Chicago Public Schools Say 7th Graders Can Only Read ‘Perseopolis’ With Literary Training Wheels

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persepolisPerseopolis, one of my favorite movies of all timeis apparently not 7th-grade appropriate in book form, according to Chicago Public Schools. While the district is steering clear of the B word, they say that younger kids can only read this material on their campus with the equivalent of literary training wheels — i.e. “professional development guidelines.” Goodness forbid 13-year-olds read an autobiographical text about growing up in Iran and evaluate the work by themselves.

CBS Chicago reports that teachers received emails from the district asking them to not only remove the book from their campus, but also make sure copies had not been checked out by students at the library.

Barbara Byrd-Bennett, CPS Chief Executive Officer, denies that Perseopolis is being banned and or being removed from libraries. She maintains that due to the “graphic language” and “images,” they have considered the book no longer “appropriate for general use in the seventh grade curriculum.” However, Marjane Satrapis‘s story has been deemed appropriate for juniors and seniors as well as kids in advanced placement classes. “Guidelines” are being drafted:

“Due to the powerful images of torture in the book, I have asked our Office of Teaching & Learning to develop professional development guidelines, so that teachers can be trained to present this strong, but important content,” Byrd-Bennett wrote. “We are also considering whether the book should be included, after appropriate teacher training, in the curriculum of eighth through tenth grades. Once this curricular determination has been made, we will notify you.”

If the district decides that they want to temporarily remove Perseopolis from their curriculum or reevaluate the way the book is being taught, that’s one debate. But stripping the book from the libraries — so that kids can process such work without an adult yammering at them about what to think — is something else. Obviously the material isn’t so gruesome that they’re pulling the book altogether. So why not let those kids who do  stray from the “appropriate” reading list have access to an influential and “important content”?



  1. chickadee

    March 15, 2013 at 6:56 pm

    I actually agree that this book is a bit too complex for 7th graders, particularly since there is a lot of crucial background information that need to be taught in order to be able to properly contextualize the material.

    I’ve read both novels multiple times, and I felt that I needed to do some research before and after reading them. The fact is, the Iran and Iraq relationship is difficult for adults to understand. Of course, if the schools object because of language, that’s not the same thing at all…

    • CrazyFor Kate

      March 15, 2013 at 8:53 pm

      I agree. Maybe they’ve dealt with stuff like the language and sexual situations before, and some would understand the international context, but for the average seventh-grade class? Riiight over their heads. (Not that individual seventh-graders wouldn’t love it – by all means, they should check it out – but I don’t think it works in a class setting. Anyone who’s ever been in an English class knows how quickly that can go wrong.)

    • aliceblue

      March 16, 2013 at 1:51 am

      But it is not just the classroom. If the article above is accurate the books are to be REMOVED from the schools and teachers (not the librarian) have been asked to make sure copies have not been checked out. Banning AND violation of privacy is appalling.

    • chickadee

      March 18, 2013 at 9:21 am

      The news site to which Beck’s post link flatly denies removing or banning the book. Beck is misrepresenting the CPS if she claims that it has been removed fron libraries.

    • Jennifer Klumpp

      March 17, 2013 at 11:29 pm

      I don’t know that it’s too complex for 7th graders, especially considering that it is an autobiographical story about a girl who is that age. If she was mature enough to actually live through it, I think we can give our children the credit that they can and will be mature enough to read about it. And part of teaching a book like this (and teaching literature in general) is instructing children on how to find out more about the context that the book was written in. When kids read the Diary of Anne Frank, they also should be learning about World War II and the Nazi regime. When kids read To Kill a Mockingbird, they should also be learning about the Jim Crow/pre-civil rights era in America and racism, etc. etc.

    • chickadee

      March 18, 2013 at 1:54 am

      I agree that background is vital to reading the text, but I can assure you that there is not enough time given to this in high school classrooms, let alone junior high. Plus, the book was written for adults by an adult, not for 7th graders. There is a difference in audience comprehension, and far too much time would have to be spent teaching context to be able to get a classroom full of 12-year-olds to appreciate it.

  2. Paul White

    March 15, 2013 at 7:29 pm

    Shouldn’t teachers be providing the guidelines and context for works like this to students?
    I’m torn; I haven’t read the novel in question, but I agree that some works are not appropriate for certain grade levels. I mean, would you hand a bunch of 7th graders “Venus in Furs” or “Twilight of the Idols”?

    But, and more worrying to me is that many schools seem to act like literature quit developing after (at the latest) Faulkner and that is a crying shame. You had to take AP courses in my high school to get to more current books–and even then, I think “Invisible Man” (Ellison’s, not the other one) was the most current book we read.

    I imagine this tendency is enforced by two factors; older works are less likely to touch on currently touchy political situations and it kind of seems like there’s more consensus so perhaps teachers have an easier time picking, or defending their choices for their cirricula. But I expect that it acts as a massive barrier to people learning to enjoy reading; you’ve got 12-18 year olds exclusively reading books that are as old as their grandparents–and usually much older. The references, the puns, the wordplay is all foreign to them and comes from a radically different cultural context. While it’s essential for a good reader to be able to cope with that, I think we do kids a disservice when we don’t use any more contemporay works–and don’t try to tell me that there aren’t good writers working now!

    • chickadee

      March 15, 2013 at 7:49 pm

      The AP list is full of books written post-Faulkner….I read umpteen essays over the years that include The Kite Runner, Things Fall Apart, Life of Pi…..and there ere so many more. In her pre-AP course, my daughter is reading a good balance of contemporary and modern literature, balanced out by some Victorian stuff and Shakespeare.

    • Paul White

      March 15, 2013 at 8:05 pm

      Could be it’s changed; I graduated about the time Life of Pi was published…and before Kite Runner! Things Fall Apart isn’t actually much more recent than Invisible Man though (58 vs 52). I’ll just hope it’s improved a lot since I was in school.

      Your list reminded me of books I still need to read too 😛 that list is…eternal I suspect.

    • chickadee

      March 15, 2013 at 9:14 pm

      Checking the list (which reminded me of essays I’d read) we also have Kingsolver, Margaret Atwood, Tim O’ Brien, Don DeLillo, Jane Hamilton, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Ha Jin, Mukherjee, Toni Morrison, Ishiguro, and Milan Kundera. The schools are making a pretty good effort to expose the students to multicultural literature as well as stuff that was published more recently than Modernism…

    • bluebelle

      March 16, 2013 at 5:53 am

      That is an excellent reading list, by the way.

    • Blueathena623

      March 15, 2013 at 10:27 pm

      When were these books read (summer or school year)?

    • chickadee

      March 15, 2013 at 10:37 pm

      Usually one or two are summer reading and the rest are read during the school year.

    • aliceblue

      March 16, 2013 at 1:48 am

      If they only stopped using the books in the classes that is one thing, but “making sure that copies have not been checked out” from the library is censorship.

    • Paul White

      March 16, 2013 at 11:53 am

      Yes, that part was definitely not cool.

  3. Justme

    March 15, 2013 at 9:26 pm

    The librarian at my school is wonderful about books like this. She knows her audience and helps the children choose books that are appropriate for their level, interests, ability….while at the same time encouraging them to push outside the box and try a few different books.

    The thing about selecting novels for kids, middle school especially, is that you have to strike the right balance of difficulty and interest. If its too hard or too easy, the kids lose interest. If they don’t understand the material on a grand scale they will lose interest. Perhaps this book is better recommended to kids on an individual basis for those students who have the background knowledge, interest and maturity level to truly appreciate it.

  4. Blueathena623

    March 15, 2013 at 10:29 pm

    Tangent — I learned my favorite poem in 7th grade, and it has followed me through life. Might get the damn thing on my tombstone, I find it so beautiful and haunting.

  5. [email protected]

    March 15, 2013 at 10:52 pm

    Thats good

  6. Tea

    March 16, 2013 at 12:06 am

    If they’re interested and it’s not porn, let them read. Just be ready to answer questions, or frame the book with context in a classroom setting. One of my first big “Adults are jerks” hurdles when I was younger was a nasty librarian who only let me read “age appropriate” books, as in I could only read 2nd grade books in 2nd grade.

    • aliceblue

      March 16, 2013 at 1:43 am

      How horrible; I would have been bored silly with books allegedly for my age. I was lucky in that I read pretty much whatever I wanted. I recall reading “Forever Amber” at age 14 or 15 and my Grandmother remarking that when the book came out it had been on the Catholic banned list. I recall be both puzzled and appalled.

    • meteor_echo

      March 16, 2013 at 4:15 am

      I had the same happen to me when I was 8 or 9. I ended up staring at the woman and asking her whether she really thinks I’m an idiot.
      She gave me a card pass to the teen/grown-up section of the library in a blink.

    • Andrea

      March 16, 2013 at 10:02 am

      My school was like that, but my parents let me ransack their library and ready whatever the heck I wanted. I read things like Animal Farm when I was 7, Little Women when I was 5, and Asimov extensively all throughout grade school. The caveat was they would explain certain things if I have a slim grasp of it, but they will say “we will discus that when u are older” if they were things they didn’t think I should know at that point. Like when I was reading short stories about Oscar Wilde (I was 8) and they had a short biography at the end of the book explaining his homosexuality and I didn’t know what that meant at the time.

    • Tea

      March 16, 2013 at 1:19 pm

      That’s how I was, Andrea. I started the Lord of the Rings series when I was in second grade. It’s actually one of the only times my mother stood up for me with issues at school, because I was bored stupid.

      I was legally blind but reading on a college level in 3rd grade, and I don’t think the librarian really knew how to handle it, because I would stumble badly when I read out loud (My eyes don’t really track like normal eyes can). But if you asked about what I read, I could tell you everything.

    • Paul White

      March 16, 2013 at 5:21 pm

      I would have gone crazy if I’d had to read only Box Car Children and Hardy Boys in elementary. Gimmie some Jack London any day….

  7. aliceblue

    March 16, 2013 at 1:55 am

    My guess is that 2 or 3 parents complained so, fearing lawsuits, the school system is rolling over and treating the book like it is a lethal weapon (oh wait, those are allowed on campus and presumably the library.)

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