IRONY: Lane Tech Had Banned Book Club Before PERSEPOLIS Ban

Persepolis1CoverA recent Chicago Tribune article caught our eye. The topic: 451 Degrees, a book club that reads exclusively banned books. What’s ironic about this particular club is that it exists at Lane Tech College Prep, the school at the center of the attempt to ban Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis.

The club was founded last year by 16-year-old Lane Tech student Levi Todd. It’s one of 60 official clubs at the school, the only official book club, and the members of the club read and discuss only banned and controversial books. As the events surrounding the Persepolis ban were beginning to unfold, the club was having their regular Wednesday meeting to discuss the themes of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, for which the club is named.

Christopher Borrelli with the Chicago Tribune spoke with Todd and other members of the club. Todd shared his take with Borrelli:

“It cracks me up to think, just as the email about pulling the book was going around the school, we were wrapping our conversation about ‘Fahrenheit 451′ — which we’re named after but hadn’t read yet — having the greatest discussion ever, about freedom of speech, its limitations …”

Club vice president Grace Barry told Borrelli about the immediate reaction to the news about the Persepolis ban:

“We were a chilled-out club. We ate snacks, we talked. We planned to read Margaret Atwood next, now we had to go for immediacy and start ‘Persepolis.’” She added: “I don’t want to end up on some list or something, but I think I might want to read ‘The Anarchist Cookbook’ next.”

Borrelli also spoke with Alexa Repp, one of the students who organized the protest against the attempt to ban Persepolis. Repp spoke to her motivations and why she thinks some adults challenge books:

“I love banned books and have made an effort to read banned books for a while now, because, for some reason, there is something genuine in a lot of banned books, which is what probably scares adults.”

(Repp also joined a roundtable discussion about the ban on WTTW’s Chicago Tonight, which you can view here.)

CBLDF is one of many free speech advocates that sent a letter to Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett. CPS continues to claim that their actions were not an attempt to ban the book outright, but the book has been removed from 7th grade classrooms, and its use is under review for grades 8 – 10. Regardless, many feel the actions are unwarranted, especially in a community as diverse as Chicago.

You can read the entirety of the Chicago Tribune article here. The article is a heartening look at how students perceive controversial books and respond to attempts to ban them. In the article, Todd told Borrelli about an exercise the club did during their discussion of Fahrenheit 451:

“When we were talking about ‘Fahrenheit 451,’ the same day they were pulling the book, we did this exercise. I asked everyone to pretend we’re the world, it’s a utopia/dystopia, let’s figure out if we can create a society where everyone is happy. Everyone had to finish the sentence: ‘In my ideal world there is …’ We went in a circle. If anyone was opposed to anyone’s ideal world, they could raise their hand, that idea would not be adopted. And you couldn’t argue. Anyone is opposed — that’s it, not included. But, of course, everyone started arguing — because you can’t create an ideal world and you can’t make everyone happy all the time.”

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Betsy Gomez is the Web Editor for CBLDF.