The Chicago Public Schools may be hoping their sudden removal of Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis (Pantheon) last month will be soon forgotten, but the Kids’ Right to Read Project, an initiative of the National Coalition Against Censorship, continues to seek answers. In a response letter sent to CPS counsel, administrators, board members, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel, NCAC further questioned the district on its motives and procedures, or lack thereof, surrounding the removal.
The Kids’ Right to Read Project also filed a second Freedom of Information Act records request with the district today for internal documents on the removal. CPS responded to a March 19 request by supplying just five documents, two of which were already published by the district and one pertaining to library materials policy only (available here in .pdf). The district did not say whether or not it was withholding additional documents or justify why, under the FOIA’s exemptions, it was doing so.
KRRP’s letter argues that the removal of the book–enacted swiftly and apparently without any transparent re-evaluation process–violates the rights of students, citing a number of relevant Supreme Court decisions. It also sheds doubt on the supposed reasons for this removal and points out CPS doublespeak on the subject. Included with the letter was an extensive rationale for teaching the book in grades 7-10, written and endorsed by the National Council of Teachers of English.
CPS’ behavior appears even more erratic in light of NCAC’s recent discovery that Persepolis serves was included as a foundational text to discuss violence against women and equal rights in a curriculum developed and endorsed by CPS itself, the Chicago Teacher’s Union and the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights. The curriculum, called “Speak Truth to Power,” was built by Chicago teachers and launched in 2011 and “is aligned with the Illinois State Standards and the national Common Core State Standards.” The curriculum, according to CPS, not only serves “as the jumping off point for a larger examination of human rights, but also, through concrete activities, give the students a way to identify as human rights defenders themselves.”
“Whether or not CPS administrators are constitutionally obligated to reinstate this book, they ought to — out of respect for the principles of freedom of expression and discovery which are the foundations of education,” said NCAC Executive Director Joan Bertin. “Their actions, however, show a lack of respect for the teachers who have been teaching this book with evident success for years, as well as for the students of Chicago who deserve to engage with real, affecting, eye-opening texts like Persepolis.”
Ironically, the first words in Chicago public schools’ “Speak Truth to Power” curriculum are from banned author Henry Miller:
“Everything we shut our eyes to, everything we run away from, everything we deny, denigrate or despise, serves to defeat us in the end. What seems nasty, painful, evil, can become a source of beauty, joy, and strength, if faced with an open mind. Every moment is a golden one for him who has the vision to recognize it as such.”