This week Chicago public school students were set free for the summer, but when they return to classes at the end of August there will be something missing that was there when the 2012-13 year began (and we’re not talking about the 50 schools that will be shut down for good after being deemed underperforming). The big difference we’re talking about is the absence of the highly-praised graphic novel Persepolis: A Story of Childhood, which was officially banned from all Chicago middle and high schools in March. According to an email sent out to staff by Christopher Dignam, principal of Lane Tech High School, the Chicago School Board mandated that all copies of Persepolis be removed from every library and classroom in the network. The autobiographical comic by Marjane Satrapi, which depicts her early years growing up in Iran during and after the Islamic revolution, was first published in France in 2000, and has gone on to become an internationally acclaimed comic. In 2007, it was adapted into a successful animated film as well and even received an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature at the Academy Awards. All of which begs the question: what can’t Chicago kids read it in school? According to an email sent out to staff by Christopher Dignam, principal of Lane Tech High School, while he was mandated to “physically” take each copy out of the school and confirm that it was done – he was not “provided a reason for the collection of Persepolis. If I learn more I will inform all staff….”
Later, Chicago Public School’s general counsel James L. Bebley explained that the ban was based on the book’s “graphic images of torture… as well as obscene language.” CPS administrators determined it is not appropriate for use in the 7th grade curriculum and are considering whether or not 8th and 9th graders should be exposed to Persepolis. The Kids’ Right to Read Project, an initiative of the National Coalition Against Censorship, filed a second Freedom of Information Act records request with the district for internal documents on the removal. At this time, they have yet to receive those documents from the Chicago Public Schools (CPS). Whatever the internal documents say, it will still be hard to explain CPS’s erratic behavior, given the fact that Persepolis served “as a foundational text to discuss violence against women and equal rights in a curriculum developed and endorsed by CPS itself, the Chicago Teacher’s Union and the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights.” Chicago Teachers Union’s financial secretary, Kristine Mayle, commented on behalf of CTU: “We are surprised Persepolis would be banned by the…CPS system. The only place we’ve heard of this book being banned is in Iran. We understand why the district would be afraid of a book like this – at a time when they are closing schools – because it’s about questioning authority, class structures, racism and gender issues.”
BAD FOR YOU tracks the long history of comic (and book) censorship in America in its opening chapter “Flames of Fear.” Click on the “Book” section of the BFY banner to see the “Comic Burning Map,” which graphically explains the fiery issue comics became in this country in the 1940s & 50s.