Chicago Public Schools have been told to disregard an earlier order to remove Marjane Satrapi’s acclaimed 2000 graphic novel Persepolis. Instead, the Chicago Tribune reports, CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has asked that the autobiography no longer be taught to seventh-graders. It will, however, remain in libraries.
Word of the initial order spread quickly following the removal of copies of the book Wednesday afternoon from Lane Tech College Prep, one of the largest schools in the city. The move sparked outcry from teachers, parents and students, who had organized a protest for later this afternoon.
Although Persepolis in included in the district’s curriculum for seventh-graders, Byrd-Bennett said in a letter sent to principals this morning that it may not be appropriate for that age group. According to the Tribune, the district released images from the graphic novel depicting a man being whipped, burned with an iron and urinated on.
Depicting Satrapi’s experience is a child and young adult in Iran during the Islamic revolution, Persepolis has received almost universal acclaim. The 2007 animated adaptation directed by Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud was nominated for an Academy Award.
After directing principals to have seventh-grade teachers remove the book from their classroom, Byrd-Bennett said that “due to the powerful images of torture,” she has asked the Office of Teaching & Learning to develop guidelines so educators “can be trained to present this strong but important content.” The district will also decide whether, “after appropriate teacher training,” Persepolis should be included in the curriculum for grades eight through 10.
“These are not photos of torture. It’s a drawing and it’s one frame,” Satrapi told the newspaper. “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 something extremely horrible. That’s a false argument. They have to give a better explanation.”A CPS spokeswoman told the newspaper the initial directive was sent by district staff following concerns raised by teachers at Austin-North Lawndale, but it didn’t reflect the intent of the administration.
“The message got lost in translation, but the bottom line is, we never sent out a directive to ban the book,” spokeswoman Becky Carrolll told the Tribune. “We want to make sure there’s an appropriate way to teach it to students given the graphic nature of the novel. […] We’re not saying remove these from buildings altogether.”
UPDATE: Chicago Public Schools has provided ROBOT 6 with the full text of Byrd-Bennett’s letter to principals:
I am writing to clarify an email you received from Network Chiefs earlier this week about the graphic novel, Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. First, let me be clear – we are not banning this book from our schools.
Persepolis is included as a selection in the Literacy Content Framework for seventh grade. 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.
We have determined Persepolis may be appropriate for junior and senior students and those in Advance Placement classes. Due to the powerful images of torture in the book, I have asked our Office of Teaching & Learning to develop professional development guidelines, so that teachers can be trained to present this strong, but important content. We are also considering whether the book should be included, after appropriate teacher training, in the curriculum of eighth through tenth grades. Once this curricular determination has been made, we will notify you.
Also, please be reminded that central school library collections are governed by the New Collection Development Policy For School Libraries. We are not requesting that you remove Persepolis from your central school library. Therefore do not remove this book or any other book from the central school library, unless you have complied with the policy.
Thank you for your patience and understanding in this matter. We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused you and your staff.