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A Pulitzer-Prize winning graphic novel about the Holocaust has been banned by a Tennessee school district, prompting blowback from critics who say it’s essential to teach children about the genocide.
The 10-member McMinn County School Board voted unanimously earlier this month to remove Maus from its curriculum and replace it with an alternative, which hadn’t yet been decided at the time of the vote.
“We are here because some people objected to the words and the graphics used in the book,” board member Rob Shamblin said during the meeting, according to the minutes posted on the school board’s website.
The vote came ahead of Holocaust Remembrance Day
News of the Jan. 10 meeting trickled out this week as the world was preparing to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which is the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1945.
“Maus has played a vital role in educating about the Holocaust through sharing detailed and personal experiences of victims and survivors,” the U.S. Holocaust Museum said in a series of tweets. “Teaching about the Holocaust using books like Maus can inspire students to think critically about the past and their own roles and responsibilities today.”
Maus tells the story of author Art Spiegelman’s relationship with his father, a Holocaust survivor, and it depicts Jews as mice and Nazis as cats. Spiegelman said this week that the school board seemed to have a “myopic” focus on potentially offensive words and limited nudity in the book, and that the decision smacked of something more sinister.
“It has the breath of autocracy and fascism about it,” Spiegelman said on CNN. “I think of it as a harbinger of things to come.”
The board said students should learn about the Holocaust, but Maus was the wrong book
At issue are “eight curse words” and an image of a nude woman, according to McMinn County Schools director Lee Parkinson. The board discussed censoring the language and imagery it deemed inappropriate, but ultimately decided to discard the novel outright.
Jonathan Pierce, the board member who initiated the vote to remove Maus from the eighth-grade curriculum, said during the meeting that the Holocaust should be taught in schools, but this was not the book to do it.
“Our children need to know about the Holocaust, they need to understand that there are several pieces of history … that shows depression or suppression of certain ethnicities. It’s not acceptable today,” Pierce said, according to the meeting minutes. “[But] the wording in this book is in direct conflict of some of our policies.”
There’s been growing momentum recently among some Republican leaders to ban certain books in schools, particularly those dealing with issues of race and LGBTQ identity. According to the American Library Association, the number of attempts to ban school library books was 67% higher last September than in the same month the year before.
This isn’t the first time Maus has faced a ban. Russia pulled the graphic novel from bookstores in 2015 over the swastika depicted prominently on its cover, because the country was trying eliminate depictions of the symbol as it commemorated the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany in World War II.