Dennis Culloton, CEO & President
Two years ago, Marjane Starapi’s acclaimed graphic novel Persepolis was banned from Chicago Public Schools to the dismay of students and CPS staff alike. The novel regales the story of a young woman growing up in revolutionary Iran during the 1980s. Recently emails were released to a graduate student investigating the book ban, and according to the Chicago READER, they detail just how much administrators botched the supposed ban.
As a former Media Law teacher and a full-time cynic, I am enjoying the irony of Chicago Public Schools repressing free expression and ideas contained in an award-winning book about a repressive regime.
When the initial ban took place, there was an immediate uproar, news sources all over the the US and Europe. CPS provided very little reasoning for the ban, simply claiming it was all a misunderstanding due to a “poorly worded email.”
As the Reader’s Ben Joravsky noted, “It didn’t really happen that way at all.”
The first email was sent at 12:54AM on Saturday, March 9 in 2013 and involved Chandra James, the network chief for a group of elementary schools, to Annette Gurley, the chief officer of the organization that oversees curricula. James cites two pages from Persepolis that sport some inappropriate language and a prisoner being urinated on by a guard. On Sunday, an e-mail chain included the Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, who seemed focused on who was to blame for the book being on the reading list for classes such as AP English Lit and AP Comparative Government. According to the READER, Gurley sent an email to all directing aides to “coordinate the efforts to collect the books at the network office, so there is no danger of the books mistakenly getting assigned to students.”
What’s most confusing about this kerfuffle is the supposed inappropriateness of the book in question. Foul language and abuse of prisoners are touchy subjects without a doubt. But are they worth banning? One of the highest grossing franchises among children between 12 and 18 years of age is The Hunger Games, and is about children being forced to murder each other for food. Required reading for middle schoolers include books like Of Mice and Men and Zlata’s Diary, subject matter ranging from murder to genocide. When compared to the harrowing tales of violence these children are already consuming, how is it that a story of a young coming of age and rebelling under an oppressive regime the more inappropriate option?