As we suspected when the news broke, the removal of Persepolis from the seventh grade curriculum at a Chicago high school turned in to a minor media circus pretty quickly, with school officials saying different things all over the place. If you missed all the confusion, the Chicago Tribune
has the authoritative round up and Claire Kirch covers it for PW. Basically it emerged that the book was not being removed from school libraries or all schools, but it is being removed from the 7-10 grade curriculum where it is is currently being taught. The person who seems to have decided that is at the very top: Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennnet who wrote:
“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.”
Another spokesperson has more to say at PW:
Even though Persepolis currently is included on Chicago’s common core curriculum for grades 7 and 11, it will not be taught to students in grades 7-10 in the nation’s third largest school district until, CPS office of teaching and learning chief Annette Gurley told PW by phone Friday afternoon, a training guide for teachers wanting to use Persepolis in their classrooms can be drafted by the CPS curriculum department and set in place. Persepolis will continue to be taught in grades 11 and 12 and in Advanced Placement classes.
“We want to make sure that the message about inhumanity [is what] kids walk away with, not the images of someone with exposed body parts urinating on someone’s back or someone’s being tortured,” Gurley said, “We are not protesting the value of this book as a work of art. We just want to make sure that when we put this book into the hands of students, they have the background, the maturity to appreciate the book.”
Just to be clear, here is the torture scene in question:
“It’s shameful,” she said. “I cannot believe something like this can happen in the United States of America.”
Regarding the district’s concerns about the depiction of torture, Satrapi said:
“These are not photos of torture. It’s a drawing and it’s one frame. I don’t think American kids of seventh grade have not seen any signs of violence. Seventh graders have brains and they see all kinds of things on cinema and the Internet. It’s a black and white drawing and I’m not showing some
While it’s clear that the ban or removal isn’t as widespread as initially feared, it sparked a statement from the Chicago Teacher’s Union pointing out that “the only place the book is banned is Iran”, a protest and a read-in at Social Justice High School.
And this morning, students at Lane Tech High School, where the teaching ban originated, staged a sit in that was broken up by authorities after about 20 minutes.
Lane Tech students organized today’s 8 a.m. sit-in in the school’s library on Facebook and other social media platforms, however faculty broke it up about 20 minutes later, according to student reports on Twitter.
Multiple students reported on Twitter that the library was locked and up to 400 students flooded the surrounding hallways.
One student Tweeted shortly after 8 a.m., “The lack of keys at the library was pre-orchestrated librarians, teachers, staff knew well in advance what we were doing.
This story is still developing, and given the much loved nature of the book we suspect some reversals may still be coming. In the meantime, the best thought piece we’ve seen is Julian Darius on just why it may have been the images of torture that upset someone. He also points out that Persepolis was previously challenged in a Washington State school.
In 2009, parents tried to get both the book and movie banned in the Northshore school district. At issue were three specific complaints about content:
language that “would not be acceptable over the open airways via either TV or radio” and that students would be disciplined for using;
a brief sequence depicting torture in Iran, including a man urinating on a torture victim; and
the vague claim that the book is “sexually charged.”
In addition, complaints were made about parents not being notified in advance and that an alternative assignment wasn’t available. The district claimed this wasn’t true, and a curriculum review committee for the district rejected the parents’ complaints.
Also, as Darius point out, it’s also good thing superhero comics aren’t taught in 7th grade.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.