Over the weekend, CBLDF and other member organizations in the National Coalition Against Censorship became aware of yet another challenge to Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, this time at Glenwood High School in Chatham, Illinois. There is no news coverage of the issue as yet, but we’re told that the book has been suspended from a 12th grade English IV class amid objections to its content and “graphic imagery.” The Ball-Chatham Board of Education is slated to vote this evening on whether Persepolis should be permanently removed from the curriculum, so NCAC member organizations have drafted a letter urging board members to stand for free speech.
This challenge to Persepolis comes hot on the heels of another in the Three Rivers School District of southwest Oregon. In that case, a parent complained of “coarse language and scenes of torture” in the book which is only available to high school students there. And of course administrators from Chicago Public Schools abruptly pulled the graphic novel from some classrooms last year, citing “graphic language and images.” But as the NCAC letter to Ball-Chatham board members points out, the few panels which show torture and strong language do not outweigh the educational benefit of the entire book. Besides, if every work that contains something deemed offensive by someone were removed from the curriculum, there wouldn’t be much left over:
There are few instructional materials that do not include something that is offensive to someone. Any attempt “to eliminate everything that is objectionable…will leave public schools in shreds. Nothing but educational confusion and a discrediting of the public school system can result….” McCollum v. Board ofEduc. (1948) (Jackson, J. concurring). The practical effect of acceding to a request to remove materials is to invite other requests, leaving schools vulnerable to multiple, possibly conflicting, demands. If parents object to a particular work, they are free to request an alternative assignment. Meanwhile, other parents and students should have the freedom to choose from an inclusive and expansive reading selection.
We will be closely watching the school board’s actions tonight and keep you updated on the book’s status in Chatham! Read the full letter sent by NCAC to board members below.
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Contributing Editor Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.