Holocaust novel ‘Maus’ removed from classrooms by school board

A Tennessee school board voted unanimously this month to ban “Maus,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning Holocaust graphic novel, from being taught in its classrooms because the book contains material that board members said was inappropriate for the students.

According to the minutes of its meeting, the 10-person council, in McMinn County, Tennessee, voted Jan. 10 to remove the book from the eighth-grade curriculum. Board members said the book, which depicts Jews as mice and Nazis as cats as it recounts the author’s parents’ experiences during the Holocaust, contained inappropriate swearing and the depiction of a naked character.

“There is foul and objectionable language in this book,” said Lee Parkison, superintendent of schools for McMinn County in eastern Tennessee, according to the minutes of the meeting.

Art Spiegelman, the author of “Maus,” said he was baffled by the decision. “These are disturbing images,” he said in an interview on Thursday, Holocaust Remembrance Day. “But you know what? It’s a disturbing story.

After reading the minutes of the meeting, Mr. Spiegelman said he got the impression that the board members were asking, “Why can’t they teach a nicer Holocaust?”

Mr. Spiegelman published the first volume of the book in 1986 and the second in 1991, and the graphic novel received a Pulitzer Special in 1992. Mr. Spiegelman’s parents survived Auschwitz; his mother died by suicide.

The McMinn County School Board said in a statement Thursday that it had removed “Maus” from the curriculum because of “its unnecessary use of profanity and nudity and its depiction of violence and suicide.”

“One of the most important roles of an elected school board is to reflect the values ​​of the community it serves,” the statement said, adding that the book was “too adult-oriented” to be used in its schools. The council said it does not diminish the importance of teaching students about the Holocaust and understands the obligation to inform younger generations about these events. The board said it would seek other works that would achieve the same educational goals, but in a way appropriate for students.

The council vote was reported by local media, Tennessee Holler, Wednesday. The decision comes as the Anti-Defamation League and others have warned of a recent increase in anti-Semitic incidents and amid a wider movement to ban books that address certain ideas about race, as well as those that deal with sexual and LGBTQ issues.

In Virginia, the Spotsylvania County School Board voted unanimously last year to have books containing “sexually explicit” material removed from school library shelves. In York County, Pennsylvania, teachers and students protested and overturned a ban on a selection of books told from the perspective of gay, black and Latino children. And Republican lawmakers in Texas have pushed to reframe history lessons and downplay references to slavery and anti-Mexican discrimination.

During McMinn County Council’s discussion of “Maus”, several council members discussed the possibility of removing profanity or stated that they had no objection to the teaching of the history of the county. ‘Holocaust. One of the board members, Mike Cochran, said he opposed the language and depiction of nudity.

“We don’t need this stuff to teach history to children,” he said, according to the court record. “We can teach them history and we can teach them graphic history. We can tell them exactly what happened, but we don’t need all the nudity and all the other stuff.

Mr. Cochran and other board members did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Thursday.

Rep. Steve Cohen, a Tennessee Democrat and the state’s first Jewish congressman, said Thursday that censoring books about the Holocaust, or about slavery and lynchings or other atrocities, was a way to purge his understanding of the horrors of what humanity is capable of.

“It’s depressing to see this happening anywhere in the country, and when it comes to censoring an easy way to reach children and teach them about the Holocaust, it’s especially troubling,” he said. Mr. Cohen said in an interview.

The US Holocaust Museum said in a statement on Twitter that using books like “Maus” to teach students about the Holocaust could inspire students to “think critically about the past and their own roles and responsibilities today. “.

It was unclear which book would replace “Maus” in the program. At one point during the council meeting, one of the members, Rob Shamblin, asked what other books the school should remove from the curriculum if they removed this one based on foul language. Classic books on elementary school reading lists, such as “Bridge to Terabithia,” “The Whipping Boy” and “To Kill a Mockingbird,” also include foul language, a school principal said.

“That is another topic for another day,” said chairwoman Sharon Brown.

Azi Paybarah contributed report.

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