Tennessee School Board Stands by Maus Ban

Photo: Kirk McKoy/Los Angeles Times via Getty Imag

We’re 26 days into 2022, and there’s still almost a week left in January to turn this month around, but in light of recent news, I’m ready to call it: This year is off to a horrible start. We’ve got Omicron, abortion bans, Paris Hilton selling NFTs on The Tonight Show, and we’ve got the McMinn County School Board of Tennessee, which has decided in its infinite wisdom that Maus should be banned from all school curricula and libraries.

If you’ve been to an American high school in the past 20-odd years, you’ve probably read Maus, Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer Prize–winning graphic novel about Spiegelman’s father’s experience during the Holocaust, including his imprisonment in German concentration camps. According to transcripts of the meeting, which actually took place on January 10, the ten members of the school board voted unanimously to ban Maus, citing the use of swears (the phrase “damn”) and nudity (of cartoon animals during a genocide). “Not saying that there is not important material, I’ve read it and read through all of it and the parts it talks about the father, the father is the guy that went through the Holocaust, I really enjoyed, I liked it,” said school-board member Mike Cochran. “There were other parts that were completely unnecessary.” Cochran also stated that he felt teachers could “teach kids history” without “nakedness and all the other stuff.” Another board member, Tony Allman expressed concern about the violence in the book, saying, “It shows people hanging, it shows them killing kids, why does the educational system promote this kind of stuff?”

“I’m kind of baffled by this,” Spiegelman told CNBC when reached for comment. “It’s leaving me with my jaw open, like, ‘What?’” He continued, “I also understand that Tennessee is obviously demented. There’s something going on very, very haywire there.” Other authors have also condemned the decision, with fellow graphic novelist Neil Gaiman tweeting, “There’s only one kind of people who would vote to ban Maus, whatever they are calling themselves these days.”

After the news of the school board’s decision went viral, the McMinn County Board of Education released an official statement Thursday, January 27, stressing that the board did not oppose to teaching the Holocaust, but still did not like the book “because of its unnecessary use of profanity and nudity and its depiction of violence and suicide.” (The word “unnecessary” is, no doubt, subjective here.) The statement continued, calling Maus “too adult-oriented for use in our schools.” The Board of Education also stated that they were working with administrators to “find other works that accomplish the same educational goals in a more age-appropriate fashion.”

This is not the first time Maus has been banned. It’s been a subject of debate worldwide, and, in 2015, was essentially banned from Russian bookstores. At the time, Spiegelman told The Guardian, “It’s a real shame because this is a book about memory. We don’t want cultures to erase memory.”

Tennessee School Board Stands by Maus Ban