LINCOLN SQUARE — Chicago Public Schools maintains it hasn't banned the book "Persepolis," but the author of the graphic novel says it has, in effect, been prohibited because of additional teacher training required to use it.
In a telephone interview from Germany, author Marjane Satrapi described as a "lie" the CPS claim that it's not banning the book but simply removing it from some classrooms until the district can develop training materials for teachers.
"They say they don't ban it," but the instructional guidelines would make it prohibitive for teachers to include the book — her memoir of growing up in Iran in the 1970s and '80s — in their curriculum, Satrapi told DNAinfo Chicago.
"If you have to take a course to teach a book, you pick another book," Satrapi said.
"It's a big insult to the teachers. It's insulting their intelligence, their integrity."
In a statement last week, CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett told principals that "due to the powerful images of torture in the book" the district would consider "whether the book should be included, after appropriate teacher training, in the curriculum of eighth through 10th grades."
"Graphic language and images" used by Satrapi to describe her experiences of living through the Islamic Revolution and the war with Iraq were deemed "not appropriate for general use in the seventh-grade curriculum," Byrd-Bennett said.
A CPS spokeswoman said that learning plans, which should be developed within the next couple of months, are not a prerequisite to teach the book to grades 11 and 12, nor for Advanced Placement classes.
As for the CPS claim that the book is not appropriate for seventh graders, Satrapi responded in the interview: "Give me a break. The book is 10 years old. This is the first time I hear about it traumatizing children. No one has been traumatized until now.
"They think kids are stupid. Who do they think 12-year-olds are? They're not babies. Children are not dumb," Satrapi said. Life is not all "beautiful flowers ... Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck."
The comic book-style panel most often referenced as the source of the disturbing "graphic images" depicts scenes of torture, including a man being lashed, burned with an iron and urinated upon. A very small portion of the urinating figure's penis can be seen.
"For a small piece of penis, you can ban a whole book? The immorality isn't peeing on someone. The immorality is the banning of a book," Satrapi said.
The real message of "Persepolis," she said, is one of understanding.
Among the lessons taught by the book: "The enemy is maybe a human being like us." Another is hope.
"No matter our surroundings or the restrictions on our freedom ... we, as human beings, can still be free in our mind."
According to CPS, the controversy over "Persepolis" originated with concerns expressed by staff at a school in the Austin-North Lawndale network. CPS did not provide the name of specific school, but the American Library Association said last week a principal considered portions of the book inappropriate.
A CPS directive ordering principals to remove copies of the book from classrooms and libraries came to light when an email surfaced from Lane Tech's principal, providing staff with the details of the directive.
CPS changed course on removing the book from libraries but the incident led to a protest outside Lane Tech last week and criticism from some free speech advocates from around the country.
Told the ban had boosted sales of "Persepolis" in Chicago, Satrapi was not particularly pleased — she'd rather see it back in schools.
"It's much better to read this book with a teacher. You need some perspective. That is where a teacher comes in," she said.
She was heartened to hear of demonstrations protesting the CPS decision.
"People don't just go out and defend something bad," she said.
Satrapi doesn't typically respond to her critics but she made an exception in the Chicago case.
"The only reason I answered is because the kids asked me," she said. "It is because these kids wrote to me. I cannot let them down."
Students reached out to Satrapi online, who is still shocked by the news.
"This is not some weird state. This is Chicago," the author said. "I have met with kids and never had any question. I don't know what the problem is."