PERSEPOLIS WATCH: Libraries and books prove dangerous to tyrants in Chicago and in Iran... Barbara Byrd Bennett orders banning of the novel 'Persepolis' from the school libraries and classrooms of the third largest public school district in the USA... Teachers begin to organize 'read-ins'
On March 15, 2013, a new question was being asked in Chicago: Why is Barbara Byrd Bennett (the latest "CEO" of the nation's third largest school district) banning books on the eve of a massive closing of more real public schools? For more than two days, Chicago Public Schools librarians and principals have been in a tizzy because of an order, confirmed as having emanated from Chicago Public Schools "Chief Executive Officer" Barbara Byrd Bennett, that the illustrated novel "Persepolis" is to be removed from CPS libraries and not assigned as reading in any CPS classrooms.
The novel, which has been used by CPS teachers and approved by CPS for nearly a decade since it was first published, deals with the Iranian revolution of the 1970s that overthrew the American puppet government of the Shah of Iran and installed the theocratic dictatorship under the Ayatollahs.
Librarians at two Chicago high schools confirmed that they were ordered by their principals to remove the books from school library shelves on March 13, and March 14, 2013. The principals told the librarians that the orders came from the "Network Offices" which were supposedly acting on orders from Byrd Bennett. The CPS "Office of Communications" has refused to explain how this incident took place, even refusing to confirm to Substance that the censorship order has gone out by Friday, March 15.
Although "Banned Books Week" isn't until September, the American Library Association, based in Chicago, continues to update its list of banned books, which is indexed by year. (Disclosure: in 1991, Amundsen High School principal Ed Klunk ordered this reporter to stop teaching the Vietnam War novel "The 13th Valley" to 12th graders (who had parental permission to read the book).
CPS officials have refused to explain why "Persepolis" has become controversial in 2013 after having been used in CPS classrooms and read by thousands of teachers and students since its original publication nearly a decade ago.
On March 15, 2013, the Chicago Teachers Union issued a statement on the censorship. (The statement was revised to include two additional paragraphs late in the afternoon of March 15 after CPS issued a confused statement claiming that the book had only been banned for "7th graders" even though high schools had by then confirmed that librarians across the city had been ordered to remove -- the unremove -- the book. Principals who tried to keep up with the continued contradictory bans, semi-bans, and un-bans so far said they would not be available to Substance for comment.
CTU Statement regarding the Chicago Public Schools Sudden Ban of the Graphic Novel “Persepolis”
CHICAGO –The Chicago Teachers Union released the following statements regarding today’s protests by educators and students of the school district’s sudden ban on the graphic novel Persepolis. Elementary school principals were ordered through email to remove all copies of the book from classrooms and libraries:
“We are surprised ‘Persepolis: A Story of Childhood’ would be banned by the Chicago Public School (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. 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,” said CTU Financial Secretary Kristine Mayle.”
“We hope this is not a trend in Chicago’s failed school reform experiment. There are rumors that CPS wants to also ban ‘A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Solider’ by Ishmael Beah, and, that too, would be unfortunate. We stand with our educators who see this sudden book banning directive as an unnecessary overreaction,” added CTU spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin.
ADDITIONAL COMMENTS TO CTU PRESS RELEASE:
“CPS is now claiming Persepolis is banned only from the 7th grade classroom but will be available in school libraries. Unfortunately 160 elementary schools don’t have libraries—and they know that,” added CTU spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin. “Enough with the Orwellian doublespeak. We support our educators who are fighting to ensure their students have access to ideas about democracy, freedom of speech and self-image. Let’s not go backward in fear.”
In protest of the CPS’ strange ban of Persepolis: A Story of Childhood’ to 7th grade classrooms, students at the Social Justice High School have a read-in with the book.