Thursday, March 13, 2008

David Prashker's Career-Limiting Move

Just read this story about the Director of a private Jewish school in Toronto, who's in trouble deep for posting poetry with violent and sexual imagery on his personal website. First off, the poetry, or at least the excerpts reprinted in The Star, is terrible. Second, Prashker's a goddamn idiot for posting it a quick Google search away.

But... what if it had just been printed in a book? Maybe it would never have been discovered and circulated. Maybe if it had, there wouldn't be such outrage about it. A lot of the commentary seems to imply that it's the fact that it was on the internet that's so reprehensible.

As stupid a hack as Prashker probably is, there's something terribly wrong if he gets fired for this, because the writings are not his opinions. They're poems, and they're made of metaphor, however ineptly. The fact that they don't hit the right-hand margin is a great big signal that they are artificial. And they have nothing to do with his ability to supervise the education of young children. I don't know if Prashker has kids, but if the content of the poems means he shouldn't be in charge of children, then any kids of his own should be made wards of the state. Where do you draw the line? As Stacy May at Shameless Magazine says

This kind of thinking really opens the door for discrimination - If a man who writes and publishes “sexy poetry” in his other life is not allowed to work with children, what next? Imagine what kind of limitations we’d be able to impose. Parents are arguing that full access to his writings on the internet suggests an error in judgment on his part, but where is the problem in adults accessing his site? The man is a published poet who writes for an adult audience - students that he works with certainly do not have the same kind of access if their parents are monitoring their internet use. I think the real question is, why are we all so damn afraid of sex?
Some of the discussion at Bookninja has leaned in this direction, such as Rob Wiersema saying what if Prashker's site

rather than highlighting the poetry, instead focussed on (and I’m making this up, now) an interest in alternative sexualities, say S&M? What if it included photos of the principal in a ball-gag, with a pony-tail, being ridden by a dominatrix?
Again, the MAN IS NOT IN THE POEMS in any way like he would be in those hypothetical photographs. There's absolutely no comparison.

Let's say I'm a school teacher or principal and word gets out about these lines in a poem I published in a chapbook:

D'you think the girls hated him? Not a chance.

They lined up at his step to drop their pants
And roll over. I swear, the motherfucker
Musta had two cocks the way they'd carry on,

Those bitches, like jackals on carrion
Fighting and biting for a quick fuck or
Suck on that bugger. No doubt the bastard

Was some kind of Don Juan, a true master
Of the boudoir when he was through being

But, but, I'd protest, that's not me speaking, it's a lobster! A likely defense, Mr. Wells, you sick sonuvabitch.

Now, I've gone into high school classes as a guest speaker and intentionally read only poems with less salacious content and less salty diction, particularly to younger grades. That's only proper, and I didn't feel censored by it. Had Prashker posted his poems on his office door or read them to an English class in the school he ran, he should face some kind of discipline, for sure. But as teacher and poet Chris Banks and others say in the discussion of this article at Bookninja, there are way better reasons to fire teachers, most of whom will never ever get fired because they embody Woody Allen's maxim that 80% of success is showing up. Go to work, read from a textbook, assign things from the exercise book, grade leniently, never challenge students, retire after 30 years and collect the pension, never breaking the rules, much less a sweat. It's harder to get away with that in a private school, where parents expect more from teachers and administration, and given that this school hired Prashker away from another private school in England, it seems likely to me he's quite good at his job. Prashker's poems might be shit, but they've got enough spunk behind them that I can believe he at least gives a shit. Wouldn't bother me a bit if he was in charge of my kid.


Brian Palmu said...

A lot of things to say about this story so I'll try to be brief.

I'm not as upset about Prashker's firing as would be the case if he were the director of a public school. Private schools and businesses have the right, however deluded and foolish (and it's extremely foolish in this case), to make whatever choice they feel is in line with their philosophy. It's the school's loss, since, as you say, Zach, he was probably a good teacher, having been lured away from lesser institutions.

His verse is as nuanced as a Watchtower pamphlet, but that's not the point: he was writing fiction, using metaphor, and with a voice, ironically, and most likely, pointing to the moral condemnation of the speaker.

But most people don't understand poetry, and believe that it's all "confessional". I wonder why they don't crucify Croenenberg, or Shakespeare, or .... or well, the Bible, for violent "inciting".

Helen Berman, mouthpiece for a Violence Against Women bureaucracy, condemns Prashker for this "incitement" and "devaluing of females". It's lucky that Samuel doesn't live three thousand years after writing about a woman, Sisera, hammering her nail through Jael's skull, in the Book of Judges.


Anonymous said...

Guess what- Mr. Prashker "decided" the best thing would be to resign. What a bunch of bullshit!
This guy was actually a great director for the school and was only a positive influence since he began his position there. This, all because a few narrow-minded, judgemental and idiotic parents decided they didn't like his poetic works and deemed him to be inappropriate as an educator.
Please tell me- what does this man's poetry and writings have anything what so ever to do with his ability in fufilling his duties as a school director in a caring and professional manner. I'll tell you-NOTHING!!!!!
Poor guy had no choice but to resign after this assinine crusade against him.
What are we teaching are kids- you better be careful how you express yourself, artistically or any other way because it may come to bite you in the ass 20 years later. What a sad case of censorship bullshit!

Brian Campbell said...

Well, it has too many adjectives and cliches (blood thicker than water, yeah!), but in spirit its not too many cuts below some of the worst by Irving Layton, and look at all the institutions he taught in. Now if Layton had published online...

Shows, as you say, the power of online publication compared to the obscurity of print. And the eternally-recurring idiocy of the literal (rather than literary)-minded.

Anonymous said...


Brown Eyed Girl said...

Update 2016, this man was just caught in Lafayette, CA with posession of child pornography. He was working at a private school as a substitute teacher.