'Persepolis' removal from some Chicago classrooms prompts protests

Teachers and students first believed the acclaimed graphic novel was being taken out of all classrooms and libraries, but Chicago Public Schools staff say it's only being taken out of seventh-grade classrooms.

'Persepolis' is author Marjane Satrapi's memoir of growing up in Iran.

The status of the graphic novel “Persepolis” in Chicago’s public schools led to controversy after the book was removed from some seventh-grade classrooms.

While some said an initial e-mail had requested the book be taken out of all grades and libraries, the CEO of the schools, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, clarified that the graphic novel had only been removed from the seventh-grade level because of “graphic language and images that are not appropriate for general use in the seventh grade curriculum” and that teachers who were going to teach the book in high school should undergo extra training.

"Persepolis" contains images of people being tortured and, in one instance, an image of the dismembered body of a girl who died in an explosion.

“Let me be clear – we are not banning this book from our schools,” Byrd-Bennett wrote in the announcement to principals on the CPS website.

She said it had been “brought to [the schools’] attention” that the novel contained what the CPS considered inappropriate content for seventh-graders.

“If your seventh grade teachers have not yet taught this book, please ask them not to do so and to remove any copies of the book from their classrooms,” Byrd-Bennett said.

The CEO said that it had been determined “Persepolis” “may be appropriate” for Advanced Placement students as well as high school juniors and seniors.

“We are also considering whether the book should be included, after appropriate teacher training, in the curriculum of eighth through tenth grades,” she wrote.

Confusion had arisen because some staff members, including Lane Tech College Prep High School librarian Kristen Starr, told the Chicago Tribune that they had received an e-mail earlier in the week that said the book needed to be taken out of all school libraries and all classrooms.

“It's an unprecedented event in my career," Starr told the Tribune. "We've never been instructed to take a book off the shelves.”

Chicago Public Schools spokesperson Robyn Ziegler told the Tribune that the original e-mail had been “a poorly written communication.”

“Schools should never have been instructed to remove the book from their libraries,” Ziegler said.

Students at Lane Tech College Prep High School in Chicago were angered after hearing of the e-mail to take “Persepolis” out of classrooms, especially when they initially believed it applied to all grades. 

“They're banning a book that's all about freedom of speech,” Alija Maurer, a senior in Chicago public schools, told the Chicago Tribune.

Before the clarification that the book would only be taken out of seventh-grade classrooms was issued, Lane Prep students protested outside of the school on Friday with signs bearing slogans like “Iran and CPS. Two dictators,” according to the Tribune.

Chicago Public Schools office of teaching and learning chief Annette Gurley told Publishers Weekly that “Persepolis” would not be taught in grades seven through ten until a guide for teachers on how to handle the book in the classroom was drawn up.

“We are not protesting the value of this book as a work of art,” Gurley said. “We just want to make sure that when we put this book into the hands of students, they have the background, the maturity to appreciate the book.”

Author Marjane Satrapi, whose youth in Iran is chronicled in the graphic novel, expressed anger over the decision to take the book out of seventh-grade classrooms and the request for special training for teachers.

“For me, the worst in all of that is it’s absolutely the biggest insult to the intelligence of the teachers… It’s Chicago, you know, it’s not like some weird state,” Satrapi told the Chicago Sun-Times. “It’s a big shame, really. I’m absolutely shocked. Even in Texas I didn’t have trouble with ‘Persepolis.’”

Satrapi’s publisher Pantheon, which is an imprint of Knopf Doubleday, told Publishers Weekly in a statement, “The Chicago Public School district has issued an ambiguous statement regarding the present and future availability of Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis to students… The fact that Chicago is trying to limit this book’s use in classrooms and curriculums, suggesting teachers need guidance before they can discuss it, smacks of censorship.”

The graphic novel was adapted into an Academy Award-nominated animated film in 2007 and a 10-page sequel to “Persepolis” titled “Persepolis 2.0” was released in 2009.

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