• Carmen Milligan

RED ALERT! Book banning is alive and well in the USA.

January 10, 2022: McMinn County school board unanimously voted to remove a Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel about the Holocaust from the district's curriculum, citing profanity, nudity, and violence.

"Maus" is a graphic novel by Art 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.

Did you catch the part where the story is about the Holocaust? How on earth do you teach about the Holocaust without ... well, being honest? Jews were the largest group targeted, but homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, Roma, and people with disabilities were among those determined to be "undesirable". These people were raped, experimented on, beaten, starved, worked to death, shot, hanged, gassed, stabbed ... you get it? It was horrific and it needs to be taught as such. You cannot pretty up or sanitize the Holocaust.

The US Holocaust Museum had this to say: "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."

There is a renewed effort to remove books from public school curriculums, using the buzzwords "Critical Race Theory" as a catch-all support for their actions. I'll talk about Critical Race Theory in another post. Because it deserves the spotlight.

First things first: STOP removing material from shelves because a small group considers it offensive. To attempt to ban history, stop critical thinking, and limit availability to nonfiction depicting mankind at its worst is exactly what a Nazi would do. You cannot whitewash horror.

Second: Read the damn book. Meeting minutes show that NONE of the board members had read "Maus". Just let that sink right into your brain for a minute. They voted unanimously to remove it, but NONE had bothered to crack it open. "Maus" deals with some advanced and complex themes. The father has survived pure horror, the mother commits suicide, the son sees the effects of a life that he has never known, growing up in a safe middle-class environment. The son has to coax the father to discuss it because the father is still full of emotion from a time 40 years prior. There is nothing easy about it. The fact that it is a graphic novel should not confuse you.

Third: In a state woefully behind in educational standards, you do not want to limit access, but increase it. You want to encourage growth, critical thinking, and building empathy in the next generation. You don't get that from sheltering, protecting, hiding, or denying students. These are not 6-year-olds. They are teenagers and are going to be woefully unprepared for life in the world armed only with the "conservative values" of their community.

What's behind it all? I think it's fear. Fear that the world is changing in a way that current leaders don't like. Mass media, social media, and the internet in general all have a way of making the world smaller and smaller, and these rural, conservative communities see new ideas, thoughts, and beliefs encroaching on their stronghold. Basically, it's educational oppression. It's a few thinking they know what is best for the many, and making decisions to stifle growth, experience, and thinking. "We will teach you what you need to know."

No one wins when a book is removed from the shelf. What can you do? Be vocal about not removing material. Talk about the removed books, post on your social media that you oppose banning. Read these books and discuss them with your children and others. Look at the main themes and think about what the author is trying to convey. Look at the language and discuss its necessity. Push, push, push for inclusion, not exclusion.

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