McMinn County Church plans discussion after Holocaust book ‘Maus’ removed from school curriculum

The fallout from the removal earlier this month of the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel “Maus: A Survivor’s Tale” from the eighth-grade curriculum in McMinn County, Tennessee, continued this week as area residents weighed in on the issue in social media posts and at least one event has been held next week to discuss the book and its subject matter.

While many of those comments supported the inclusion of author Art Spiegelman’s book in the curriculum, a smaller number defended the January 10 school board’s unanimous vote to remove it.

According to the Tennessee Holocaust Commission, students in Tennessee are required to study the Holocaust and genocide as part of the mandatory social studies curriculum beginning in fifth grade. The commission was established by the General Assembly in 1984 with a mission to educate Tennesseans about the Holocaust.

The history of the Holocaust should be taught in schools because careful study helps students think about the use and abuse of power and the roles and responsibilities of people, organizations and nations in the face of human rights violations, according to the commission’s website.

“The study of the Holocaust helps students develop an understanding of the ramifications of prejudice, racism, anti-Semitism, and stereotyping in any society,” the site says. “It helps students develop an awareness of the value of diversity in a pluralistic society and encourages sensitivity to minority positions.”

But opponents of the book from the McMinn County School Board who voted to withdraw it objected to its images and language, rather than the subject matter.

Spiegelman’s book tells the story of the Holocaust with Nazis as cats and Jews as mice, but a human character, the author’s mother, is shown naked in a drawing after committing suicide in a bathtub. “Maus” is about Spiegelman’s father, who survived the Holocaust.

The book describes the events of the Holocaust, the mass murder of 6 million European Jews and other groups by Nazi Germans before and during World War II. Much of the violence – and many of the swear words – shown in the book is attributed to the perpetrators of the genocide.

(READ MORE: The unlikely legacy of Whitwell, TN: Children’s Holocaust Memorial turns 20)

The Complete Maus, a novel by Art Spiegelman. The book tells the story of Vladek Spiegelman’s experience of survival in Hitler’s Europe. /Staff photo by Kim Sebring

School officials, in a statement on Thursday, said the book was removed “due to its unnecessary use of profanity and nudity and its depiction of violence and suicide,” the statement said.

On the page belonging to a public Facebook group dubbed “I love Athens, Tennessee,” a parent wanted to protect their child from inappropriate language in any part of teacher instruction.

“Is it bad enough that our kids have to go to school and hear it and then you want the teachers to teach it?” Stephanie Collins Shanahan wrote.

Another echoed his sentiments, while saying there is room for older youngsters to read it.

“The point is, it’s not appropriate for eighth graders,” Amy Sherlin Watson wrote in her post. “[There] are there still parents who care and monitor what their children read, watch and do. The book is aimed at older students – young adults. So it’s great if you want to put the book in young adult libraries.”

On another Facebook page titled “City of Athens, Tennessee (Original Group)”, a woman said there was no excuse for the language.

“It’s wrong to take God out of the school system and allow a book that says GD,” Debbie Brown wrote. “I don’t see how a book that takes the name of the Lord in vain was ever chosen to teach children anything.”

But a local resident said he bought copies of the book to make sure they were available.

“So I just bought 15 copies and will see if the local public library will take them for their young adult section,” Jer Alexander wrote in his post. “At most, the book represents difficult human concepts…with mice. Teenagers can handle historical truths and more difficult concepts better than most adults give them credit for.”

In an update, Alexander said the EG Fisher Public Library in Athens had agreed to take the copies of “Maus” when they arrived.

Local author Tyler L. Boyd tried to vindicate the debate and criticized all parties in a social media post. Boyd wrote a book about his uncle and Tennessee legislator, Harry T. Burn, and Burn’s mother, Febb Ensminger Burn, who urged her son to cast the deciding vote when the Tennessee legislature ratified the 19th Amendment in 1920 granting women the right to vote. .

(READ MORE: Hamilton County School Board member questions ‘despicable content’ in library books as parent group plans to ‘fight for diverse literature’)

Boyd said the debate casts an unflattering light on the community that it doesn’t deserve.

“It’s a shame that even international news outlets have reported this. I’m not surprised local news has surfaced as they are still desperately looking for a ‘story’,” he said. “But the BBC and CNN love to paint the rural South as bigoted, inbred assholes. As I said, I agree that the school board really mishandled this and could have made a better decision. But stop vilifying them. It’s not a big deal. The Holocaust has been, is and will continue to be taught in our local schools, including in a necessarily graphic way in the appropriate age groups.

Boyd called on community members to stop arguing and come together.

“It divides us for no reason. Enough,” he said.

Beyond bringing reason, at least one community church seeks to unite people in the interest of better understanding.

In response to the outcry over ‘Maus,’ St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on South Jackson Street in the McMinn County seat in Athens has set a date for a discussion about the book, according to a post about the planned meeting. at 7 p.m. Thursday at the church.

“Join us for a book club-style conversation about the 1992 Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel ‘Maus,'” said the description of St. Paul’s meeting on the church’s meeting page.

“Why have this conversation in church? Too many Christian churches in Europe and the United States failed to protest the events that were unfolding under Hitler’s leadership in Europe, turning away from suffering and suffering. oppression out of fear or the mistaken sense that these events were not their concern,” the church’s message said. “We know that antisemitic violence is not a thing of the past but affects communities across the world and our own state today, and we pledge to fight against hatred and evil. In the Episcopal Church at our baptism, we pledge to fight for justice and peace among all and respect for the dignity of every human being.

“Together, let’s dive into this story so we can better live out this calling in our time and in our community,” the post read. “Please read the book before our conversation so that we can fully engage with the text, giving it the attention and reading precision it deserves.”

(READ MORE: Hamilton County parents, school board weigh in on explicit language, children’s book themes)

Recognizing the controversial nature of “Maus” in the community, the church warned that its content “contains profanity and depictions and discussions of genocide”.

St. Paul’s parish rector Claire Brown said in an online message to The Times Free Press on Friday that the church is focused on the importance of the topics covered by “Maus,” not the language and pictures.

“At St. Paul’s, we are committed to supporting each other in difficult conversations as part of our mission to serve, nurture and love all,” Brown said. “This book discussion event allows the parish and community of McMinn County to come together and delve into ‘Maus’ and explore the moral responsibility we have to learn and keep history alive. , especially the responsibility of Christians to oppose past and present anti-Semitism This is an important book, and we are grateful for the opportunity to share its story and have meaningful conversations and education community on the subject.

Brown urged anyone with questions to call the church office at 423-745-2224 or email the priest at [email protected]

Contact Ben Benton at [email protected] or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton.

Of text
(NYT10) NEW YORK – Art Spiegelman at work in his lower Manhattan studio July 22, 2003. Spiegelman is known as the creator of ‘Maus,’ the Pulitzer Prize-winning comic book about his parents as survivors of the Holocaust. (Sara Krulwich/The New York Times).

Jerry B. Hatch