Update: This Is The Student’s Controversial Essay Emulating The Satire Of Swift’s “A Modest Proposal”

Now THIS, arguably, is taking satire too far...

Now THIS, arguably, is taking satire too far…

Here, thanks to some links provided to Ethics Alarms by students at North County High School, is the essay that was written in response to a teacher’s directive to write a satirical solution to a current societal problem in the style and spirit of  Jonathan Swift’s famous essay advocating the conversion of excess Irish children to foodstuffs.

Student’s name: Connor Poole

Verdict: Pure satire, bold and for a writer so young, brilliantly executed.

Grade: A+

Here is the paper that  prompted administrators to try to turn Connor into a pariah, so precisely delivering what was assigned that it has exposed mass incompetence and cowardice at North County High School:

Modest proposal


The news media did Mr. Poole a disservice by failing to publish his entire masterpiece, as the snippets released allowed some to speculate that the essay was not obviously satirical but merely a serious racist document using the Swiftian format as cover. Obviously it is not racist any more than Swift’s essay reveled his hatred of Irish children. The piece exactly emulates its model—as assigned—in tone, humor and intentional outrageousness.

The public school system must be doing something right, because in this case it has produced one astute and skilled young man, and one of impressive courage, all wonderful portents of achievements to come. Also praiseworthy are the many students, including those who contacted me, who are now vigorously supporting Connor.

I have an immodest proposal, and a serious one. President Obama should invite Connor Poole to the White House. He is far more deserving of the honor than Ahmed, the junior Muslim cool clock-maker, and supporting a student who is being unjustly abused by carriers of the political correctness plague might cool the fever significantly, and do the U.S. culture a great deal of good.

Don’t let the bastards get you down, Connor.




40 thoughts on “Update: This Is The Student’s Controversial Essay Emulating The Satire Of Swift’s “A Modest Proposal”

  1. What else would it be… the tendency of the media to suck up to minorities…. playing to their sometimes unnecessary sensitivities….. I’m a Nigerian living in Nigeria, but to be honest, I think the blacks in America take things too far…. and it is only a brain dead person that wouldn’t see quite clearly that this is meant to satirize the poor depiction of blacks in the American society as the worst people there are and as the cause of the problems they face… It is too outrageous to be actually meant by the writer, just like Swift’s essay.

  2. Who TAUGHT Poole, that he would be THAT good? He hooked me with his “analyzation of crime statistics.” The underlying message is, “Some truth, some people wouldn’t even wipe their assholes with; here’s some of that.”

  3. This is probably the time to share probably the funniest personal anecdote I’ve ever heard, told by one of the smartest guys I’ve ever met.

    A retired astro-physisist (radio telescopes, the Very Large Array, etc.) and CEO of a Fortune Five Hundred company, Warren attended high school in small town Alabama during and shortly after WWII. His senior year in high school, Warren taught Physics since he was much better at it than the usual teacher, who was the football coach. Why, you ask? Because none of the faculty wanted to (or could) teach Physics and the standard procedure was to make the football coach “teach” Physics. After graduating, Warren went on to the University of Alabama. His first summer back, a local asked Warren where he’d been. “Tuscaloosa,” Warren replied. “What’re you studying?” the local inquired. “Physics,” answered Warren. To which the local responded: “Gonna coach, huh?”

  4. The children, and yes, I say children because they are acting like a 2 year old that got their toy taken away, at the high school who are complaining about the essay are just showing us another generation who are being coddled who will remain on mommy’s tit through much of “adulthood”. Grow up and learn how to distinguish satire from real racism. If you can’t do thst, you are never going to be able to go to college.

  5. The big problem, I think, is that Swift’s piece is seen as a comic piece about a comic people – whimsical, tipsy folk whose lives revolved around potatoes and the Little People. I’m sure that no one in the school has more than the broadest notion that Ireland, at that point, had survived 5 centuries of occupation, war, resettlement, and suppression of religion and culture, or given any thought to the impact that would have on the population (or what was thought of the population). Thus, the Irish experience can’t possibly be veiewed as analogous to the experiences of currently fashionable groups.

    My modest proposal is that schools should have a curriculum that would demonstrate that all peoples got dumped on for most of history, and that the great majority of individuals led lives that were “nasty, brutish, and short.” My working name for the curriculum is, “All Lives Sucked,” but maybe someone else can come up with something better.

  6. Too Highbrow for the mediocrities to comprehend.

    The mention of a “Final Solution” showed a grasp of history as well.

    Second the motion that the POTUS should invite him as a guest. I would like to think the NAACP might too.

    I would also like to think that this guy’s essay be included in any course on Swift in the future. It’s worthy of that.

  7. Jack,
    Never, before or after reading, wasI offended or realistically thought it was a cover. I will say, however, that he still failed. Swift’s essay “advocated” for the utilitarian use of a problem people by using them as food. Poole’s, on the other hand, argues that they’re a simply a blight that needs eradication. He copied the tone correctly, but not the subtlety of the satire nor the complexity of the “solution.” Without context, one is still liable to read “A Modest Proposal” and think “he can’t possibly be serious” — this piece doesn’t have nearly the same twinkle in it’s eye. In fact, most of it sounds like it could have been copied whole cloth by some David Dukesque hate blog or Dylan Roof’s journal.

    Did the school overreact? Emphatically, yes. Is the student a racist? Emphatically, no. Is the essay any good? Not even a little.

    • He’s in high school, Swift was one of the 100 greatest writers of English of all time, and the assignment was well above high-school level—and he still nailed it. The standard isn’t “was it as good as Swift?” and the assignment did not require him to duplicate exactly the perspective of the satirist. His essay leaves plenty of hints that it is satire, including the archaic phrasing at the very start (the use of “Negro” alone is a tell).

      The only legitimate complaint might be that he fulfilled the edict of the assignment too well. Even then, the fault of the school wasn’t “over-reacting” but reacting at all.

  8. Jack,
    I say that only as a reader and an editor. I’ve no other hidden agenda. He also fails basic structure and organization. His thoughts are scattershot, poorly organized, and the whole thing is one long paragraph. If he’d written this in class, all of that could be forgiven, but he at least had overnight if not longer.


  9. Here is what I think Poole’s teacher should have written to him in response to his essay:

    Connor, I’m giving you a grade of C+ on this paper. Here’s why.

    On the plus side, you clearly ‘get’ the core idea of satire – that it should be a combination of ‘over the top’ and ‘tongue in cheek.’ On the minus side, while you get the idea, your execution was flawed. Let me be more specific.

    First, as we discussed in class, Swift was Irish, writing satirically about what the condescending English were thinking about the Irish, and exaggerating those thoughts. It makes a huge difference who the author is: if you were to parallel Swift – had he been known as an Englishman critiquing the Irish, he would have received a far more critical reception.

    Since you’re [presumably] not black, you had two choices: either choose another part of your own personal identity (e.g. being a teenager, or a male, or a heterosexual) to write about satirically, or make the author a “first person once removed,” i.e. you obviously wrote it, but to make it “as if” a black person were the author.

    You of course chose neither, which raises the bar for people to distinguish what you wrote as satire as opposed to over-the-top hate literature.

    That raises the second issue: to write effective satire, you have to be so far over the top that people can recognize parody. You HAVE to pull the trigger at the end, go over the edge, be so far out there that there is no doubt. You needed to especially do this, given your author’s persona of a young white person.

    How did Swift do it? By suggesting that Irish parents themselves would benefit by selling off their youngsters – tongue firmly in check, he points out the economic benefits of the many from killing off the few.

    But in your case, you advocate killing off an entire ‘race,’ save three people. Where’s the parody? Where’s the satire? Who’s left to appreciate the gesture (yes yes three people; not funny). We’ve seen genocide before, and it’s not funny, it’s ugly.

    Here’s a quick guide:
    SATIRE: you should offer your children to be eaten – you as parents and your whole race will benefit from having them on the menu at fine restaurants.
    NOT SATIRE: all y’all should go to Africa, where we’ll nuke y’all. No more race. Problem solved.

    Basically, you did not go FAR ENOUGH over the top. We’ve already got a real world presidential candidate talking about whether or not he’d nuke Europe. We’ve already experienced a “final solution” in the real world applied to an entire race. And in the case of black people, your ‘satire’ is far from the first to suggest mass deportation of blacks ‘back to Africa.’ That thinking even came from some blacks, though it’s usually associated with backward racist white people.

    Next, “over the top” means considering minute details, richly evoked. You can’t do that in a short piece like you wrote.

    I asked you to emulate Swift. His piece was 3300 words; yours was 400. Since you already lost the advantage of identify (Swift as Irish, you as putatively white), and you failed to go over the top nearly as much as Swift did, you left yourself not nearly enough room to be satirical. It is as if you told a joke by including only the opening line and the punch line – and still expect people to laugh.

    So the reason I’m giving you a low grade, despite getting the ‘basic’ idea of satire, is because you have yet to learn a critical lesson. The power of satire rests on creating a tension in the reader about the true intent of the narrator.

    The reader must start by believing the sincerity of the narrator. Things must progress in the piece, becoming more and more outrageous, until a point is arrived at by the reader (usually the same point, but it might differ across readers) where the reader finally says, in one moment, “Omigod, that is absolutely outrageous!” and in the next moment says, “Oh, jeez, you got me, it’s an April fool’s joke, it’s satire – wow, it’s so close to what some people actually believe, it’s scary”

    That second moment never happens in your piece, Connor. You have not managed to distinguish your solution from the rantings of seriously racist people. And that is the biggest lesson of satire you need to learn: what you may think is satirical and funny will not necessarily be seen that way by others.

    It’s a tricky line to draw, because satire depends on creating that tension within the reader, and the reader bears some responsibility. But if you don’t make it clear enough that the narrator himself is a wack job, then you as a writer have not lived up to your responsibility.

    When it comes to satire, the devil is in the details. You should use the tool of identity in your narrator. You should use enough words to make the case in great detail. And you need to overshoot the mark of absurdity – not just come sort of close to it.

    As I said, C- for good intention, but (potentially fatally) flawed execution.

    • Jack, you say, “Obviously it is not racist any more than Swift’s essay reveled his hatred of Irish children.”

      That is not obvious at all – and its non-obviousness is precisely the problem, and a non-trivial problem at that.

      • I think it is obvious, and unlike Swift, the essay has the advantage of being written to fulfill the requirement of being satirical, which means the final result no matter what it read like to the most hair-trigger race-baiter should be presumed satirical. The author should have been assured of that protection, and it was unfairly and disastrously withheld.

        • “…has the advantage of being written to fulfill the requirement of being satirical, which means the final result no matter what it read like to the most hair-trigger race-baiter should be presumed satirical.”

          That’s a fair point, I agree.

    • It is a legitimate criticism that after banning them to the desert there was no corresponding benefit, as there was for Swift (eating babies solves hunger problem). There was no problem solved on the back end. I’ll give you that one.

      With respect to the rest of it, he’s a high school student. Who knows about the 400 words – maybe he had a word limit (his grade did not reflect a penalty for being too short). With respect to not going far enough over the top, geez, I don’t know what else he could have done.

      It’s a good essay, worth more than the C+ (or C- by the end of your post) that you assigned him. I also suspect that the A+ was indicative of its quality in relation to the rest of the essays.

    • That is a great deconstruction of the piece. Now I see why it was making me uncomfortable, even though I knew it wasn’t serious. Demonizing people isn’t ridiculous enough on this planet to be satire (which is a pretty powerful indictment of human culture). To make it satire, it would have to do something unprecedentedly ridiculous, like attempt to convince people that being destroyed by a nuclear weapon was in their own best interests.

    • Wow. You’re awfully old to still be in this kid’s language arts class.

      How else would you know the exact assignment?

    • One addition I forgot.

      In Swift’s piece, he actually includes a half dozen seriously realistic propositions for dealing with the social and economic ills facing Ireland in his time. But he prefaces them with the caveat that, of course, these are ridiculous proposals.

      So, as another depth of his satirical piece, he proves “the narrator” even more cloddish, rejecting perfectly reasonable proposals as themselves being ridiculous.

      Young Poole, of course, did not include this tactic in his 400 words.

      By the way, this is a pretty good summary from the point of view of another English teacher, on how to teach Swift’s piece:

  10. The underlying assumption of the people to take offense to this seems to be that it’s impossible to write something that you don’t believe, especially if it sounds even remotely similar to things people actually believe. That leads me to think that their own essays were either completely tepid, too ridiculous to pass as actual satire, or full of horrible things that they actually do believe.

    One of my favorite quotes as a perception-user is attributed to Aristotle: “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” Apparently his teachers and peers are not considering the possibility that this kid might, just by chance, have become educated at some point in his life. It’s unlikely that his school can claim any credit for that.

  11. I’m going to have to disagree with you there. The author’s satire is offensive as satire, and it isn’t very good.

    The author’s point doesn’t really come across,or, if it does, it is a pretty horrible point. It is clear that he is being satirical, and that he doesn’t advocate the nuclear vaporization of all “negroes”. However, the subtext seems to be that negroes are pretty horrible people (not even three of them act in a civilized manner), and that it would be nice if they would just go away. The humour is similar to an absentee landlord, circa 1729, saying to his friend at the club, “I say, my tenants keep having children, but their of no use on my estate until they turn eight. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could put some of them to use a little earlier by eating them.” Obviously, the landlord isn’t really advocating cannibalism, but his statement is callous, clearly anti-Irish and not particularly funny.

    Swift’s satire worked because it is clear that he was not only anti-cannibalism but that he was also trying to criticize society. As a relatively well-off Anglo-Irishman, Swift was basically saying that his class had been pretty terrible to the Irish, and, through satire, he calls upon society to be better.

    Obviously, the author shouldn’t be punished, though.

  12. If you’re not black then non of y’all are ever going to understand where us teenagers are coming from y’all don’t hear his racist comments everyday we do so y’all need to watch what y’all say

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