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Amid an unsettling wave of book banning efforts in schools across the country, one Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel is seeing a spike in online sales days after a Tennessee school district voted unanimously to remove the book from the district’s eighth-grade curriculum, citing “rough, objectionable language” and a non-sexual naked image of a character.
Maus, a graphic novel that has seen multiple volumes since its initial release in 1986, tells the story of author Art Spiegelman’s parents who survived Auschwitz, with Spiegelman portraying Jews as mice and Nazis as cats in recounting his parents’ experience during the Holocaust. The story has been included as part of teaching curricula in the U.S. for decades, but is now being criticized along with several other books now deemed “inappropriate” by school officials, parents, and lawmakers in an effort to censor the types of content read by kids of all ages in schools.
Spiegelman’s story recounts his parents’ heart-wrenching, tragic experiences during the Holocaust, with both surviving until his mother died by suicide when her son was 20 years old. In a statement, the 10-member McMinn County Board of Education said it had removed Maus from the district’s curriculum because “of its unnecessary use of profanity and nudity and its depiction of violence and suicide.” Including just eight curse words and one image of a naked woman, the school board noted that they felt the story was “too adult-oriented” and were looking into alternative reading options going forward.
School board issues statement about the removal of Maus. https://t.co/ftrt5woNxh pic.twitter.com/OdxYe29rAb
— Evan McMurry (@evanmcmurry) January 27, 2022
The news broke during the same week as International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which marks the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp — where Spiegelman’s parents were held — in 1945. On Twitter, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum responded to the ban by noting that Maus “has played a vital role in educating about the Holocaust through sharing detailed and personal experiences of victims and survivors. Teaching about the Holocaust using books like Maus can inspire students to think critically about the past and their own roles and responsibilities today.”
1/ Maus has played a vital role in educating about the Holocaust through sharing detailed and personal experiences of victims and survivors. On the eve of International #HolocaustRemembranceDay, it is more important than ever for students to learn this history.
— US Holocaust Museum (@HolocaustMuseum) January 27, 2022
In response to the ban, Spiegelman told NPR‘s Here and Now that his book “is hardly a presentation of bad language and hot sex,” adding, “It’s so far from that.” Indeed, banning books has again become a form of censorship amid growing efforts to water down and control the way kids are taught about marginalized groups throughout history, including racism, discrimination against the LGBTQ community, religion, and more.
The New York Times reports that Democratic Representative Steve Cohen of Tennessee — the state’s first Jewish congressman — said in a statement that censoring books about the Holocaust, or other horrifying periods in human history, including slavery, lynchings and the like, makes it too easy “to purge one’s understanding of the horrors of what humanity is capable of,” adding, “It’s depressing to see this happen anywhere in the country, and when it comes to censoring an easy way to reach children and teach them about the Holocaust, it’s particularly disturbing.”
The McMinn County School Board's unanimous decision to remove Maus from its curriculum is typical of a trend around the country of rightwing politicians attempting to shield themselves from the painful truths of history. Thanks @jaketapper for covering this important issue. pic.twitter.com/DE013EP5Kf
— Steve Cohen (@RepCohen) January 27, 2022
Attempting to depict history in a way that undermines its painful, uncomfortable realities only helps set the stage for ensuring that same history can repeat itself. Shining light on injustice — particularly among young people — is so crucial to help ensure that the pain of the past is never again inflicted in the future. Thankfully, it seems that when book bans occur it serves only to drum up interest in them among those who know how harmful it is, so here’s hoping that Maus and other books like it continue to live on and help shape an honest, unfiltered understanding of the past for current and future generations of kids to come.
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