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Tennessee School District Bans ‘Maus,’ a Children’s Book About the Holocaust

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In January 2022 a Tennessee school district banned Maus (a graphic novel about the Holocaust), claiming the censorship was due to eight instances of coarse language and one illustration.

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On January 27 2022, no fewer than five “most viral” Imgur posts had to do with the topic of a Tennessee school district’s decision to ban Maus — a graphic novel for children about the horrors of the Holocaust.

Stephen King Banned Books Quote
Stephen King Banned Books Quote

Social Media Posts About Maus Being Banned

The Redhats are coming for us

The children are our future…

Yeah, I’m sure that’s the real reason

I wonder why

Tennessee county bans “MAUS” – a book about surviving the holocaust.

Several of the Imgur posts showed ongoing discussions about Maus and its removal by the McMinn County school board. On Reddit, posts about Maus and the McMinn County school board appeared on r/news, r/books, and r/politics:

The Mcminn County School board in Tennessee just voted to ban a Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel MAUS about the Holocaust. The vote was 10-0 from news

McMinn County Bans "Maus," Pulitzer Prize-Winning Holocaust Book from books

Tennessee school board bans Holocaust graphic novel ‘Maus’ – author Art Spiegelman condemns the move as ‘Orwellian’ from politics

What is Maus?

In January 2022, extensive ongoing discussion of the book and its removal from a Tennessee district populated search results. A publisher’s description reads as follows:

PULITZER PRIZE WINNER • The definitive edition of the graphic novel acclaimed as “the most affecting and successful narrative ever done about the Holocaust” (Wall Street Journal) and “the first masterpiece in comic book history” (The New Yorker).

A brutally moving work of art—widely hailed as the greatest graphic novel ever written—Maus recounts the chilling experiences of the author’s father during the Holocaust, with Jews drawn as wide-eyed mice and Nazis as menacing cats.

Maus is a haunting tale within a tale, weaving the author’s account of his tortured relationship with his aging father into an astonishing retelling of one of history’s most unspeakable tragedies. It is an unforgettable story of survival and a disarming look at the legacy of trauma.

Why the Removal of Maus Was Controversial

A number of posts linked to a January 2022 article from progressive local news site The Tennessee Holler. That widely-shared item, published on January 26 2022, appeared to be inaccessible due to traffic on January 27 2022. We accessed it through an archived link; it began with context about broader efforts to ban content for veiled political reasons:

Continuing the recent spate of conservative book-banning initiatives, The Mcminn County School board just voted to ban the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel “MAUS” by Art Spiegelman from all of its schools, citing the inclusion of words like “God Damn” and “naked pictures” (illustrations) of women.

We called the board and asked if the book being about the Holocaust had anything to do with the decision, and were told it did not. Still, the climate of conservative censorship, the passage of history-whitewashing laws that threaten fines to teachers who teach the truth, and the push towards the banning of books across the state by groups like “Moms for Liberty” makes it fair to question the timing.

The Vote was 10-0 … Much of the discussion revolved around how books are selected for the curriculum, with finger-pointing at state standards which have become a popular punching bag among conservatives lately. They also discussed the possibility of redacting the words they found objectionable, but decided it would be better to ban the graphic novel altogether.

In addition to widespread discourse across social media platforms, the story moved to national news platforms on January 27 2022. The New York Times‘ “School Board in Tennessee Bans Teaching of Holocaust Novel Maus'” reported:

A school board in Tennessee voted unanimously [in January 2022] to ban “Maus,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel about the Holocaust, from being taught in its classrooms because it contains material that board members said was inappropriate for students.

According to minutes of its meeting, the 10-person board, in McMinn County, Tenn., voted on Jan. 10 to remove the book from the eighth-grade curriculum. Members of the board said the book, which portrays Jews as mice and Nazis as cats in recounting the author’s parents’ experience during the Holocaust, contained inappropriate curse words and a depiction of a naked character.

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

What precisely constituted “objectionable language” wasn not clarified in any of the reporting we reviewed. The New York Times alluded to permitted books that contained strong language:

At one point during the board meeting, one of the members, Rob Shamblin, asked what other books the school would have to ban if it banned this one on the basis on foul language. Classic books on elementary school reading lists, such as “Bridge to Terabithia,” “The Whipping Boy” and “To Kill a Mockingbird,” also included foul language, a school principal said.

A January 26 2022 CNBC piece quoted Maus‘ author Art Spiegelman, who discovered the controversy through a tweet about the McMinn County board’s vote:

A Tennessee school board has voted to remove the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel “Maus” from an eighth grade language arts curriculum due to concerns about profanity and an image of female nudity in its depiction of Polish Jews who survived the Holocaust.

The Jan. 10 [2022] vote by the McMinn County School Board, which only began attracting attention [on January 26 2022], comes amid a number of battles in school systems around the country as conservatives target curriculums over teachings about the history of slavery and racism in America.

“I’m kind of baffled by this,” Art Spiegelman, the author of “Maus,” told CNBC in an interview about the unanimous vote by the McMinn board to bar the book, which is about his parents, from continuing to be used in the curriculum.

“It’s leaving me with my jaw open, like, ‘What?’” said Spiegelman, 73, who only learned of the ban after it was the subject of a tweet [on January 26 2022] – a day before International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

He called the school board “Orwellian” for its action.

Spiegelman also said he suspected that its members were motivated less about some mild curse words and more by the subject of the book, which tells the story of his Jewish parents’ time in Nazi concentration camps, the mass murder of other Jews by Nazis, his mother’s suicide when he was just 20 and his relationship with his father.

Typically, news about the controversy didn’t specify what was deemed “objectionable language,” but the original TNHoller.com piece mentioned usage of “God Damn.” Much of the reporting and discourse referenced curriculum censorship rooted in political ideology, namely in downplaying the horrors of the Holocaust via complaints about mild profanity.

Summary

On January 26 2022, a news site in Tennessee, TNHoller.com, reported that the McMinn County school board voted to ban the graphic novel Maus, which was used to teach children about the Holocaust. Multiple outlets reported that McMinn County’s school board voted unanimously on January 10 2022 to ban Maus, citing eight instances of “objectionable language” and one illustration. The decision was virally discussed in part due to concerns that the decision was politically motivated, and further that it was part of a larger effort to infiltrate and politicize school boards.