The Banning of Maus: What Does This Mean for Tennessee Education?
By: Kiersten Man
February 14, 2022
On January 10, 2022, McMinn County School Board voted to ban a Holocaust biography from its eighth-grade curriculum. The graphic novel “Maus,” by Art Spiegelman, is a retelling of his father’s survival of Nazi-occupied Poland and Auchwitz. Despite all characters being portrayed as animals, board members have banned it due to “unnecessary use of profanity and nudity and its depiction of violence and suicide.”
Many board members and parents believe that there is a “more appropriate way” to teach these subjects. Tennessee educators gave their opinions on the matter.
Joan Williams is a highschool English and history teacher in Tennessee. She was disappointed to hear about the banning of “Maus”. Williams states that, in her classroom, “‘Maus’ and ‘Maus II’ are cornerstones of my curriculum.” The weight of these stories are essential for engaging students.
So, what are the challenges that come with teaching about the Holocaust? A major one would be time. Williams highlights the struggle of fitting the entirety of the Holocaust and its effects in only six weeks. It is difficult to “(understand) how to frame the magnitude of Holocaust experiences within a single class,” along with, “fighting misinformation.” Now, with the banning of impactful texts like “Maus”, it will be a bigger challenge for some teachers.
Impactful texts are an important tool for reaching students of all levels. Jennifer Marchant, an English Literature professor at Middle Tennessee State University, teaches a class that revolves around graphic novels. Although she has not experienced book bans at the collegiate level, Dr. Marchant acknowledged the importance of sharing these stories.“Students often see genocide as a purely historical issue,” she says, “I think it’s important to make connections between Holocaust literature and recent events.”
It is unfortunate that school boards would prohibit literature under the guise of decency. Many believe that these practices do more harm than good, Williams included. She states that, “when book banners target individual words or images without context to challenge a book’s purpose and remove it from classrooms, they are doing a disservice to the students they claim to be 'protecting.'" Dr. Marchant also weighed in stating, “kids are going to be aware of social conflicts. I think it’s much more productive to discuss controversial issues with them openly.”
In an article about the future of Tennessee education it was essential to include the voices of future Tennessee educators.
Emily Wilson is in her second year of a teaching degree. She believes that censoring uncomfortable texts does not protect students in the long run. Wilson says that, “as a future educator, it is important to make choices that create the most benefits for students. Even if this means sharing content that creates intense feelings of emotion.” She proudly states that this book ban has “strengthened her desire to teach.” Especially since it pertains to a book she read in school.
This ban of “Maus” and other Holocaust literature puts the future of Tennessee education at risk. It does so by blinding students from the disturbing truths of history. Emily Wilson summarizes this by pointing out that “the world is a place filled with discomfort and gut-wrenching scenes, but shielding our children from these will not cause (it) to stop.” In fact, banning and destroying books does quite the opposite. According to Williams, these practices “foster a culture of censorship and ignorance that directly conflicts with the goals of a free and democratic society.”