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CPS denies it banned book

Amy Moore art teacher Lane Techprotesting Chicago Public schools decisibanning book 'Persepolis' written by Marjane Satrapi corner Western AddisChicago IL

Amy Moore, art teacher at Lane Tech,protesting the Chicago Public schools decision of banning the book "Persepolis" written by Marjane Satrapi, on the corner of Western and Addison, Chicago, IL , on Friday, March 15, 2013. | Ting Shen~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: April 17, 2013 6:09AM



Chicago Public Schools’ removal of the graphic novel Persepolis from classrooms sparked protests Friday and outcry from the autobiographical novel’s Iranian-born author.

The district denied Friday it had banned the book outright from CPS schools, saying instead it only removed them from 7th grade classrooms for being “inappropriate.” CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett also ordered up training for any high school teachers who wish to continue using the illustrated story of Marjane Satrapi growing up in revolutionary Iran.

“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,” Byrd-Bennett wrote in an email Friday to all CPS principals.

Reached in Germany Friday evening, Satrapi denounced the district for pulling the book and for putting teachers who want to teach it through special training.

“For me, the worst in all of that is it’s absolutely the biggest insult to the intelligence of the teachers,” she told the Sun-Times.

Having been to Chicago several times, including a 2004 trip when she visited CPS schools and signed copies of Persepolis for the district, Satrapi couldn’t believe problems arose in the United States’ third largest city.

“It’s Chicago, you know, it’s not like some weird state,” she said. “It’s a big shame, really. I’m absolutely shocked.

“Even in Texas I didn’t have trouble with Persepolis.”

Persepolis is Satrapi’s illustrated recollection as a child and teenager of the Iranian Revolution. The 2007 animated film version won many awards, and she went on to write a sequel.

On its website, CPS lists “Persepolis” as a good source in the 2012-13 Literacy Content Framework for 7th graders, along with Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street, and for 11th graders, with Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre.

CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll said the book was never banned, but Byrd-Bennett removed it from 7th grades agreeing with a complaint from a teacher and principal in the Austin-North Lawndale network.

“The bucks stops with her, ultimately,” Carroll said. “She’s the CEO.”

Lane Technical High school students waved signs along Western Avenue after school Friday, chanting“No more banned books!” and “Let us read!” under a freezing rain. Several said they had already read Persepolis as 7th graders.

Their principal was told by his supervisor to remove all copies from classrooms and the school’s library, then to return them to the library, he told staffers in an email, without any reason.

Parents haven’t complained, said Valerie Mason, who’s taught Persepolis at Lane Tech, 2501 N. Western Ave., for the last five years to 11th and 12th graders. Rather they’ve asked her to borrow copies after talking with their children about the graphic novel.

Her student, Katie McDermott, didn’t see the language or images as problematic, especially because the class had a guide for discussions.

“If we don’t create opinions, we won’t have individualism,” McDermott said. “If (students) can’t voice themselves, then we won’t have a country that’s individualistic,” said the 18-year-old, who helped organize the student protest.

Junior Matthew Wettig, 17, even contacted Satrapi for the school paper, The Lane Warrior.

“I didn’t know how she could possibly know about it,” he said. “So I just thought not only it’s my duty as a human being but as a journalist to shed light to her on the situation.”

Members of the American Library Association and the Freedom to Read Foundation joined the protest, delighted, Barbara Jones said, that “young people are deeply concerned about their right to read, the freedom to read, that’s how they learn, that’s how they think critically.”

“The best possible place to deal with a book like this is in the classroom or in a library, ” she said.

The Chicago Teachers Union expressed surprise that Persepolis would be banned.

“The only place we’ve heard of this book being banned is in Iran,” CTU financial secretary Kristine Mayle wrote in a statement. “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.”

Even though CPS said the book will be available in school libraries, CTU spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin later noted that 160 of the district elementary schools don’t have libraries.



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