On Jan. 10, 2022, a Tennessee school district took the graphic novel, Maus, by Art Spiegel out of its eighth-grade curriculum. The reasons for that decision were due to a concern about the novel’s nudity, profanity, and violence.
The novel, which was originally published in two volumes in 1986 and 1991, is a unique second account of the holocaust survivor, Vladek, and it uses the metaphor of cats as the Nazis and mice as the Jews.
Kelly Palmer, associate professor of History, Geography, and Legal Studies at UT, argues that the government shouldn’t be choosing what books are available to readers as it’s contrary to the notions of free speech and freedom of the press.
Palmer teaches a Holocaust class at the University of Tampa and although she hasn’t used the novel in class, Palmer added that it’s a very accessible book about a difficult, violent, and complicated topic.
“I think Holocaust history is incredibly important whether one uses Maus or memoirs such as Elie Wiesel’s Night,” said Palmer. “There are a lot of misconceptions about the Holocaust, so using texts that are historically accurate is crucial to our understanding of the event, but also respectful of the survivors who experienced it.”
The novel has been controversial ever since it came out due to people’s concern that a comic book doesn’t treat the holocaust with appropriate reverence.
According to an article from The Guardian, after Spielgeman’s book was taken out of the Tennessee school district’s curriculum, many people were influenced to buy it, putting it back on Amazon’s best-selling list.
“I definitely understand why a school would want to take it [Maus] out of their curriculum, but it’s our history. It’s something that did happen to the Jewish people,” said Jordan Chastanet, president of UT’s Hillel. “The nudity and everything in it is just the truth.”
Chastanet feels that instead of banning books, schools should first send a waiver home to parents and then warn the children of the heavy topics that might be discussed in class. She added that it would be good to have counselors available to talk about it.
Chastanet heard similar stories about her grandmother who was a holocaust survivor like Vladek.
“Once she came back to the US, she never really talked about it to my dad, to his brothers, and even to her husband because it was so hard for her. Most of the stories I know about it are from her sister who did an interview,” said Chastanet.
David Reamer, associate professor of English and writing at UT, has taught Maus in class many times, and he uses it to help students tell stories in interesting ways.
“I think it’s important to expose students to new ideas, even to words and ideas that may make some of them uncomfortable so long as they’re addressed in an educational setting and presented in a way that puts those things in context,” said Reamer. “I think Maus is particularly useful to help students understand something about the Holocaust that they haven’t gotten from other sources.”
The school district that took Maus out of its curriculum said that they’ll replace it with something else and Chastanet agrees with Palmer that memoirs like Night by Elie Wiesel and other similar books are important for history to not be erased.