Of “Maus” and men: Banning books in the age of active shooter drills makes no sense


Christi Wentz

The ban of “Maus” from the McMinn County school board curriculum has sparked national interest. The graphic novel, which depicts the author’s family history during the Holocaust, topped the bestseller lists once again after the school board’s decision.

Christi Wentz, [email protected], Contributor

From 1933-1945, the Nazis murdered approximately 6 million Jews, a quarter of a million people with disabilities and thousands of political prisoners, Romani people, Socialists, homosexuals and children. These numbers are only best estimates, according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. It doesn’t count those who ultimately passed away in ghettos from disease or starvation. We’ll never know just how many people died under Nazi rule. The answer can not be found in any single document. 

In 1991, Art Spiegelman released “Maus,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel which uses cartoon mice and cats to detail the story of his parents’ imprisonment in Auschwitz. His parents survived the horrors of the concentration camp, but over 1 million other Jews didn’t. Last month, the school board of McMinn County in Tennessee found the graphic novel far too graphic and voted unanimously to ban it. 

The board deemed the violence and the portrayal of a nude mouse along with the use of curse words too much for eighth grade students, but their logic makes no sense. How can we ask them to practice active shooter drills, barricading themselves in their classrooms while listening to the sound of gunshots, and then turn around and say a book about the Holocaust is too violent? 

Generation Z – that group of Zoomers born between 1997 and 2012 – is not naive or innocent. In an age when violence and pornography are just the push of a smartphone button away, 13-year-olds can certainly find a graphic novel, download it and disseminate the information faster than a school board can ban it. And let’s face it: there’s almost always a smartphone in a Gen Z student’s pocket. 

Twitter was alive with offers to send free copies of “Maus” to students after the Tennessee school board’s decision. Ryan Higgins, owner of a comic book store, also extended the offer to the students. He has already been taken up on it by 60 families from McMinn County. 

The number of those targeted by the Nazis is so big that it can seem impossible to comprehend. In a generation so far removed from the atrocities of the Holocaust, but not from violence in general, a first-person narrative – a first-mouse narrative – can help students identify, empathize with and understand, if not the victims of the Holocaust, at least the idea of human suffering. 

It would be easy for adolescents to read “Maus” on their own without the approval or knowledge of school boards and parents, but wouldn’t it be better if they had a caring professional, perhaps a teacher, to help them process the information and put it in historical perspective? 

Genocide is not just a thing of the past. Hundreds of thousands of people have been raped and murdered just counting the atrocities in Myanmar, Iraq and South Sudan. We can not sanitize the concept of genocide when refugees arriving on U.S. soil are being detained, when people want to build border walls and racial tensions continue to rise. It would be stupid to think the students are ignorant of such things. They have information in the palm of their hands. They have heard of children in cages. 

They are not so very young. They will all be old enough to vote in 2028. If we want them to grow up to make smart public policy decisions that will affect us all, wouldn’t it be a good idea for students to have a clear view of the important things? “Maus” is a good way to start, if not continue, the conversation on why certain people are so desperate to flee their nations. 

The banning of “Maus” is not a beginning. It’s a continuation of a push to censor ideas. Classics like John Steinbeck’sOf Mice and Men” have been challenged on the basis of how they handle race, and in recent years, more and more books that deal with gender identification and sexuality have been added to the mix. 

There has been pushback, as we see in the case of “Maus” versus the school board from McMinn. The ban has garnered national attention and pushed “Maus” to the top of bestseller lists once again. 

If the school board had not challenged the book, how many people would have read it? Several people who first heard of the book as a result of the ban then went out and bought it. It seems the McMinn County school board did Spiegelman a favor, giving him a new platform to speak from and helped educate the kids not just on the Holocaust, but also on the unending power of ideas.


Edit made on Feb. 16 changed Gypsy to Romani people