Advertisement

Board defends removing “Maus” from McMinn Co. Schools Holocaust curriculum

The McMinn County School Board voted unanimously to remove Maus, a Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel covering the Holocaust, from the district’s curriculum.
Board member Mike Cochran opposed using the book for instruction because of the challenging nature of it, however.
Published: Jan. 27, 2022 at 11:58 AM EST|Updated: Jan. 27, 2022 at 5:09 PM EST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

MCMINN CO., Tenn. (WVLT) - The McMinn County School Board voted unanimously to remove Maus, a Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel covering the Holocaust, from the district’s curriculum during a school board meeting on Jan. 10.

Maus is a graphic novel by American cartoonist Art Spiegelman that depicts interviews with his father about surviving the Holocaust as a Polish Jew. The novel uses animals to represent different countries in World War II, with Jews represented as mice and Germans as cats. Maus is the only Pulitzer-winning graphic novel.

WVLT News reached out to McMinn County Director of Schools Lee Parkinson, who said that “at least six” of the ten board members have read Maus.

According to minutes from the meeting, several school officials were concerned with some of the book’s content. Notably, the board took issue with eight vulgar words and a drawing of a naked woman.

Spiegelman took to CNN to speak on the banning Wednesday. “I’m trying to, like, wrap my brain around it,” Spiegelman said. “They’re totally focused on some bad words that are in the book,” he said. “I can’t believe the word ‘damn’ would get the book jettisoned out of the school on its own.”

The board members discussed the work at length before voting to remove it from the curriculum. Board member Julie Goodin, who also taught history, defended the book’s portrayal of the Holocaust.

“I was a history teacher and there is nothing pretty about the Holocaust and for me this was a great way to depict a horrific time in history,” Goodin said.

Board member Melasawn Knight further defended the book’s use of strong language, saying “he is trying to portray that the best he can with the language that he chooses that would relate to that time, maybe to help people who haven’t been in that aspect in time to actually relate to the horrors of it. Is the language objectionable? Sure. I think that is how he uses that language to portray that.”

Board member Mike Cochran opposed using the book for instruction because of the challenging nature of it, however. Cochran took issue with some scenes in the book dealing with sexuality and self-harm.

“We are talking about teaching ethics to our kids, and it starts out with the dad and the son talking about when the dad lost his virginity. It wasn’t explicit but it was in there,” Cochran said. “You see the naked pictures, you see the razor, the blade where the mom is cutting herself. You see her laying in a pool of her own blood.”

Cochran said he did not take issue with teaching about the Holocaust, however, only with the vulgarity of the book. “We can tell them exactly what happened, but we don’t need all the nakedness and all the other stuff,” he said.

Cochran went on to say that teaching Maus normalizes vulgar language, nudity and sexuality. “If I was trying to indoctrinate somebody’s kids, this is how I would do it,” he said.

Tennessee Rep. Sam McKenzie took to Twitter, saying “I can’t believe I have to say this in 2022 but: Nobody should be banning books in this state.”

Spokespersons with The United States Holocaust Museum also posted a thread on Twitter defending the book, saying it has long played a “vital role” in educating about the Holocaust. “Teaching about the Holocaust using books like Maus can inspire students to think critically about the past and their own roles and responsibilities today,” the tweets said.

Maus, as a state-approved curriculum, was vetted by the Textbook and Instruction Materials Quality Commission before being deemed appropriate for instruction by the state, said Director Parkinson. ”This curriculum was high on the list in the state department,” he said.

McMinn County Schools officials released a statement on the book banning, saying the text was too violent and graphic for student consumption.

“The McMinn 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,” the statement said.

McMinn County Board of Education Statement

Posted by McMinn County Schools, Tennessee on Thursday, January 27, 2022

According to the minutes, several board members suggested censoring the copies of the book schools would use for instruction, but ultimately the board could not agree with the legality of censoring the book under copyright laws. Instead, the board decided to vote on removing Maus from the curriculum entirely.

This raises other challenges, however, according to board member Steven Brady. According to meeting records, the curriculum centers around Maus, using supplementary material to further teach on the Holocaust. Due to the book’s importance for instruction, Maus could not be replaced “without redoing this whole module,” Brady said.

All ten of the board members ultimately voted in favor of removing the book.

Copyright 2022 WVLT. All rights reserved.