MCMINN COUNTY, Tenn. (WATE) — A decision by the McMinn County School Board to ban a graphic novel about the Holocaust from eighth-grade classes has drawn scrutiny from across the county.
The book in question is Maus by Art Spiegelman, which chronicles his parents’ experiences as a Jews in 1940s and their internment at Auschwitz. Included in the book is an interview with Spiegelman’s father and features illustrations depicting Jewish people as mice and Nazis as cats.
According to the minutes of the Jan 10. meeting, the school board unanimously voted to ban the book from an eighth-grade English language arts curriculum because they did not want students exposed to the ‘foul’ language and nudity within the book. Instructional supervisors, Julie Goodin, Steven Brady and Melasawn Knight, shared with the board how the book is used in McMinn’s curriculum to help put the Holocaust in perspective for 8th graders.
“I am very passionate about history, and I would hate to rob our kids of this opportunity. Are we going to be teaching these words outside of this book as vocabulary words? No, you know me better than that Tony Allman,” said Goodin in response to a statement from school board member Allman about the language.
Board member Mike Cochran said, “we can tell them exactly what happened, but we don’t need all the nakedness and all the other stuff.”
The school board took issue with a drawing of a nude woman and eight curse words. Spiegelman told CNN the image in question was a “tiny image” that depicted his mother being found in a bathtub after she cut her wrists.
Members also emphasized they did not object to teaching about the Holocaust but were concerned the book wasn’t age-appropriate.
There was discussion about redacting parts of some of the language and image, but that led to copyright concerns. Ultimately, a motion by Jonathan Piece to remove the book and find an alternative book passed with a unanimous vote.
“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. “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.”
The ban has gained national news coverage and has led to many speaking out against it, including Knoxville Rep. Sam McKenzie. On Twitter McKenzie shared “I can’t believe I have to say this in 2022 but: Nobody should be banning books in this state.”
The US Holocaust Museum shared also support for the book, writing “Maus has played a vital role in educating about the Holocaust through sharing detailed and personal experiences of victims and survivors.”
On Thursday, the McMinn County Board of Education shared a statement about the banning, stating in part “the Board felt this work was simply too adult-oriented for use in our schools. We do not diminish the value of Maus 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.”
“To the contrary, we have asked our administrators to find other works that accomplish the same educational goals in a more age-appropriate fashion. 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. We simply do not believe that this work is an appropriate text for our students to study.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated to include a statement from the McMinn County Board of Education.