The McMinn County, Tennessee, school board issued a statement defending its removal of Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Maus to teach eighth-graders about the Holocaust. Their defense is a failure, but they may be getting lucky, in the form of being overshadowed by book-banning in the Granbury Independent School District, in Texas. Or being pulled from shelves in Polk County, Florida. There are choices.
McMinn County first.
“One of the most important roles of an elected board of education is to reflect the values of the community it serves.” Alternatively, guys, you could defend education when you worry that the two things conflict, or make the case to your community for why education about important historical events, using important works of literature, reflects good values, actually.
Also, the values of the community it serves? Tennessee children live in a state with the tenth-highest teen birth rate of any state, the tenth-highest homicide mortality rate, the third-highest violent crime rate, the ninth-highest poverty rate. And their local education board is spending its time worried that “bitch” with only four out of five letters censored might be too much for them.
“The McMinn County Board of Education voted to remove the graphic novel Maus from McMinn County Schools because of its unnecessary use of profanity and nudity and its depiction of violence and suicide.” UNNECESSARY? The McMinn County Board of Education—whose members should absolutely feel free to take offense at this, the politest version I could write—is not any kind of authority on what’s necessary for depicting the Holocaust. History is sometimes profane and violent in ways that cannot be erased while offering a full view of reality. As Mark Sumner wrote:
“You cannot teach about an abomination in polite terms. Monstrous acts deprived of monstrous language will always, always fail to relay the depravity of these events. It has to be upsetting. Has to be unsavory. Has to be ghastly. Or it’s a lie.”
It goes on, with the same basic impact. Like, “We do not diminish the value of Maus as an impactful and meaningful piece of literature,” except for the part where they totally did that in the meeting minutes many of us read, “nor do we dispute the importance of teaching our children the historical and moral lessons and realities of the Holocaust,” unless you think the historical and moral lessons and realities of the Holocaust involve grappling with what actually happened in the Holocaust. Anyone claiming that they can teach about the Holocaust with terms or imagery that are inoffensive is lying. They're lying to themselves, and they're certainly lying to the kids. This is Holocaust denial-lite, no matter how they protest.
The McMinn County School Board assures us that its members think the Holocaust was very bad and kids should learn about it. Just not with anything including profanity or violence. In other words, a sanitized version that will lead kids to wonder, “What’s the big deal? The Holocaust wasn’t that bad.”
Meanwhile, over in Granbury, Texas, outside of Fort Worth, they were pulling books out of the school library wholesale. On Monday, students spoke out against plans to remove the books. “No government—and public school is an extension of government—has ever banned books and banned information from its public and been remembered in history as the good guy,” one said.
”Wake up to the reality that we are all different and we should all embrace each other with love—not blatant hate,” said another.
But this was the scene on Thursday:
“Krause’s list” refers to Republican state Rep. Matt Krause, who came up with a 16-page list of books, around 850 total, calling on school districts to “investigate” whether the books were on their shelves. One San Antonio-area school district already pulled around 400 books from its libraries in response to Krause's demands.
The Granbury school board did not target every single book on Krause’s list. Their list does not, for instance, include William Styron’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Confessions of Nat Turner or Ta-Nehisi Coates’ National Book Award-winning Between the World and Me, both of which Krause wanted investigated. Granbury’s list looks much more focused on the LGBTQ-oriented parts of Krause’s larger list. It’s likely that they, too, would talk about “values." But really what they’re doing is trying to erase anyone who’s not like them, at whatever cost to the lives of the people they’re trying to erase.
And they just came and took away boxes of books to inspect and perhaps permanently censor, over the eloquent objections of those kids.
In conclusion, it would be really nice if Republicans didn’t force us to start some kind of daily “today in book banning” feature, but it looks like things are heading in that direction.