Banished to a Tennessee institution for vulgarity and pornography, the comic strip Maus by Art Spiegelman is today among the best sellers, 35 years after its release.
Last weekend, two editions of Mausthe complete version from 1996 and the first volume from 1986, entered the Top 20 Best Sellers on Amazon, reported the Los Angeles Times. They took 2nd and 3rd place in the standings. Neither were in the Top 1,000 before the recent controversy.
Amazon will not be able to deliver the books before mid-February or early March, as these are currently only available in limited quantities.
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In early January, a school board in Tennessee voted unanimously to remove Mausthe graphic novel by Art Spiegelman, translated into 20 languages, about his father’s experience of the Holocaust, of his school curriculum after his members raised objections to swear words, nude drawings and content ” not wise or healthy” from the book.
Spiegelman, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1992 for the book, told CNBC the move was “Orwellian,” adding that he doubted the McMinn County School Board’s decision to no longer teach his book was taken solely because of his choice of words.
At a school board meeting on January 10, educators explained that Maus was an “anchor text” for English language instruction in the 8th grade in McMinn County, which made it the centerpiece of a months-long study of the Holocaust.
Mike Cochran, one of ten members of the district school board, said he has no objection to students learning about the history of the Holocaust. But he wondered why Maus was an appropriate choice for study, as it contains profanity and a drawing of the author’s mother naked (like the other Jews in the book, the author’s mother is represented by a mouse).
The district — located in a politically conservative region of southeast Tennessee — had already agreed to redact profanity and mask the nude image. But Mr Cochran continued to voice his concerns during the meeting, and other school board members joined in, some raising more substantive objections to the book’s content, before the board voted to unanimously to remove the book from classrooms in the district.
“It shows people being hanged, it shows them killing children,” said fellow board member Tony Allman, according to board meeting minutes posted online. Of the approximately 6 million Jews murdered by the Nazis during the Holocaust, around 1.5 million were children.
“Why does the education system promote this stuff? “, Allman continued. “It is neither wise nor healthy. »
The Jan. 10 vote came to light on Wednesday night after a liberal Tennessee news site, TN Holler, ran a column about it. The site’s editor, Justin Kanew, wrote that TN Holler asked the school board if the subject of the book had anything to do with the decision and was told no.
“Yet the climate of conservative censorship, the passing of history whitewashing laws that threaten teachers who teach the truth with fines, and the push for statewide book bans by groups like ‘Moms for Liberty’ makes it fair to question the timing,” wrote Kanew, who spoke out against book banning efforts in his own school district outside of Nashville.
The vote in McMinn County is just the latest in a trend in politically conservative districts to remove books and other educational materials because of parental objections or fear that children will find these anxiety-provoking materials.
In McMinn County, about an hour northeast of Chattanooga, 80% of voters supported Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election.
The challenges posed by the curriculum are part of a culture war over “critical race theory,” an academic idea that is not usually taught below university level, but that activists Conservatives have used it as shorthand to describe efforts to teach racism and social justice in schools.
Launched largely by a Republican activist named Christopher Rufo, their argument is that the theory makes children learn that America is a mean and racist country. The main target of this movement has been texts that describe America as a place where racism is systemic; the archetype of these texts is The 1619 Project by Nikole Hannah-Jones, which aims to reset the symbolic founding of the United States to the year the first enslaved black people were brought to the continent.
But with the emergence of parent groups lobbying school districts, fueling a wave of conservative school board elections in many areas, concerns have widened to include any texts that might confuse parents. students. Some state legislatures have passed laws restricting how teachers can address sensitive topics such as race and sexuality.
McMinn County’s vote is not the first time this climate has affected how the Holocaust is taught. In Southlake, Texas, a district official was recorded telling teachers that a new state law requiring them to present multiple perspectives on “widely debated and currently controversial” issues meant that they were to provide students with “opposing” viewpoints on the Holocaust. And in Indiana earlier this month, a Republican lawmaker apologized after saying teachers should present an “unbiased” view of the Nazis.
McMinn County board members did not mention critical race theory by name, according to minutes of the Jan. 10 meeting. Nor did they mention the Jews, the main target of the Nazi killing machine. But they echoed many of the talking points critics of the theory have raised on TV, in school board meetings and on social media for some time, arguing that children should not be confronted content that their parents find objectionable.
Some of the other people who spoke at the meeting expressed their concerns. According to the minutes, a high school teacher in the district said, “I love the Holocaust – I’ve taught the Holocaust almost every year in class – but it’s not a book I would teach my students. »
Some participants in the meeting defended Maus, according to the minutes. In response to Allman, Julie Goodin, one of the district’s two pedagogical supervisors, said, “I was a history teacher and there’s nothing pretty about the Holocaust and for me it was a great way to portray a horrible time in history. »
His colleague Steven Brady argued that the objectionable words were part of what made Maus an effective teaching tool. “When you think about the author’s intent, I could tell his intent was to make us jaw drop,” he said. “Oh my God, think about what happened. »
Mr. Brady explained in detail how McMinn County designed its school curriculum and why Maus aligns with the district’s goals of teaching children history, literacy and what he calls “character habits.” He said the district has already delayed the teaching of Mauswhich was to start shortly after the winter break, because he expected parents to worry and that the entire study unit would have to be rearranged if the book could not be taught.
In the end, that’s exactly what the ten school board members asked district officials to do.
Their decision drew much criticism and great bewilderment, from Spiegelman himself and others. “There is only one type of person who would vote to ban Mauswhatever they call themselves these days,” wrote Neil Gaiman, the best-selling British author.
Randi Weingarten, the Jewish president of the American Federation of Teachers, who plays no role in McMinn County, noted the timing of the news on Twitter.
“They did it the week we remember the Holocaust,” she wrote, referring to International Holocaust Remembrance Day, January 27. “Yes, it is uncomfortable to talk about genocide, but it is our history and educating it helps us not to repeat this horror. »
As the 77th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi extermination camp was marked, the Holocaust Museum in Washington pointed out on its Twitter account that Maus played a “vital role” in Holocaust education “by sharing detailed and personal experiences of victims and survivors.”
The decision comes in a context of questioning of school curricula in conservative states, which attack books dealing with divisive social issues such as racism or gender identity.
Another classic, Beloved by African-American Toni Morrison, has recently been the subject of controversy. A college mom from southern Virginia has claimed her high school son had nightmares after reading the book, which tells the story of a former slave girl choosing to kill her child to save him from the atrocities of slavery.
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The “Maus” comic book, bestseller after being banned from a Tennessee establishment