Banning Books Is a Crime Against Humanity
1000 students. That’s the number I estimate read Maus I and Maus II in my English classes when I was in the classroom. The recent news that a rural school board in Tennessee decided to ban Maus by Art Spiegelman struck me to the core — I’ve read the books several times myself, and yes, while the subject of the Holocaust is disturbing, it shows what happens when people are brainwashed and fed hateful propaganda over time. We begin to see each other other as less than human. Perhaps even as mice — vermin that must be eradicated.
I never received a single complaint about the books. Not one.
At the time when I used Maus in class, I was teaching in South Florida, in a high school comprised of a handful of diverse groups. There were students from the “Old Florida” lot — children of ranchers and homesteaders from long ago. Some students were recent transplants to Florida from up north, living in the nearby gated suburbs with symmetrical palm trees that ringed freshly-dug tranquil lakes. Many of my students lived in the trailer park down the road, tightly-packed single- and double-wides that housed both white and Hispanic students, united in their poverty. There was also a large contingent of students who spoke little to no English or who were getting close to exiting their language learner plans, many of whom were from Venezuela. Our school also had a sizable Jewish population.
Not a single parent or student ever complained about the book. In fact, many students said it was the most powerful book they had ever read.
Maus was my introduction to the graphic novel. It was likely the first of its type for many of my students, as well. The story is a memoir of sorts, an effort on the part of the author, Art Spiegelman, to better understand his father’s experiences in the concentration camp of Auschwitz and how those experiences impacted the rest of his life. I recall there was a lot of tension between the father and son, Art and Vladek, as Art struggled to pull parts of the story out of his father. After all, who would want to recall such terrible things? But Vladek does oblige, and the reader is provided insight, via symbolic figures of cats as Nazis, Jews as mice, and dogs as Americans.