Nonprofit calls research into recent US book bans ‘shocking’ as Franklin-area parents voice support for restrictions and warnings

The graphic novel “Persepolis” may be back on the list of approved books for first-year English students at Franklin Regional, but parents and residents calling for its removal don’t plan to stop there.

“That, I believe, is just the tip of everything that’s going on,” Gretchen McGee said. “The superintendent said there is no agenda or ideologies going on. I don’t know if that’s true.

McGee was among a group of half a dozen speakers at the school board’s recent public comment session to address the decision to first pause, then resume, teaching the graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi, “Persepolis”, her story of growing up in Iran during the Iranian Revolution.

After choosing to return the book to the classroom, the board’s curriculum committee offered parents and students an alternative text – a graphic novel version of Homer’s “The Odyssey.”

Murrysville resident and councilor Jamie Lingg called for the district to place parental advisories on student teaching materials in the same way the music industry began using the ‘Parental Advisory’ sticker on folders. in the 1990s.

“I appreciate the music industry’s attempt at parental guidance,” Lingg said. “Per the (Motion Picture Association of America) standard, ‘Persepolis’ should be considered an R-rated material.”

A film version of the book was produced in 2007. It is rated PG-13.

McGee said the stories her children have been entrusted with “seem to be weighed heavily on one side of people’s opinions”.

“One of the books in StudySync has six out of 10 stories related to ‘oppressed minorities,'” McGee said. “I believe it sends a message to kids without something as drastic as lining up white kids on one side of the room and black kids on the other, and white kids apologizing to kids black.”

Lingg also pushed back against the idea that suspending the use of “Persepolis” in the classroom amounted to a ban or censorship.

“It’s a restriction,” she said. “Even the apps on your phone have their own parental advisory system.”

As far as nonprofit PEN America is concerned, a ban by any other name is still a ban, and officials said its first year of counting book challenges in US schools produced “shocking” results, according to Jonathan Friedman, Director of Free Speech. and education.

“Challenges to books, especially books by non-white male authors, are occurring at the highest rates we’ve ever seen,” Friedman said. “We are seeing the erasure of topics that only recently represented progress towards inclusion.”

Pennsylvania’s 456 book bans were second only to Texas (713). This number includes the removal of titles from schools and libraries.

While the majority of banned books were works of fiction, PEN America’s database also included children’s biographies of Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., Duke Ellington, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Nelson Mandela. .

PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel said the data was concerning.

“An in-depth look at soaring book bans across the country reveals an alarming pattern of growing restrictions targeting specific stories and ideas and the widespread abandonment of established procedures aimed at safeguarding the First Amendment in public education,” Nossel said.

At the school board meeting, the concerns of some speakers were not limited to “Persepolis”.

“I’m worried that my children have received surveys asking what pronouns they want to be called,” said Susan Ilgenfritz, a mother and former school board member. “I’m concerned about gender-neutral toilets in middle school.”

Ilgenfritz said she couldn’t understand why a specialist English class was teaching a graphic novel in the first place, “when there are hundreds of tried-and-true classics to dissect.”

Nossel said that while parents and community members deserve a voice in shaping what is taught in schools, “embracing book bans as a weapon to ward off narratives seen as threatening represents a setback. of America’s historic commitment to the First Amendment rights of students, and to responding to speech deemed objectionable with more speech, rather than censored bans.

Patrick Varine is an editor at Tribune-Review. You can contact Patrick at 724-850-2862, or via Twitter .

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