'Persepolis' survives Illinois school challenge

The Ball-Chatham School Board in Chatham, Illinois, voted unanimously this week to keep Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis on a reading list for seniors at Glenwood High School.

Mike Housewirth, the father of a student, had asked that the graphic novel be removed from the list, questioning the teacher's judgment in assigning a book about Muslims on Sept. 11. He also objected to the book's depictions of torture (particularly one in which a guard urinates on a prisoner) and dismembered bodies.

"If my son had drawn a picture like that at school, he would have been expelled," Housewirth said, adding that while he felt his son was mature enough to read the book, the overall tone was "appalling."

“Reading controversial material does not hurt students or corrupt them,” countered Glenwood High School Principal Jim Lee. Students don't simply read a book and accept it at face value, he added; they use it as a springboard for discussion and reach their own conclusions.

"This is the world our students live in, and our students need to understand the reality of it," Lee said.

The school board had formed a review committee that concluded Persepolis met the Common Core standards and was appropriate for a 12th-grade English class.

Persepolis has been the subject of several challenges in schools in recent years. Just a few weeks ago, parents in Murphy, Oregon, objected angrily to its availability in high school libraries in the Three Rivers School District. Last year, Chicago Public Schools sparked protests after the central administration ordered the book's removal; ultimately it was decided Satrapi's memoir would remain in libraries but would no longer be part of the seventh-grade curriculum.  The book is also banned in Iran.

Shortly before Monday's meeting, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund joined a group of organizations sponsored by the Kids Right to Read Project that sent a letter asking board members to retain the book and pointing out that removing it may violate the First Amendment rights of students:

Every community is home to a diversity of opinions on moral and religious questions. For every parent who objects to an assigned book, there will be others who favor it. In practice, the attempt to alter school curricula in response to individual objections means privileging the moral or religious beliefs of some families over others. It is precisely this form of viewpoint discrimination by government officials that our constitutional system is designed to prevent.

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