On March 14, public schools in Chicago were told to take the book Persepolis off their classroom shelves and to stop using the book in classes. Persepolis is a graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi that tells the story of her growing up in Iran during a revolution and a war with Iraq in the ’70s and ’80s and in the Chicago Public Schools, it’s taught in grades 7-12. The decision to ban the book, according to the head of Chicago Public Schools Barbara Byrd-Bennett, was made because of the images of torture and the concern for students not being able to handle it.
After hearing about this, students at Lane Tech High School organized a rally for the next morning to demand that the book be kept in their schools. One high school senior, who read the book for class, said Persepolis “sheds light on a different country and religion. It cancels out the stereotypes and changes your perspective.” When asked whether the book was inappropriate for younger students, she added: “We shouldn’t have 12- and 13-year-olds who are not in tune politically. We’re being sheltered. We’re allowing ourselves to be dumbed down.” Students and teachers at another school called the Social Justice High led a read-in, reading the book in their library to protest the ban.
After these protests, Byrd-Bennett “re-phrased” the original message about all schools having to take Persepolis off their shelves. In a letter to teachers, she stated that the book is appropriate for use in high school classrooms, but should not be used in 7th grade classes, where the book should be taken off of classroom shelves and kept in the school libraries only. Unfortunately, as others have noted, many elementary and middle schools do not have school libraries.
For me, hearing about this made me think a lot about access to information for young people and whether they have a say in that. So, I asked some teens at the Dudley Library what they thought about banning books in schools and what they think they’d do in that situation. Here are some of their thoughts:
Nathaniel: ” Why ban books? Books are about expressing ideas you never thought you had. If they ban a book I like, I might protest.”
Chole: “If someone banned A Girl Named Disaster, I would be upset because I’m reading that right now and I like it. If it was a book I never read, it would bother me because I never got the chance to read it.”
Imani: “It depends…if I like the book and it was banned in my school, I would just get it from the public library. There’s no point to banning one book because there are so many other books that probably have things in there that someone could ban it for.”
Ashley: “If a book was banned, I would try to get a petition signed or see what else is possible to do about it. We learn about war in history class. That’s not a good reason to ban a book. ”
How about you–what do you think? Have you read Persepolis? What would you do if a book was banned in your school or community?