A cold front swept in by mid afternoon bringing an icy-cold cold rain, under dingy pale skies. A stiffening wind drove that rain against the 60 or so protesters, mostly students from Lane Tech college prep High school on Chicago’s North side. There were news crews from the local corporate media. With defeatist and discouraging questions like, “Do you think this protest will change anything,” they were clearly driving the conversation towards the do-nothing status quo mentality. Moreover, they were also driving a message to these young and impassioned students, that anything challenging that status quo will be condescended to, at best, and crushed, at worst.
But there were teachers, parents and librarians in full support of what these students recognized was an absolute abomination and crime in a “free” and democratic society. They knew it, while so many other purportedly wise, learned and experienced adults had grievously forgotten that simple lesson. Motorists honked in support, and passers-by were moved to join in. Revolution and Beer, and 900poundgorilla were there in full support as well.
Percepolis, by Iranian author Marjane Satrapi, is one of those rare books that transcends nationality, politics and age, with a wisdom and insight beyond those cosmetic and divisive assemblages. It is about the human soul, and the endurance of the human soul in the face of daunting adversity, tyranny and oppression. The award-winning book became a stunning and powerful motion picture, one of those rare films that properly conveys the heart and soul of a book. The book was quickly banned in Satrapi’s native Iran, then a number of other Islamic countries. It was deemed blasphemous. Add one more place the book has been banned; Chicago.
The million Dollar question is, of course, why? Several calls to Chicago Public School CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett were not returned. The CPS official statements are confused, if not outright duplicitous. Byrd-Bennett denied Friday that the book was being banned, and said that Persepolis contained graphic language and images that were inappropriate for seventh and eight-graders.
“We are not banning this book from our schools,” Byrd-Bennett told school principals: “If your seventh-grade teachers have not yet taught this book, please ask them not to do so and to remove any copies of the book from their classrooms.”
Courtesy of Fred Klonsky, “Board of Education vs. Pico in 1982 states that is illegal to remove a book from a high school library. This, effectively, is a violation of the Freedom of Speech. Board of Education v. Pico, 457 U.S. 853 (1982), was a case in which four Justices of the United States Supreme Court concluded that the First Amendment limits the power of local school boards to remove library books from junior high schools and high schools…CPS is claiming that there was a set of new books sent to schools and the distributor included copies of this one by mistake. Since CPS hadn’t paid for them, schools were asked to pull the books and send them back. “a mix-up’. The books, in fact, were purchased some years ago by an English teacher when she applied (and received) a grant to pay for them.” http://preaprez.wordpress.com/2013/03/14/cps-book-banning/
The nature and necessity of books like Percepolis, The Diary of Anne Frank and Zlata’s Diary, or Romeo and Juliet(two young teens who fall in love and commit suicide) is that the images, emotions and language are in context to important and universal truths about morality and the human condition. Have we, as a society allowed the most banal, obtuse and actively ignorant to ascend to positions of prominence, so that with our tacit silence we allow them to make these dangerous and destructive decisions?
This writer can offer several theories, absent Byrd-Bennett’s revelation about her intentions. The first is that this seems to have begun after a teacher, not parents or students, complained at another north side school. It begs the question of whether school districts have become so over-sensitive about any attention whatsoever, that their immediate reaction is to ban, stop and close without thinking. Another possibility regards this cult of childhood innocence, in which we feel is necessary to shield children from every rain drop for fear it may rob them of eternal innocence. But there is a difference between porn and Percepolis(Interesting that the steeply marketed cartoons purveyed upon children under the noses of over-protective parents are much closer to porn). The last possibility is far more cynical, asking whether this is part of a cultural slide towards demonizing Iranians by a society hooked financially and politically on the military as we continue the propagandizing acculturation towards yet another war?
Perhaps the ultimate lesson is in the obfuscation of truth and honest communication seen by the students of CPS regarding this issue. I won’t say lies, but certainly CPS and Byrd-Bennett in lawyerly double-speak found no dishonesty in their demonstrable hypocrisy. The irony is, if we believe the innocence angle, that the adults at CPS found it less of an assault on innocence to be unabashedly dishonest than allow students access to a book which may offer them perspectives on the community of mankind, overcoming adversity and perservering in the face of oppression.
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