The plaudits continue for Chicago high school students who loudly and effectively protested their school district’s muddled ban of Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis last spring. At its recent annual conference, the Illinois Library Association presented this year’s Intellectual Freedom Award to the entire student body of Lane Tech College Prep High School, with special recognition for members of the 451 Degrees Banned Book Club. Three members of the book club were also previously named Banned Books Week Heroes back in September.
451 Degrees founder Levi Todd told the Chicago Tribune that the Persepolis ban turned out to be “kind of like a blessing in disguise” for the club, which has more than doubled in size since March. Todd said it was gratifying to see more of his peers taking an interest in intellectual freedom issues — a trend that ILA’s Intellectual Freedom Committee also said it wished to encourage by presenting the award to the students.
As soon as the bizarre Chicago Public Schools directive for principals to remove copies of Persepolis from classrooms and libraries became public knowledge in mid-March, Lane Tech students mobilized on social media and on the ground. They organized demonstrations and appeared on a local PBS news program to voice their opposition. In response, CPS CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett quickly backtracked and claimed that she never meant for the book to be removed from school libraries at all, although it was still banned from 7th grade classrooms and placed “under review” for upper grades.
Without all the students who spoke up and focused a national spotlight on CPS, it seems likely the original ban would have proceeded even under protest from faculty. Congratulations to Lane Tech Students and especially the members of 451 Degrees for this well-deserved award from ILA!
Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.
Previous CBLDF coverage of the Persepolis ban: