The nation’s third largest school system, Illinois’ Chicago Public Schools (CPS), seems to be in the news a lot these days. Because of budget issues, CPS has recently planned to shut down 61 school buildings, affecting more than 30,000 kids – mostly students in kindergarten through eight grade.
Causing further controversy, CPS has also decided to ban the graphic novel Persepolis from the seventh grade curriculum. CPS CEO, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, has declared that the graphic images and mature content of the book are inappropriate for seventh grade students.
Persepolis is an autobiographical, French-language graphic novel written by Marjane Satrapi. The book depicts the author’s life growing up in Iran during the Iran and Iraq wars. The book is banned in Iran, Lebanon, and the United Arab Emirates because it is considered blasphemous. The book was released as an animated film co-written and co-directed by Satrrapi in 2007 to great accalim, and Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return was published in 2005.
According to DNAinfo.com, a Chicago-based new site, Persepolis could be suitable for students in 11th and 12th grade but “Byrd-Bennett said that CPS is reconsidering whether the book, because of ‘powerful images of torture,’ should be used in the curriculum of eighth through 10th grades.’”
Principal of Chicago’s Lane Tech College Prep, Christopher Dignam, was told to make sure the book was not in the library, checked out by a student or teacher, or in any classroom. Dignam claims that he was not provided a reason for the removal.
However, in a later press release, Byrd-Bennett stressed that the book is not being banned from the school district in its entirety. Instead, she’s instructed any seventh grade teachers to remove the books from their classrooms and refrain from teaching the book, if they have not already done so. Byrd-Bennett explained that the book would not be removed from the school’s central library – contrary to what Dignam originally thought.
The Chicago Teachers Union issued a statement saying they were “surprised” by the reports: ‘”We understand why the district would be afraid of a book like this— at a time when they are closing schools—because it’s about questioning authority, class structures, racism and gender issues,” the Union’s financial secretary, Kristine Mayle, wrote in the statement. ‘There’s even a part in the book where they [talk] about blocking access to education.’”
Mayle makes an interesting point, and these two issues have coincided to cause a lot of controversy for CPS. Pointedly, Persepolis deals with ideological repression, and book banning falls into that category.
The author herself has claimed, “’It’s shameful…I cannot believe something like this can happen in the United States of America.’
Regarding the district’s concerns about the depiction of torture, Satrapi said:
‘These are not photos of torture. It’s a drawing and it’s one frame. I don’t think American kids of seventh grade have not seen any signs of violence. Seventh graders have brains and they see all kinds of things on cinema and the Internet. It’s a black and white drawing and I’m not showing something extremely horrible. That’s a false argument. They have to give a better explanation.’”
There is a glimmer of hope amid all of this muck and controversy: the ban seems to have sparked an intense interest in Persepolis, which was published in 2003. Sales are booming in Chicago. According to DNAinfo.com, more than four bookstores have sold out of Persepolis and are expecting more shipments.
All in all, it will be interesting to see what the CPS decides to do about the ban and controversy. Will they also deem Persepolis unfit for eight through tenth graders? Or will the pressure grow too great and see the book reenter the seventh grade curriculum?
Marcie Gainer is an intern at For Beginners® Books, and this piece originally appeared on the For Beginners blog.