Persepolis Stays in Chicago Public Schools, But Out of Classrooms

March 15, 2013

Chicago Public Schools (CPS) chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett has reversed a directive to pull Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel, Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood, from CPS libraries, though she maintains the book is not appropriate for 7th graders and should be removed from classrooms. Byrd-Bennett’s reversal comes amid criticisms and complaints from parents, teachers, students, and others about the decision, which was dictated in an email sent to schools on March 14 ordering removal of all copies of the book from school libraries and classroom instruction by March 15.

“We have major problems with this book removal,” said Barbara Jones, director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom and the executive director of the Freedom to Read Foundation. “We believe that removing books from the hands of kids is chilling and is an act of censorship. It reflects the totalitarian society that this book is all about.… It does not reflect the democratic institution of learning that the Chicago Public Schools is supposed to be.

“We strongly urge Chicago Public Schools to provide a full explanation of how the decision was made to remove this book from classrooms and libraries in the first place.”

ALA and FTRF have filed Freedom of Information Act requests for all documents relating to the removal order.

The award-winning autobiographical graphic novel details the author’s life as a young girl living in Iran during the Iranian Revolution. The initial CPS order was given without addressing reasons for the removal, but subsequent statements have noted that it may have been prompted by objections to the book’s depiction of torture, particularly a single frame of art showing a torture victim being urinated upon, whipped, and burned with an iron by his captors.

Because of the book’s representation of daily life under a repressive regime and its focus on a young girl’s struggles to find identity, Persepolis was identified as an instructional text in CPS’s Literacy Content Framework (Common Core) Seventh Grade Toolset—a curriculum guide provided to teachers for the 2012–2013 school year.

“It was brought to our attention that it contains graphic language and images that are not appropriate for general use in the 7th-grade curriculum,” Byrd-Bennett stated in an official CPS release. “I have asked our Office of Teaching and Learning to develop professional developmental guidelines so that teachers can be trained to present this strong, but important content.”

Upper grade levels may be affected by the decision, as well.

“We are also considering whether the book should be included, after appropriate teacher training, in the curriculum of 8th through 10th grades.”

No timeline for the book’s reinstatement in CPS classrooms has been announced.

The CPS decision prompted a protest at Lane Tech High School on Chicago’s west side on March 15. Approximately 150 students gathered in the rain to object to the book’s removal.

Watch video [2:19] of Barbara Jones’s statement.