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A Tennessee school board removed the graphic novel ‘Maus,’ about the Holocaust, from curriculum due to language and nudity concerns

By Chris Boyette, CNN

“Maus,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel about the experiences of Holocaust survivors that was recently banned by a Tennessee school board, has made the Amazon best-seller list.

As of Friday night, a hardcopy version of the serialized work by Art Spiegelman was listed as the online retailer’s #9 top seller.

Earlier this month, “Maus” was removed from an eighth-grade English language arts curriculum by the McMinn County, Tennessee, Board of Education over concerns about “rough, objectionable language” and a drawing of a nude woman.

The board voted 10-0 to remove the book from the curriculum, saying it should be replaced, if possible, with another book without content deemed objectionable.

“Maus” is a graphic novel by Spiegelman, a comic artist, that follows his Jewish parents in 1940s Poland from their early experiences of anti-Semitism to their internment in Auschwitz. The novel is intercut with the young author’s attempts to coax the story out of his father as an old man. It depicts Jewish people as mice and Nazis as cats.

The minutes of the January 10 meeting show McMinn County Director of Schools Lee Parkison addressed the board about the book before voting took place.

“The values of the county are understood. There is some rough, objectionable language in this book and knowing that and hearing from many of you and discussing it, two or three of you came by my office to discuss that,” Parkison said.

Parkison said he spoke to an attorney and suggested redacting the profanity and the drawing of the woman, according to the minutes posted on the school board’s website. But the board discussed concerns over copyright issues they may face for altering the book.

Ultimately, the board reached the unanimous vote to remove the book after discussing other aspects surrounding the decision, including state regulations, the core curriculum and the possibility of finding a book to replace “Maus.”

CNN has reached out to Parkison and all members of the McMinn County School Board for further comment on the decision.

“I’m trying to, like, wrap my brain around it,” Spiegelman said on CNN’s “New Day” when asked for his reaction in an interview Thursday.

“I moved past total bafflement to try to be tolerant of people who may possibly not be Nazis, maybe,” the author said, noting it did not appear based on the meeting that the board wanted the book removed because the author was Jewish.

“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.”

Regarding the nudity, Spiegelman said the image in question was a “tiny image” that depicted his mother being found in a bathtub after she cut her wrists. “You have to really, like, want to get your sexual kicks by projecting on it,” he said.

“I think they’re so myopic in their focus and they’re so afraid of what’s implied and having to defend the decision to teach ‘Maus’ as part of the curriculum that it lead to this kind of daffily myopic response,” the author said.

In response to the book’s removal, the US Holocaust Museum said it’s important for students to learn the history described in the novel.

“Maus has played a vital role in educating about the Holocaust through sharing detailed and personal experiences of victims and survivors,” the museum said in a Twitter post. “Teaching about the Holocaust using books like Maus can inspire students to think critically about the past and their own roles and responsibilities today.”

Instructional supervisors support ‘Maus’ at school board meeting

The members of the school board heard from English language arts instructional supervisors about why the book was being used in the curriculum, the meeting minutes show.

Board member Tony Allman took issue with how the content would be redacted, and added, “We don’t need to enable or somewhat promote this stuff. It shows people hanging, it shows them killing kids, why does the educational system promote this kind of stuff? It is not wise or healthy,” according to the meeting minutes.

In response, instructional supervisor Julie Goodin countered, “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,” the meeting minutes say.

“Mr. Spiegelman did his very best to depict his mother passing away, and we are almost 80 years away. It’s hard for this generation. These kids don’t even know 9/11. They were not even born. For me, this was his way to convey the message,” Goodin continued.

Melasawn Knight, another instructional supervisor, echoed Goodin’s stance that the graphic novel depicts history as it happened, the meeting minutes indicate.

“People did hang from trees, people did commit suicide and people were killed, over six million were murdered,” Knight said.

“I think the author is portraying that because it is a true story about his father that lived through that. 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,” Knight said.

According to the minutes, Allman said, “I am not denying it was horrible, brutal, and cruel. It’s like when you’re watching TV and a cuss word or nude scene comes on it would be the same movie without it. Well, this would be the same book without it.”

Later, board member Mike Cochran said, “I went to school here 13 years. I learned math, English, reading and history. I never had a book with a naked picture in it, never had one with foul language. … So, this idea that we have to have this kind of material in the class in order to teach history, I don’t buy it.”

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