The award-winning graphic novel Persepolis is no longer allowed to be taught to seventh graders in Chicago. Earlier this month, Chicago's public schools received guidance that all copies of the novel should be removed from classrooms and libraries, but the ban was later reduced to cover "general use in the seventh grade curriculum." Its suitability for eighth, ninth, and tenth grade students is still being examined.
First published in 2000, Persepolis was a commercial and critical success. The book is an autobiographical account of author Marjane Satrapi’s childhood, set against the backdrop of the 1979 Iranian revolution, her adolescence in France, and her eventual return to Iran. The 2007 film adaption of the book was nominated in the Best Animated Feature category at the Academy Awards.
"Seventh graders have brains and they see all kinds of things on cinema and the internet."
Chicago Public Schools (CPS) chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett explains that Persepolis "contains graphic language and images that are not appropriate for general use in the seventh grade curriculum," adding that the book contains "powerful images of torture." Speaking with the Chicago Tribune, Satrapi defended her book. "These are not photos of torture. It’s a drawing and it’s one frame... Seventh graders have brains and they see all kinds of things on cinema and the internet." She called CPS' reasoning "a false argument," adding that "they have to give a better explanation."
The Chicago Teachers Union is also against the restriction. A spokesperson told The Guardian that CPS' reversal of the ban was "Orwellian doublespeak," noting that 160 of Chicago's elementary schools don't have libraries. The National Coalition Against Censorship notes that Persepolis is "highly regarded by educators and has been taught successfully in schools in Chicago and around the country." It calls the decision "pedagogically unsound and constitutionally suspect."