension costs statewide, imposing cash penalties on districts that gave raises larger than 6 percent to outgoing educators.

    But over the last decade, hundreds of school districts paid the so-called penalties and doled out steeper raises anyway, state data show, pushing some administrator salaries higher than $300,000, and, in one case, $400,000.

    1. Yeah… They can always get the board to go along with a penalty inducing bonus for the head administrator. Try getting in on that as a classroom teacher, and you’ll be sorely disappointed. Our district limits us to a four percent raise if and only if you have more than 20 years IN THE DISTRICT and you must request being disqualified from any raises the union wins for the rest of the staff. If you changed districts mid career, you need not apply. It doesn’t matter if you’ve worked forty years…

      Like many teacher benefits, many teachers can’t qualify…

      But hey, Anonymous, don’t let that get in the way of your story.

      The worst lies are cherry picking the exceptions and trying to sell them as the rule. Shame on you.

    2. You are absolutely right, Roger. End of career bonuses are a total myth. Although why shouldn’t there be? Administrators get them on a regular basis. Yet few districts have salary schedules that align with years of teaching. Which means that many career teachers top out on the salary schedule long before they retire. Some as many as 15 years at the top of the schedule, meaning no salary bump other than the cost of living increase. As you know, Roger, there are not many professional fields in which you cannot be promoted to a higher pay grade, which accounts for the salary schedule in teaching.

  4. “As the bell rang he called me up and opened a desk drawer, pulling out Andre Malraux’s Man’s Fate.”

    You read Andre Malraux a lot earlier than me. In grad school I wrote an essay comparing Camus’ The Plague to Malraux’s Man’s Fate. Near the end of Malraux’s book, and after leftist dialectics and all the communists were rounded up and destroyed by Chiang, I believe it was the character Gisors who said each one of us suffers because consciousness brings us anguish. “[Though], every man is a madman, what is a human destiny if not a life of effort to unite this madman and the universe…?” It seems quite relevant today too, doesn’t it?

  5. Re: Ginsberg’s Howl, Part 1

    “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness/ starving hysterical naked…/ who passed through universities with radiant cool eyes hallucinating/ Arkansas and Blake-light tragedy among the scholars of war…/ who burned cigarette holes in their arms protesting the narcotic/ tobacco haze of Capitalism…/ who dreamt and made incarnate gaps in Time & Space through/ images juxtaposed…/ to recreate the syntax and measure of poor human prose…/ with the absolute heart of the poem of life butchered out of their/ own bodies good to eat a thousand years…”

    He wasn’t an ordinary blogger.

  6. This is a great story, Fred. Met Ginsburg at a fundraiser in the late 80’s…had a wonderful talk with him about poetry. Less publicized is his philanthropy until his passing.

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