When a Tennessee school board voted to prohibit the book Maus from the eighth-grade curriculum, the board likely didn’t expect that the banning would receive international attention in just a few short weeks.
The Tennessean reports that on January 10, the McMinn County School Board voted unanimously to remove Maus, a graphic novel about the Holocaust, from the eighth-grade English language arts curriculum. The board recognized the value of teaching about the Holocaust, but they were concerned about some of the mature content in the book involving “rough” language and a drawing of a naked woman who committed suicide. Ultimately, the board felt that a more age-appropriate book could tell the story of the Holocaust.
The day before International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which marks the anniversary of the January 27 Auschwitz concentration camp liberation in 1945, the school board’s vote started to make headlines.
The news reached Maus’ author, Art Spiegelman, who weighed in on the book’s banning.
“It’s part of a continuum, and just a harbinger of things to come,” Spiegelman tells The Washington Post. He adds that “the control of people’s thoughts is essential to all of this.”
Maus tells the story of Spiegelman’s relationship with his father, who was a survivor of the Holocaust. As a graphic novel, the story depicts Jews as mice and Nazis as cats. Spiegelman went on to win a Pulitzer Prize for the novel in 1992.
“It’s a book that breaks through in a way that others can’t,” Spiegelman shares with The Tennessean. “It allows an entry point for people. I just don’t want it to be boxed in as only about the Holocaust or only about the Jews.”
Spiegelman addresses one of the problematic parts in the story—a reflection of what happened in his own life. The nudity in the graphic novel was based on Spiegelman’s mother’s own death. Spiegelman’s father found her dead and unclothed in the bathtub after she committed suicide.
The school board did recognize the tie-in to Spiegelman’s real-life experience in the novel when discussing the vote.
One instructional supervisor, Julie Goodwin, shared at the meeting that “I am very passionate about history, and I would hate to rob our kids of this opportunity.” Goodin added that “Mr. Spiegelman did his very best to depict his mother passing away.”
But in the meeting, school board member Tony Allman pointed to Spiegelman’s past drawings for Playboy. Allman didn’t think it necessary for the story to contain foul language and nudity. He also noted that the content goes against school policy.
“If I was trying to indoctrinate somebody’s kids, this is how I would do it,” shared another board member, Mike Cochran. “You put this stuff just enough on the edges, so the parents don’t catch it but the kids, they soak it in. I think we need to relook at the entire curriculum.”
The board debated what is considered “age-appropriate.” They discussed redacting the questionable parts of the novel, but due to copyright concerns, they felt it would be best to remove Maus from the curriculum and search for an alternative book to teach students about the Holocaust.
Here is a statement from the McMinn County School Board:
One of the most important roles of an elected board of education is to reflect the values of the community it serves. The McMinn County Board of Education voted to remove the graphic novel Maus from McMinn County Schools because of its unnecessary use of profanity and nudity and its depiction of violence and suicide. Taken as a whole, the Board felt this work was simply too adult-oriented for use in our schools.
We do not diminish the value of Maus as an impactful and meaningful piece of literature, nor do we dispute the importance of teaching our children the historical and moral lessons and realities of the Holocaust. To the contrary, we have asked our administrators to find other works that accomplish the same educational goals in a more age-appropriate fashion. The atrocities of the Holocaust were shameful beyond description, and we all have an obligation to ensure that younger generations learn of its horrors to ensure that such an event is never repeated.
We simply do not believe that this work is an appropriate text for our students to study.
What do you think of the school board’s decision to remove ‘Maus’ from the curriculum and find an alternative?