Tennessee School Board Doubles Down on Removing Holocaust Graphic Novel 'Maus' From Curriculum

'We simply do not believe that this work is an appropriate text for our students to study,' the McMinn County Board of Education said, emphasizing the Pulitzer-winning graphic novel's use of curse words

Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels
A school board in Tennessee is standing by its decision to ban the award-winning 1986 graphic novel 'Maus'
A school board in Tennessee is standing by its decision to ban the award-winning 1986 graphic novel 'Maus'Credit: MARO SIRANOSIAN - AFP
Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels

A Tennessee school board on Thursday reaffirmed its unanimous decision to remove “Maus,” Art Spiegelman’s acclaimed graphic novel about the Holocaust, from its curriculum despite widespread condemnations from Jewish organizations, politicians and cultural figures.

"We simply do not believe that this work is an appropriate text for our students to study," the McMinn County Board of Education said in a statement, doubling down on its umbrage with the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel's use of curse words, nude drawings and “not wise or healthy content” within it. It said, however, that it has asked its administrators to find "age-appropriate" works aimed at educating children about the Holocaust.

"One of the most important roles of an elected board of education is to reflect the values of the community it serves," it said, adding that it voted to remove the book "because of its unnecessary use of profanity and nudity and its depiction of violence and suicide." It noted that taken as a whole, they believed "Maus" was "simply too adult-oriented for use in our schools."

The board stressed it did not diminish the book's value as "an impactful and meaningful piece of literature, nor do we dispute the importance of teaching our children the historical and moral lessons and realities of the Holocaust."

"The atrocities of the Holocaust were shameful beyond description, and we all have an obligation to ensure that younger generations learn of its horrors to ensure that such an event is never repeated," it added.

During a board meeting on January 10, educators explained that “Maus” was an “anchor text” for McMinn County’s eighth-grade English language arts instruction, making it the centerpiece for a months-long study of the Holocaust. The district – located in a politically conservative region of southeastern Tennessee – had previously already agreed to redact the profanities and obscure the nude image.

The board's reaffirmation comes after "Maus" author Art Spiegelman decried the move as "Orwellian," and many U.S. lawmakers, Jewish organizations, authors, and otherwise concerned followers noted the incident occurred on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Spiegelman, who won a 1992 Pulitzer Prize for the book, told CNBC that the decision was “Orwellian” and said he doubted that the McMinn County school board’s decision to stop teaching his book had only to do with his choice of words.

The January 10 vote burst into public view Wednesday night after a liberal Tennessee news website, TN Holler, published a column about it. The site’s editor-in-chief, Justin Kanew, wrote that TN Holler had asked the board whether the book’s topic had to do with the decision and had been told it did not.

The vote in McMinn County marks only the latest addition to a trend in politically conservative districts of removing books and other curriculum materials because of parent objections or concerns that children might find the materials anxiety-provoking.

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