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Chicago Public Schools was first to ban the popular graphic novel Persepolis,” in 2013.
The book has sold millions of copies. The author, Marjane Satrapi, was born in Iran and used the book to tell her story. Chicago school officials decided to pull the book from classrooms and school libraries, after receiving complaints that the book was not “age-appropriate.” The officials saw two pages that circulated among them. There is no indication that any of them actually read the book. The Superintendent at the time was Barbara Byrd-Bennett, who was subsequently sent to prison for accepting bribes to buy services from vendors.
A graduate student asked for copies of internal emails about the decision to remove the book:
News of the ban broke on March 14, 2013, when a local education blogger got hold of an email from the principal of Lane Tech College Prep High School which informed teachers and staff that he had been directed in no uncertain terms to collect all copies of Persepolis from the school’s library and classrooms. He was given no explanation for the sudden purge, he said.
Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett started backpedaling later that day, after teachers and students raised objections and local media began asking questions. Byrd-Bennett revised the directive in another email to principals, saying that “we are not requesting that you remove Persepolis from your central school library.” But the book was still banned from seventh grade classrooms and “under review” for use in eighth through tenth grades. Teachers of college-level AP classes for 11th and 12th grade students would be allowed to retain the book in their curricula.
Unsurprisingly, Byrd-Bennett’s “clarification” did little to assuage the concerns of teachers and especially students, who organized a demonstration outside Lane Tech on March 15. By then, CPS was receiving national press coverage and stern rebukes from free speech groups, including CBLDF through the NCAC’s Kids’ Right to Read Project. In response to the growing furor, district spokesperson Becky Carroll claimed that “the message got lost in translation, but the bottom line is, we never sent out a directive to ban the book…. We’re not saying remove these from buildings altogether.”
Allan Singer, a professor of social studies education at Hofstra College in New York, wrote at Daily Kos about the recent decision by the Commack School Board to ban Persepolis.
He writes, in part:
The city of Persepolis was founded by Persian Emperor Darius I in 518 B.C. as a religious center and the capital of the Achaemenid Empire. The Persian Empire was defeated by Alexander the Great and Greek armies about 330 B.C. and the city was burned. Today its ruins are located in southwestern Iran and are considered one of the world’s greatest archaeological sites.
Persepolis lived again in the graphic arts book Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood (Pantheon Graphic Library 2004) by Marjane Satrapi. Satrapi was born in Iran and grew up in the current capital city, Tehran. Her parents were leftwing political activists and after the 1979 Islamic revolution they arranged for her to move to Vienna, Austria when she was fourteen. She later returned to Iran where she studied Visual Communication and earned a Master’s Degree from Islamic Azad University in Tehran. At the age of 24, Satrapi left Iran to live in France.
Her black-and-white 341-page graphic novel Persepolis is autobiographical and recounts Satrapi’s experiences from age six to fourteen, including surviving a missile attack and learning about torture. The New York Times named it a Notable Book and Time Magazinecalled it the “Best Comix of the Year” for 2004.
Because the book includes a realistic pictorial depiction of torture and as part of the new rightwing assault on multiculturalism and anything that even suggests association with critical race theory, Persepolis is under attack and its educational supporters are threatened with retribution. At a recent Commack, New York school board meeting high school students and alumni protested against the removal of the book from 11th grade English classes. It has been an assigned text for more than a decade. Students from Islamic and South Asian backgrounds pointed out that it is the only place that someone like them appears in the entire 7-12 English Language Arts curriculum. Speakers who were also attacking Critical Race Theory demanded that Persepolis be dropped as “pornographic.”
If you want to learn more about the censorship of textbooks and books used in schools, read my book The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn (Knopf).