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March 25, 2013 8:36 PM Too Graphic? Chicago Schools Ban Persepolis

By Rhiannon M. Kirkland

The Chicago Public Schools announced that they will be removing Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel memoir Persopolis about growing up during the Iranian revolution from the shelves of seventh-grade classrooms and from the curriculum. The section in question is its portrayal of torture, which the Chicago Public Schools argues is too intense for seventh grade students to be exposed to but not eighth, ninth or tenth grade, The original ban also allowed AP students access to the book but not their non-AP peers. The idea that AP students are better placed to handle these scenes is a confusing double standard .

I read Persopolis some years ago, I don’t remember any scenes of torture in the graphic novel that were terribly scarring or shocking, and none stand out in my mind. On the other hand I will never be able to erase the scenes of torture at the beginning of Zero Dark Thirty. Maybe the other reason is that about the time that I was in seventh grade the news was filled with images of Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, extraordinary rendition and debates over whether or not waterboarding counted as torture. Regardless of whether or not it was in my assigned reading list torture was a part of the world that I lived in, and no amount of trying to keep my books PG-13 was going to stop that.

The best literature is meaty and says something about life. English classes should provide students the tools to reflect on and understand the things that happen to them and that are going on in their world.

Who is this ban supposed to be protecting? If they want to stop Grade 7s from reading about torture the consistent thing would be to ban 1984 and Harry Potter and maybe the news while they’re at it. J.K. Rowling was inspired to write sections of Harry Potter by the time she spent working at Amnesty International and the horrors that she helped document, including an individual being told that his entire family had been killed because of his resistance activities. This is the world that we live in, and kids will see the darker side of it whether or not their teachers acknowledge it. Alyssa Rosenberg very aptly writes—she also addresses various problems with the implementation of the ban:

The experience of reading Persepolis as a child or teenager is the experience of seeing the impact of torture on someone very like yourself, who likes punk music, and gets angry at God, and alternately adores and fights with her parents. It’s a book that trusts teenagers to handle the idea of torture and the concept of war because its author had to handle those things not just in practice, but in reality, when her relatives were tortured and her friends’ older siblings were sent off to die in war with keys to paradise around their necks. Believing that children shouldn’t experience those things for real shouldn’t be the same thing as believing that they can’t being trusted to experience the sadness, fear, and anger that will help them navigate the world as moral adults. A school system that’s afraid of its ability to handle introducing students to these kind of emotions or ideas is one that doesn’t seem to trust its teachers or itself very much.

I grew up as Harry Potter was progressively released. As I got older the books got darker, as did the world around me. The Iraq war slowly unraveled and the dialogue surrounding it left a lot to be desired. Shouldn’t our schools, and especially English classes, raise a generation of kids that make logical and informed arguments and give them the tools to process what they see on the news every night? If kids can’t learn about this in our schools then what do we hope to teach them?

Rhiannon M. Kirkland is an intern at the Washington Monthly.