Bad news from my alma matter

Shorewood High School, where I spent four relatively happy years, is in a bit of hot water about a “profane” word in the annual literary magazine, Imprints — a magazine to which I faithfully contributed, I think, three out of my four years at Shorewood.

A blank space appearing on page 50 of Shorewood High’s annual literary magazine, Imprints, was once filled with a poem about a teenager’s first sexual experience.

The 13-line verse was abruptly pulled from this year’s magazine after parental complaints about a profane word in its title.

The fallout prompted school and district officials to seize, shred and reprint the issue. They also reassigned the magazine’s faculty adviser, a move the teacher is now fighting.

The poem’s author, Zoya Raskina, 17, said her verse was about the pressure teenagers face to have sex and the disillusionment that can follow. She said she didn’t expect the reaction, which prompted district administrators to ask Steve Kelly, an English teacher with the district for 35 years, to step down as magazine adviser.

The faculty advisor, Mr. Kelly, is one of Shorewood’s most well-known and well-liked teachers. I don’t remember a single student who ever had a complaint about him. I never had him for a teacher, but I remember hearing story after story from otherwise disinterested students about what they had discussed in Mr. Kelly’s class that day. The stories were so impressive that, after a year of college, I went back to Shorewood with a friend of mine (a former student of Mr. Kelly) and sat in on his class. The first thing you notice about Mr. Kelly’s room are the walls — they’re covered in student-painted murals, mostly (if I remember right) depicting scenes from the various novels that his students studied. He’s amazing; he’s one of the reasons that Imprints survives. And he’s certainly the reason why so many students want to be part of the magazine.

Shoreline (the school district where Shorewood is located) also tends to be a relatively liberal place, like most of Seattle. We had good, comprehensive (but abstinence-based) sex education. We read Huck Finn and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and other commonly banned books. My senior year, the fall play featured a “coming out” scene — and I was the ####### doing the coming out.

So when my mom told me about this story, I was obviously disappointed. Pulling Mr. Kelly from his position is a huge mistake, and one that I hope they rectify. It’s a literary magazine, for goodness sakes — sometimes, literature contains bad words.

And I can’t help but remember that when I was a junior in high school, there was a short story in Imprints that used the word “#####” at least a dozen times — I think “####” and “####” were in there, too. But that story was written by a senior boy — this poem was by a girl, about her first sexual experience. Do I smell a double standard?

So today, I’m depressed about the state of things in Shoreline, Washington. And I can’t help but see this event as representative of the conservative grip that seems to be tightening all around the country.


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13 comments for “Bad news from my alma matter

  1. July 18, 2005 at 12:27 pm

    Christ. I’m trying to figure out what the “profanities” were, minus the first ridiculous one, and surprise! My dirty mind can’t come up with any.

  2. Jeff
    July 18, 2005 at 1:12 pm

    So, I google Shorewood High School and found the Web site here. On the front page, they have a link to a comment form (PDF) for people to fill out and send in. It’s geared toward parents, but I’m sure they’d just love to hear from us, too. So maybe we should all fill it out and mail it to them. What do you think?

  3. Marksman2000
    July 18, 2005 at 1:18 pm

    Let’s keep kidding ourselves about what our kids know and do. When I was in school, there was a group of girls who called themselves the “Swirl Girls” because they dated blacks exclusively. See, “little” white boys couldn’t give them what they needed. These girls didn’t hide what they did; they wore customized T-shirts displaying their Ebonic nicknames along with lists of the names of all the blacks guys who reamed them out. This was in the eighth grade. We were 14.

    And these parents in Washington are upset about a poem dealing with sex? Boy, they should be glad they haven’t seen what I’ve seen. Daddy’s little girl is gettin’ around town.

  4. July 18, 2005 at 2:18 pm

    Yes, Marksman, we all know what ###### loving ###### these trampy school girls are these days.

  5. jam
    July 18, 2005 at 2:35 pm

    i’m curious: why are you using “#####” to stand for naughty words?

  6. July 18, 2005 at 3:52 pm

    I do detect a double standard, If it would have been a male it woul have just illicited chuckles.

  7. Laurie
    July 18, 2005 at 4:21 pm

    Hmmmmm, I’d really love to read a copy of the poem, actually, or even see the actual title. I find it very interesting that the associate superintendent wasn’t aware of previous useage of objectionable language in the mag, AND wasn’t interested in commenting on it. Sounds like a little case of CYA…

    BTW, that was sarcasm. Of *course* that’s what it is (CYA), along with a little double standard for letting the boy’s work get published, profanity and all, earlier. I find it difficult to believe that this is the first parental objection they’ve had.

    Honestly, I’m not sure where these parents get the idea of protecting their *high school* children from profanity. While I’m not a big fan of strings of profanity used indescriminantly and frequently, I can assure these parents that by the 10th grade I had heard all of the most frequently used words at least once. And had used some of them, too. AND I was considered a bit of a prude and a goody-two shoes. Protect your children from vulgarity as long as you can, but just realize that by the time they hit high school, they probably know a lot more than you think they do. And mostly, they are coping just fine.

    I think what these parents are actually protesting is the notion of a young woman having sex and then writing about it. I’d be very interested to see if the reaction had been the same under these circumstances: a) different title, b) gender neutral or male author name. No, I don’t really have any preconceived ideas as to what the reaction might have been. I’d just be interested to see it….

  8. Demetri
    July 18, 2005 at 11:54 pm

    fuck

  9. July 19, 2005 at 7:24 am

    I wasn’t using number symbols to stand for “dirty” words — I wrote that post from an internet cafe which has a Net Nanny installed in the computer. It automatically gets rid of anything it deems inappropriate. For the record, the words I used were lesbian, pussy, fuck and cock — in that order.

  10. mythago
    July 19, 2005 at 10:53 am

    These girls didn’t hide what they did; they wore customized T-shirts displaying their Ebonic nicknames along with lists of the names of all the blacks guys who reamed them out.

    “Ebonic nicknames”? Sounds like a bunch of teenagers deciding to shock the rest of you by making shit up. Worked, too.

  11. manxome
    July 19, 2005 at 12:05 pm

    The district rules are that material must be free of content that “is inappropriate for the maturity level of the students,” and the associate superintendent calls it not age appropriate.

    From what I can tell, the “My first fuck” poem is completely age-appropriate, and directly addresses the maturity level of high school students. What is inappropriate is that teens damn well treat sex the way it is portrayed in the poem much of the time, and all these prim parents are in denial that stuff like this still goes on just like it did when they were in school. We can be assured, of course, that those parents who protest a poem about teen sex the loudest must have the most upstanding of children themselves because really, in the end, it’s all about their image as wonderful parents, right?

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