The Tennessee School Board voted unanimously to remove the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel Maus from the eighth grade curriculum due to concerns about “obscene language” and nudity in Holocaust cartoons.
Art Spiegelman’s book tells the story of his parents’ experiences during the Holocaust as Polish Jews, including their imprisonment in Nazi concentration camps.
Ten members of the McMinn County Board of Education voted unanimously on Jan. 10 to remove him from schools, according to minutes of the meeting posted on the school board website.
The decision came to attention on Wednesday after The Tennessee Holler published a report about it.
Principal Lee Parkison opened the meeting by saying, “The district’s values are clear. There are some harsh, unacceptable language in this book, and knowing this and hearing from many of you and discussing it, two or three of you came to my office to discuss it.
He said he consulted with a lawyer and decided that the best way to deal with the wording was to edit it.
“With copyright in mind, we decided to edit it to get rid of the eight swear words and the image of the woman we objected to,” he said.
However, some board members expressed concern that editing portions of the book would violate copyright laws.
One of the board members, Mike Cochran, argued that parts of the book were “completely unnecessary” and complained that the part in which Spiegelman’s mother dies by suicide was too graphic.
“You have it all here, again, I read it to myself, it was a worthy book to the end. I thought the ending was stupid, to be honest. A lot of the swearing was related to the son scolding the father, so I really don’t know how this teaches our kids anything ethical. On the contrary, instead of treating his father with any respect, he treated him as if he were a victim. We don’t need these things to teach history to children,” he said.
Other participants, including two academic leaders, defended the book.
“I think every time you teach history, people have been hung from trees, people have committed suicide and people have been killed, more than 6 million people have been killed,” said Melason Knight, McMinn County federal school program director, according to protocol. “I think the author is portraying this because it is a true story about his father who lived through it. He tries to portray it as best he can with the language he chooses to be relevant to that time, perhaps to help people who weren’t in that aspect in time to actually relate to the horrors of it. Is the language inappropriate? Certainly. I think that’s how he uses this language to portray it.”
Spiegelman, 73, said in an interview with CNBC on Wednesday that he was baffled by the move.
“That leaves me with an open jaw, like, ‘What?’,” he said. He also said that he suspected that the opponents were motivated less by light profanity than by the book’s subject matter. Maus, which began in 1980 as a serial comic, received a special Pulitzer Prize in Letters award in 1992.
It is not clear if the book will be replaced in the curriculum by another book about this period of history.
The School Board did not immediately respond to a request for comment. According to The Tennessee Holler, he denied that the decision had anything to do with the Holocaust book.
The decision comes amid a wave of book bans in school systems across the US as conservative groups campaign to remove or whitewash certain teachings regarding the nation’s history of slavery and racism, LGBTQ issues, gender oppression and the treatment of marginalized groups.
Last year, a Texas school district made headlines when it advised teachers that if they had a book about the Holocaust in their class, they should also offer students access to the book from an “opposite” perspective.