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.

Spiritual ancestors of Chicago Public Schools officials pioneered 20th Century thought control with massive public book burnings in German in the 1930s. Substance was still waiting for an explanation of the March 2013 CPS book banning at press time on March 15, 2013, after confirming that librarians and principals across Chicago were ordered to remove the novel "Persepolis" from Chicago public school shelves and 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.

By the beginning of St. Patrick's Day weekend in Chicago, teachers at Social Justice High School were celebrating their union's first "read in" while other public high schools began encouraging the reading of the novel and its successor, as well as the movie. Chicago Teachers Union photograph. 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:

Teachers and students at SOJO (Chicago's Social Justice High School) held a "read in" of the Persepolis books after learning on March 15, 2013 of the banning of the book by Barbara Byrd Bennett, Chief Executive Officer of Chicago Public Schools. CTU photo. “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.


“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.


March 15, 2013 at 3:23 PM

By: Susan Ohanian

Book banning

Although I was stunned that the Chicago Public School chieftess would do something this stupid, on reflection, I can see why she and her allies don't want kids and teachers talking about a memoir about growing up under a fascist state.

A. O. Scott said this about the book in his movie review (12/25/97)at the New York Times: "If 'Persepolis' had been a conventional memoir rather than a graphic novel, Ms. Satrapi’s account of her youth in pre- and post-revolutionary Iran would not have been quite as moving or as marvelous. . . . 'Persepolis' is frequently somber, but it is also whimsical and daring, a perfect expression of the imagination’s resistance to the literal-minded and the power-mad, who insist that the world can be seen only in black and white."

There you have Chicago--literal-minded and power-mad.

The film version of this book, made by the author, received 97% from critics at Rotten Tomatoes. I don't ever remember seeing that high a rating.

Kudos to the CTU for getting out front immediately on this one. It's important.

March 15, 2013 at 4:00 PM

By: Margaret M. Wilson

Book Banning vs Democracy

Banning books is the first step in ending democracy and thought control by the establishment. While the United States has never been a true democracy, it has been known for having more free thought and free speech than most other countries. Because the United States is a melting pot of people from all over the world, it has been forced to accept that not everyone is going to agree. We can't have Big Brother controlling our access to the thoughts of others which opens up debate. This needs to end once and for all!!!

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