Friday saw the quick action of CBLDF and other free speech advocates in defense of Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, which was reportedly removed from the classrooms and library of Lane Tech College Prep in the Chicago public school district at the order of Chicago Public Schools, which oversees the district.
CBLDF joined the Kids’ Right to Read Project, the National Coalition Against Censorship, and many more in sending a letter defending the book. Upon news of the removal, a protest was quickly organized, and students, teachers, and concerned parents gathered outside Lane Tech on Friday afternoon to add their voices in support of the graphic novel. Knopf Doubleday, the parent company of Random House, which published Persepolis, issued the following 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 statement read. “Persepolis is a coming of age memoir about a girl in her early teens. The book has been read and taught in school districts across the country, without caveat or condition. In addition, Marjane has met with students across the country, including students in Chicago. 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.”
Reports about the ban began hitting the airwaves late last week when Fred Klonsky, a retired schoolteacher, shared a copy of the an email that Lane Tech principal Christopher Dignam sent to the faculty and staff of his school. In the letter. Dignam directs faculty and staff to remove the book from classrooms and the library per a directive given during the Chief of Schools meeting on March 11, 2013. Dignam states that he was not given a reason for removal.
After outcry over the removal of Persepolis from shelves at Lane Tech College Prep and subsequent confusion over whether the book was ordered removed district-wide, CPS denied that the book was banned. In the wake of protest, the Office of Communications shared the following internal email with various press outlets and free speech advocates:
March 15, 2013
I am writing to clarify an email you received from Network Chiefs earlier this week about the graphic novel, Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. First, let me be clear – we are not banning this book from our schools.
Persepolis is included as a selection in the Literacy Content Framework for seventh grade. It was brought to our attention that it contains graphic language and images that are not appropriate for general use in the seventh grade curriculum. 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.
We have determined Persepolis may be appropriate for junior and senior students and those in Advance Placement classes. Due to the powerful images of torture in the book, I have asked our Office of Teaching & Learning to develop professional development guidelines, so that teachers can be trained to present this strong, but important content. We are also considering whether the book should be included, after appropriate teacher training, in the curriculum of eighth through tenth grades. Once this curricular determination has been made, we will notify you.
Also, please be reminded that central school library collections are governed by the New Collection Development Policy For School Libraries. We are not requesting that you remove Persepolis from your central school library. Therefore do not remove this book or any other book from the central school library, unless you have complied with the policy.
Thank you for your patience and understanding in this matter. We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused you and your staff.
Chief Executive Officer, Chicago Public Schools
The email was sent to Chicago principals to clarify earlier communications that caused confusion as to the extent or purpose of the the book removal. The book has been removed from Grade 7 classrooms and is currently under review for use in Grade 8 – 10 classrooms. Currently, only 11th and 12th grade teachers are allowed to use the book in their curricula.
Protest and confusion over the nature of the book removal continues. Klonsky reports on his blog that students of Lane Tech had planned on staging a sit in at the school today but that efforts to do so were blocked. The protest was reportedly broken up about 20 minutes after it started.
CBLDF remains concerned about Persepolis’s removal from Grade 7 classrooms and potential removal from Grade 8 – 10 classrooms. Given that violence in Chicago has been covered extensively by the national news, the argument that CPS CEO Byrd-Bennett makes in removing the book for violent imagery is unconvincing. From our letter on behalf of the book:
While we are relieved that the book will remain available to older students, the restriction on access for junior high school students is extremely troubling. The title character of Satrapi’s book is herself the age of junior high school students, and her description of her real-life experiences might well have special relevance to them. The explanation that the book is “inappropriate” for this age group is unpersuasive. The vast majority of Chicago middle school students are surely aware of the reality of violence and its devastating effects on people of all ages. Most have witnessed it on the news, if not in their own neighborhoods.
Look here for updates as they become available.