PERSEPOLIS WATCH: Reporters reject Barbara Byrd Bennett's confusing explanation for the banning -- unbanning? quasi-banning? -- of Persepolis... The book's author says she feels the district's explanation concerning an 'inappropriate' torture scene in the novel is 'a false argument'...

No sooner had the CPS Office of Communications issued a statement attributed to Chicago Public Schools Chief Executive Officer Barbara Byrd Bennett attempting to explain how the graphic novel Persepolis had not been banned two days after it had been banned, national and international press reports continued to probe the claims of CPS. By the morning of March 16, three days after the first word of the banning was confirmed by Substance reporters and others, the contradictory statements coming out of the third largest school system in the USA continued and continued to be questioned by a growing number of reporters.

Persepolis author Marjane Sartrapi. The clear statement by the Chicago Teachers Union was brought to reporters, including this one by CTU Financial Secretary Kristine Mayle, who had taught the novel to students in a Chicago middle school prior to her 2010 election to her current post in the leadership of the nation's third largest K-12 teacher union. Teachers and students at Social Justice High School, which has used the novel for a decade in classes, staged a "read in", while at least one protest was held at another school.


HUFFINGTON POST. March 15, 2013, early afternoon. CPS 'Persepolis' Ban? Marjane Satrapi's Graphic Novel Inappropriate For 7th Graders, District Says... Posted: 03/15/2013 1:54 pm EDT | Updated: 03/15/2013 5:23 pm EDT

Marjane Satrapi's popular 2000 graphic novel "Persepolis" was apparently ordered removed from at least one Chicago public school this week.

Is Chicago Public Schools banning the popular graphic novel "Persepolis" from its schools' libraries and classrooms?

Reports began circulating Thursday that officials in the nation's third-largest school district were directing the 2000 graphic novel, penned by Marjane Satrapi, to be removed from the libraries and classrooms of at least one school in the district.

CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett explained Friday afternoon, via a statement reported by CBS Chicago, that the district has found the "graphic language and images" of the text -- which is included in the district's seventh graders' Literacy Content Framework -- inappropriate for students of that age. She also denied that the book was ordered removed from the district's school libraries and said the book could be appropriate for students in eighth grade and older but, in the mean time, they have been "temporarily recalled" from classroom libraries and district curricula.

She added, according to DNAinfo Chicago, "We are not banning this book from our schools."

Earlier, per a blog post by former public school teacher and education blogger Fred Klonsky, the principal at Lane Tech College Prep High School reported in an e-mail to the school's staff that he was visited by an instructional support leader for his school's network on Wednesday and was told that he had been directed to remove all copies of the book from the school. The directive was reportedly handed down during a Monday meeting.

"I was not provided a reason for the collection of 'Persepolis,'" the principal wrote in the e-mail.

According to DNAinfo, the reports had inspired a protest, scheduled to take place between 3 and 4 p.m. Friday at Western Avenue and Addison Street.

The Chicago Teachers Union issued a statement Friday saying they were "surprised" by the reports and noted "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, the union's financial secretary Kristine Mayle wrote in the statement. "There’s even a part in the book where they are talking about blocking access to education."

Satrapi's autobiographical novel tells the story of her childhood years living in Iran following the Islamic Revolution. It has won numerous awards and was adapted into an Oscar-nominated animated film in 2007.

The Paris-based author herself told the Chicago Tribune Friday that she felt the district's explanation concerning an illustration of a torture scene in the novel in particular was "a false argument."

“It’s shameful,” Satrapi told the paper. “I cannot believe something like this can happen in the United States of America.”

The American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom has filed a FOIA request for all materials related to CPS' "Persepolis" action and expressed "deep concerns" with the district's decision:

"As an institution of democracy and learning, CPS has a responsibility to actively model and practice the ideals of free speech, free thought, and access to information at the heart of our democracy," the ALA's Barbara Jones wrote in a letter addressed to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Byrd-Bennett and the Chicago Board of Education President David Vitale Friday.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly spelled "Persepolis" author Marjane Satrapi's name.


CPS tells schools to disregard order to pull graphic novel

By Noreen Ahmed-Ullah and Lolly Bowean, Tribune reporters, 8:16 p.m. CDT, March 15, 2013

Lane Tech High School students publicly protested the restriction placed on the book "Persepolis" by CPS officials. They rallied at Western Avenue and Addison Street in Chicago on March 15, 2013.

Chicago Public Schools chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett is asking principals to disregard an earlier order to pull the graphic novel “Persepolis” out of schools by the end of today, but she asked that schools stop teaching the book to 7th-grader

In a letter sent to principals this morning, Byrd-Bennett said the book, which is included in the district’s curriculum for 7th-graders, may not be appropriate for that age group. The district released images from the book, including a page that depicted a man being whipped, burned with an iron and urinated on. The book is an autobiographical account of author Marjane Satrapi’s childhood in Iran.

“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,” Byrd-Bennett wrote.

She wrote that the district has determined that the book may be appropriate for junior and senior students. However, “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.”

She specifically directed that the book not be removed from school libraries.

Byrd-Bennett’s instructions came after protests from teachers and high school students at Lane Tech High School.

Teachers reported Thursday that they received an email stating that district staff were to physically go to each school and remove the book by today, including from the library.

Kristine Mayle, financial secretary with the Chicago Teachers Union, said she started hearing concern about the removal Thursday night.

“We’ve heard of two schools, but I assume it’s systemwide,” she said earlier today. “I’m shocked that the book would be banned. The only other place I’ve seen it banned is in Iran. I thought we were a democracy.”

Mayle said she was alarmed by CPS’ action. “I’m not sure what the process would be (to remove a book), but I’d hope they would engage educators in the process. I read the book. It’s about a little girl growing up during the Iranian Revolution. She starts questioning and thinking. … It’s beautifully written. I think it’s a great book for young girls, it teaches you to think for yourself.

“I’m just baffled by this, really.”

A spokeswoman for the district said district staff sent an email directing the books to be removed after teachers in the Austin-North Lawndale area raised concerns about the book. But she said the directive was not vetted, and didn’t reflect the district’s intent to simply stop 7th-graders from reading the book.

“The message got lost in translation, but the bottom line is, we never sent out a directive to ban the book. We want to make sure there’s an appropriate way to teach it to students given the graphic nature of the novel,” said spokeswoman Becky Carroll.

“We’re not saying remove these from buildings altogether,” she said.

A student from Lane Tech reached out to Satrapi’s literary agent to let her know the book was being removed.

In a phone interview this morning, Satrapi, who lives in Paris, said she didn’t believe it. It seemed at odds with her image of Chicago. Then emails began pouring in from librarians and other teachers.

“It’s shameful,” she said. “I cannot believe something like this can happen in the United States of America.”

Regarding the district’s concerns about the depiction of torture, Satrapi said:

“These are not photos of torture. It’s a drawing and it’s one frame. I don’t think American kids of seventh grade have not seen any signs of violence. Seventh graders have brains and they see all kinds of things on cinema and the Internet. It’s a black and white drawing and I’m not showing something extremely horrible. That’s a false argument. They have to give a better explanation.”

Satrapi said her goal in writing the book was to make average Iranians seem more human for the rest of the world, rather than be seen as “the axis of evil.”

She said she has heard from 11- and 12-year-olds who have read her book.

“They’ve told me, ‘You’re a human being just like us.’ My goal was to make peace.”

The American Library Association, which tracks attempts to remove books from schools and libraries, said it had received no reports about "Persepolis" being challenged or scrutinized for possible banning.

The most recent reports it had of book challenges in Chicago Public Schools are “Brokeback Mountain” and “The Chocolate War,” both challenged in 2007, officials said.

Mick Swasko contributed to this report.


March 16, 2013 at 11:50 AM

By: John Kugler

Does Byrd-Bennet have IL teaching or admin credentials?

Interesting that any of the teachers I represent would even talk about doing something like this. They would immediately be removed from their classroom, investigated and the termination process started. Instead, this out-of-town asshole -- making $250, 000 per year-- will laugh all the way to the bank after making Chicago an international joke. Did anyone ever check if "Triple-B Liar" has current illlinois teaching or administrative credentials? Just asking.

March 16, 2013 at 3:51 PM

By: Bob Busch


As a retired librarian I can tell you most of us would have told anyone who came to get this book out of my library to go to hell.

March 16, 2013 at 10:32 PM

By: John Kugler


Let's shut these MF's down!

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