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News Fri Mar 15 2013

CPS Persecuting Persepolis?

Chicago Public Schools Persepolis
Late on Thursday, an email from Lane Tech High School Principal Christopher Dignam was posted on the blog CPS Chatter. It read:

Yesterday afternoon, one of the Network Instructional Support Leaders stopped by my office and informed me (per a directive given during the Chief of Schools meeting on March 11) that all ISLs were directed to physically go to each school in the Network by Friday (3/15) to:
*Confirm that Persepolis is not in the library,
*Confirm that it has not been checked out by a student or teacher,
*Confirm with the school principal that it is not being used in any classrooms,
*And to collect the autobiographical graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi from all classrooms and the Library.

I was not provided a reason for the collection of Persepolis. If I learn more I will inform all staff.

As teachers and parents began discussing the news, it became clear that the order to remove the graphic novel Persepolis: A Story of Childhood from libraries and classrooms had been sent out to all high schools in the Fullerton region, and possibly the entire Chicago Public School system, apparently under a directive from the Chief Education Office.

Photo of the original email from Lane Tech Principal Christopher Dignam, courtesy of CPS Chatter

A student protest has been planned at Lane Tech High School for 3:30pm today. Meanwhile, Jeremy Dunn, director of CPS Libraries & Information Services, sent out clarification that "the directive to remove Persepolis from schools does not apply to school libraries, and that any further challenge or attempt to remove this or any other book from a school library must be guided by the Collection Development policy which outlines the review procedure."

Persepolis is part of the approved common core curricula for 7th and 11th grade, as well as part of the curricula for literacy content framework and "Speak Truth to Power" [PDFs].

According to some reports, an early explanation was that the books were sent to schools accidentally as part of a shipping error. However, at Lane Tech, the class sets of the award-winning book were purchased independently 10 years ago by an English teacher using money from a grant, according to a source familiar with the situation who preferred not to be named. Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett released a statement today, explaining that the book was being removed from the general 7th grade curriculum because of "graphic language and images," but that it could continue to be taught to juniors, seniors and those in Advanced Placement classes. Byrd-Bennett added that due to the "powerful images of torture in the book," the Office of Teaching & Learning would be producing guidelines for teachers as to how to teach the book. Her statement is included in its entirety below.

"I thought this was a joke at first," said a teacher at another CPS high school in an email, speaking on condition of anonymity. "Then I thought it might be a decision made by Lane's principal, couched as a CPS edict. When I saw the clarification email from the central office department in charge of library collections, then it became surreal, and as department chair, I took steps to prevent confiscation of my current school's copies. It felt almost ridiculous to do so, but it feels ridiculous to read or talk about any of this."

In a statement, Chicago Teachers Union Financial Secretary Kristine Mayle said, "We are surprised Persepolis: A Story of Childhood would be banned by the Chicago Public School 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. There's even a part in the book where they are talking about blocking access to education. So we can see why the school district would be alarmed about students learning about these principles. There's a lot of merit in Marjane Satrapj's graphic novel. Not only is it thoughtful, it can be instructive for young people, especially girls. Persepolis can help our students begin to think about the world around them. We hope CPS has not reverted back to the 1950s."

According to the Tribune, the American Library Association has received no reports of Persepolis being challenged or banned.

Here's the full statement from Byrd-Bennett:

March 15, 2013

Dear 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.


Barbara Byrd-Bennett
Chief Executive Officer, Chicago Public Schools

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Liz / March 15, 2013 2:48 PM

I smell some bull.

tray / March 15, 2013 2:49 PM

The american education system is a joke. From top to bottom, the entire system needs to be razed and reborn.

tray / March 15, 2013 2:52 PM

One more thought: There is some insane dichotomy between what is deemed "appropriate" by the educational system at young ages, and what people actually EXPERIENCE at young ages. These are children who have likely tried alcohol and marijuana, many of them are already engaging in adult sexual conduct with their peers, and finally are exposed to much more graphic and sexual imagery in their day-to-day lives (first-hand, and through television) that pales in comparison to this book.

In this book, at least there is a lesson, and these types of explicit topics can be shaped through the lens of a professional educator.

To prevent his book from reaching young people is a mistake, and the reasons for doing so are so absurd and contrary to reality that the joke isn't even funny.

In short, to say again: WTF is wrong with our educational system???

Dave / March 17, 2013 9:50 PM

Much ado about nothing. A simple miscommunication, a quick correction, and that's it.

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