Chicago Public Schools Pull Graphic Novel Persepolis

Update, 5:15p.m.: Chicago Public Schools have rescinded the order to yank Persepolis from the shelves. This is great news! [Chicago Tribune]

Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi, is one of the best series of graphic novels that I have ever read. I recommend it to everyone. And I read a lot of graphic novels. The memoirs recount Satrapi’s childhood in Iran following the Islamic Revolution and the increasing strictures on the life of an artsy young woman who is increasingly at odds with the fundamentalist Muslim religious police.

It’s touching, inspiring, and educational — and I’m far from the first person to point out that graphic novels are a great way to get young adults who don’t love to read to engage with literature.

So why, then, have the books been pulled out of Chicago Public Schools?

The blog Comic Book Resources posted an email from the principal of Lane Tech College Prep High School in Chicago earlier this week instructing teachers that Persepolis be removed from all classrooms and the library, as per the directive of the Chief of Schools. A teachers union representative told the Chicago Tribune that they’ve heard of at least two schools which received such directions.

Via DNAinfo Chicago, CEO of Chicago Public Schools Barbara Byrd-Bennett said on Friday in a statement that the books were removed because they have been deemed inappropriate for 7th graders who were, apparently, reading the book, because of sex, “bad” language and torture.

“It was brought to our attention that it contains graphic language and images that are not appropriate for general use [by that age group] … We are not banning this book from our schools. 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.”

Byrd-Bennett also said Persepolis may be considered appropriate for the school system for 11th- and 12th graders, but certainly no grades younger than that. You can read her full statement here.

I’m gobsmacked: I honestly don’t remember Persepolis having an abundance of either naughty language or sexual content. It’s a coming-of-age series, so of course there is some of both, but its far from gratuitous.

As for torture within the books (which I believe is minimal as well), well, that certainly is what happened in Iran following the Islamic Revolution. It still happens to this day in fact. (And guess what? America tortures, too. But that’s besides the point.)  I don’t think young adults in middle school are immune to the general fact that terrible things happen in the world, especially not in such a mediated society. While I do agree that 12-year-olds don’t need to have long conversations about, say, the finer points of waterboarding, I don’t agree with sanitizing bad parts of history entirely. It’s like saying kids shouldn’t read The Diary Of A Young Girl because it’s so upsetting that Anne Frank goes to a concentration camp in the end.

A student protest is planned in Chicago today. Right on, kids! I’m not a religious woman, but I will get on my knees where my favorite books are concerned and pray Chicago administrators come to their senses.

[Chicago Tribune]
[Comic Book Resources]
[DNAinfo Chicago]
[Gapers Block]

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