Holocaust memoir Maus banned by Tennessee county school board

A Tennessee county school board has decided to ban the Pulitizer prize-winning graphic novel Maus (opens in new tab) from its school system. On January 10 according to the board’s minutes (opens in new tab), the McMinn County school board unanimously voted to remove Art Spiegelman’s Holocaust memoir from the curriculum of its eighth-grade English class over adult language and nudity, with the stated intention to find a replacement book that could fill the intended educational component.

In a January 27 statement, however, the McMinn County Board of Education said it voted to remove the book from its school system entirely because “the board felt this work was simply too adult-oriented for use in our schools.”

Maus was added to McMinn County’s eighth-grade ‘English Language Arts’ class curriculum in late 2021.


Maus (Image credit: Art Spiegelman (Pantheon))

“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,” says school board member Mike Cochran, according to the minutes of the January 10 meeting in which this vote occurred. “Not saying that there is not important material, I’ve read it and read through all of it and the parts it talks about his father, the father is the guy that went through the Holocaust, I really enjoyed, I liked it. There were other parts that were completely unnecessary.”

Cochran cites “the naked pictures,” acts of attempted suicide, and “cussing.”

“You have all this stuff in here, again, reading this to myself it was a decent book until the end. I thought the end was stupid to be honest with you,” Cochran continued. “A lot of the cussing had to do with the son cussing out the father, so I don’t really know how that teaches our kids any kind of ethical stuff. It’s just the opposite, instead of treating his father with some kind of respect, he treated his father like he was the victim.”

After some discussion about redacting portions of Maus and seeking the permission of its author, the McMinn County school board eventually voted 10-to-0 to ban the book from its school system entirely.

According to Reuters (opens in new tab), the McMinn County school board’s decision overrode a Tennessee state-level curriculum review that approved the teaching of Maus.

Maus is a biographical memoir about Spiegelman and his father that deals with the latter’s memories of being a survivor of the Holocaust during World War II. The book anthropomorphizes the Holocaust victims into mice (‘Maus’ is German for mouse) and their Nazi oppressors as cats to provide a different perspective on the horrifying events and their personal toll.

Originally serialized in the anthology Raw from 1980 to 1991, Maus was first collected in 1986 and became one of the comic industry’s defining modern works, especially recognized for its literary achievement. The book won a Pulitzer Prize in 1992, and has ranked in the top 10 best comics of all time from various publications including Time and Entertainment Weekly.

Spiegelman appeared on CNN on January 27, and said that banning books about fascism such as Maus “has the breath of autocracy and fascism” itself.

“I’m still trying to figure out how this could be… I think of it as a harbinger of things to come.”

Jeff Trexler, the interim director of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, told Newsweek (opens in new tab) that this decision “illustrates why it’s so important for students to be able to learn analytical thinking through the interpretation of graphic novels.”

“Being able to understand the fusion of word and image is essential to 21st-century literacy,” Trexler said. “Yet if we fail to recognize how this interplay of word and image works, we set ourselves up to make decisions that run counter to our core civic values, just as this school has done.”

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