Maus banned in a Tennessee school distrinct because of eight swear words and a naked rodent

January 27, 2022 • 9:30 am

Today we’ll have two posts on how the “Elect”—et’s use that instead of “woke”, so as to conform to John McWhorter’s supposedly non-pejorative word—are changing or banning art to both confirm virtue and prevent others from enjoying good painting, dance, and writing. One source will be the liberal media; the other the conservative media. This first post deals mainly with literature, but I’ve put some “racialization of art” stuff at the very bottom.

Let’s start with the liberal media, which of course reports Elect shenanigans less often than does the liberal “MSM”. In this case, however, the Guardian is the source. This concerns Art Spiegelman’s “graphic novel” Maus, which won the Pulitzer Prize for literature (the “Special Awards and Letters” category) in 1986.

Before I first read Maus, I was disdainful of “graphic novels,” thinking they were just comic books for adults, made for people who wanted to look at pictures rather than read.

Was I wrong! I first saw Maus at the 57th Street Bookstore soon after I arrived in Chicago, and, knowing the plaudits it got, I pulled it off the shelf.  I started reading, and then couldn’t stop. The artwork, I found, added immensely to the power of the book, especially the depiction of all characters as animals, though one wouldn’t expect that power in a book about the Holocaust. I bought it, which I rarely do with books due to my groaning shelves, and it’s now one of several graphic novels I own. (The other two are volumes of wonderful series The Rabbi’s Cat, given to me by a friend.) It’s not just that the books have moggies in them; the attraction is, as in Animal Farm, that messages can be driven home more deeply using animals as metaphors than by straight depiction of human actions.

At any rate, everyone should read Maus (and I also recommend The Rabbi’s Cat).  But, according to the Guardian the good (?) people on a Tennessee school board have taken it upon themselves to deprive students of this access—for no good reason.

Click on the screenshot below to read the piece. You know it’s gotta be egregious censorship if the woke Guardian reports it!

Why did the school board, which after deciding to redact the book, find it more practical to ban it outright? Because there was a single depiction of nudity OF A MOUSE and a few swear words that kids hear (and use) every day. An excerpt from the article (my emphasis):

Tennessee school board has banned a Pulitzer prize-winning novel from its classrooms over eight curse words and an illustration of a naked cartoon mouse.

The graphic novel, Maus: A Survivor’s Tale by New Yorker Art Spiegelman, uses hand-drawn illustrations of mice and cats to depict how the author’s parents survived Auschwitz during the Holocaust.

The graphic memoir elevated a pulp mass medium to high art when it nabbed a slew of literary awards in 1992 but appears not to have impressed educators in Mcminn county.

Ten board members unanimously agreed in favour of removing the novel from the eighth-grade curriculum, citing its use of the phrase “God Damn” and drawings of “naked pictures” of women, according to minutes taken from a board of education meeting earlier this month.

Here’s the only passage about nudity (OF A MOUSE) in the school board minutes (have a look at the link above):

Mike Cochran- I will start. I went to school here thirteen years. I learned math, English, Reading and History. I never had a book with a naked picture in it, never had one with foul language. In third grade I had one of my classmates come up to me and say hey what’s this word? I sounded it out and it was “damn,” and I was real proud of myself because I sounded it out. She ran straight to the teacher and told her I was cussing. Besides that one book which I think she brought from home, now I’ve seen a cuss word in a textbook at school. 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.

. . .We are talking about teaching ethics to our kids, and it starts out with the dad and the son talking about when the dad lost his virginity. It wasn’t explicit but it was in there. You see the naked pictures, you see the razor, the blade where the mom is cutting herself. You see her laying in a pool of her own blood. 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. 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.

We don’t need this stuff to teach kids history. We can teach them history and we can teach them graphic history. We can tell them exactly what happened, but we don’t need all the nakedness and all the other stuff.

At least Mickey Mouse had the decency to cover his shame with pants!

At first they thought about just redacting the panels with nudity and cussing, but that would lead to copyright violations:

“There is some rough, objectionable language in this book,” director of school, Lee Parkison, is recorded as saying in the session’s opening remarks.

Parkison continued to say he had “consulted with our attorney” and as a result “we decided the best way to fix or handle the language in this book was to redact it … to get rid of the eight curse words and the picture of the woman that was objected to.”

Board member Tony Allman supported the move to remove the “vulgar and inappropriate” content, arguing: “We don’t need to enable or somewhat promote this stuff.”

. . . After much discussion over the redaction of words the members found objectionable, the board eventually decided that alongside copyright concerns, it would be better to ban the graphic novel altogether.

Eventually they voted to entirely remove the book from the eight-grade curriculum. Those kids are about fourteen years old, and you tell me that none of them has seen a drawing or photo of a naked woman before, or heard (much less used) the words “God damn”.

But apparently the use of animals was said to”brutalize the Holocaust”, as if it wasn’t sufficiently brutal. Indeed, to bring home the nature of the Holocaust, pictures (either photos or artwork) are essential; words alone are insufficient:

Board member Tony Allman supported the move to remove the “vulgar and inappropriate” content, arguing: “We don’t need to enable or somewhat promote this stuff.”

“I am not denying it was horrible, brutal, and cruel,” Allman said in reference to the genocide and murder of six million European Jews during the second world war.

“It shows people hanging, it shows them killing kids, why does the educational system promote this kind of stuff? It is not wise or healthy,” he added.

Allman also took aim at Spiegelman himself, alleging: “I may be wrong, but this guy that created the artwork used to do the graphics for Playboy.”

“You can look at his history, and we’re letting him do graphics in books for students in elementary school. If I had a child in the eighth grade, this ain’t happening. If I had to move him out and homeschool him or put him somewhere else, this is not happening.”

Mike Cochran, another school board member, described parts of the book as “completely unnecessary”.

“We are talking about teaching ethics to our kids, and it starts out with the dad and the son talking about when the dad lost his virginity. It wasn’t explicit but it was in there,” Cochran said.

“We don’t need this stuff to teach kids history. We can teach them history and we can teach them graphic history. We can tell them exactly what happened, but we don’t need all the nakedness and all the other stuff.”

Here we have a bunch of Pecksniffian parents making the decision that fourteen-year-olds shouldn’t have access to a famous, powerful, and moving graphic novel.

Spiegelman’s reaction:

Spiegelman said he was “baffled” by the outcome in an interview with CNBC on Wednesday. “It’s leaving me with my jaw open, like, ‘What?’” the 73-year-old author said, adding he thought the school board was “Orwellian” for approving the ban.

Spiegelman’s Jewish parents were both sent to Nazi concentration camps and his mother took her own life when he was just 20.

“I’ve met so many young people who … have learned things from my book,” Spiegelman said. “I also understand that Tennessee is obviously demented. There’s something going on very, very haywire there.”

Well of course not all of Tennessee is demented, but there are some school board members who are acting, well, I won’t give my reaction.  Let’s just say it’s similar to Neil Gaiman’s:


I don’t know where else to put this item, but it appears that Wokeness Electness has invaded the Metropolitan Museum in New York. I don’t know how far the rot has spread, but readers might check for themselves.  We know, at least, that David and Canova, were racists.  They could at least have depicted Socrates as a person of color!

Rage, rage against the dying of the light!

h/t: Jean

96 thoughts on “Maus banned in a Tennessee school distrinct because of eight swear words and a naked rodent

  1. Unbelievable! Do these people, who spend all this time over literature and tiny details like that, listen to the words that come out of their mouths in school? Kids now have the most foul vocabularies! The F-word, which was only used in extreme cases when I was a teen, is now in every sentence heard both in schools and in movies. Don’t people have something better to do than criticize literature, which is one of the best media forms still alive? Oh, it makes me so upset. I cannot understand it.

    1. “We train young men to drop fire on people. But their commanders won’t allow them to write ‘fuck’ on their airplanes because it’s obscene.”

  2. Meanwhile over in Mississippi, the mayor of Ridgeland is withholding $110,000 of library funds (their next quarter operating funds) unless the library removes all books with “homosexual material.” His complaint is explicitly religious – he’s not even pretending to have some civil or secular reason for withholding the money. Library Director Tonya Johnson’s statement: “He told me that the library can serve whoever we wanted, but that he only serves the great Lord above.”

    The librarians are fighting it, and the city’s Board of Aldermen, who decide on the library’s budget, is supporting the librarians. So hopefully they’ll get the money soon, in spite of the mayor.

    1. Not to be outdone by Tennessee or Mississippi, the Florida legislature now has pending a “Don’t Say Gay” bill that would prohibit classroom discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity. The bill even contains a snitch provision, modeled on Texas’s new anti-abortion law, that provides monetary rewards to anyone who drops a dime on an offending school or teacher.

      Has anything good ever come of a state’s efforts to ban a book or put a topic off limits in the classroom?

      Mrs. Grundy would be pleased.

      1. I assume it is harshly punitive of any teacher daring to discuss the topic.

        Were I a close-to-retirement teacher, I’d be tempted to have the discussion, encourage everybody to snitch, and thus give all my students a $10k gift as a retirement present, care of the Florida state budget.

        1. One would assume that as a snitchee, you’d lose both your pension, your liberty and possibly your life (this is America we’re talking about) in one or the other order.

      1. Presumably the kids can buy it at a bookstore.

        Someone check the law books for provisions about selling books the Censor disapproves of to minors? Old Sparky, or just strange fruit time?

    1. No mention whether or not the book might still be available in the school library, assuming they have one. Probably not, is my guess.

      I will take this opportunity to recommend another illustrated book I own and find both entertaining and a useful reference. R. Crumb’s The Book of Genesis, Illustrated.

    2. Just my opinion, but if you move a book from ‘required reading’ to ‘one of the options,’ that isn’t so bad. The required reading list should probably change somewhat with the times anyway. But removing a book from the ‘one of the options’ list (without good justification) IS bad.

      That sort of move is a clear intent to discourage kids from reading it, as you are preventing them from getting any academic credit or value from doing so. There’s no need to curate an optional list as strongly. Pedagogically, if the purpose of having an optional list is to allow kids with a variety of tastes and interests to find something to read that they like, then a Christian fundie ensuring only Christian-fundie-liked books are on the list is a clear failure of what the list is supposed to do. It’s imposing greater coercion on kids through a list when the entire purpose of the list was to reduce the coerciveness.

  3. Nobody thinks this is about anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial? Under cover of concerns about “foul language” and “nudity”? Really?

    1. I’m not from the U.S. South but I live here now and have for nearly 10yrs. I can honestly say that I do not think the Tennessee board members are motivated by anti-Semitism or Holocaust denial. They are motivated by a completely irrational moralism rooted in Christian dogma. This is the Bible Belt. It’s pulled just tight enough to cut off oxygen to the brains of believers without killing them outright. It’s a kind of Southern Baptist Sharia.

      1. This is the Bible Belt. It’s pulled just tight enough to cut off oxygen to the brains of believers without killing them outright.

        That is funny 🙂 The Bible Belt wraps around the neck of the believer. It tightens with every prayer.

      2. Maybe not denial in the white supremacist sense, but I bet that, like U.S. slavery, it’s a topic they’d be perfectly content to see disappear from the curriculum. In that respect, removing Maus over language and nudity is a way of whitewashing (Protestantwashing?) their kids’ school experience.

      3. Maybe … but if so, it seems to me it involves a double standard, too. A graphic treatment of Genesis or the book of Judges ought to raise some of the same objections. I know, “irrational.”

    2. Nobody thinks this is about anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial?

      The Guardian article shows a tweet by Neil Gaiman:

      There’s only one kind of people who would vote to ban Maus, whatever they are calling themselves these days.

      I did not read the entire article and I don’t know exactly what he means, but it is plausible that he is referring to antisemitism. Of course, he could equally plausibly be referring to people who don’t like nude mice — they ban books too.

      1. What it means: yeah he’s calling them Nazi sympathizers.

        Which may not exactly be true, but were I the target, it would at least be a signal to me to reexamine my complaint and think about what unintended consequences my request might produce.

    3. So I almost remember being 14. Those were the years when we would hide Peyton Place and Valley of the Dolls under our mattresses. We couldn’t wait to read books adults tried to keep from us. The more controversial, the better. Some teenage entrepreneur should sell copies of Maus to the kids in that school district. She’d make a bundle and the kids would probably spend wonderful hours in secret discussing the novel with each other. This could work out.

  4. What is the likelihood that the school board members that voted to ban the book from the curriculum are evangelical Protestants that voted with their evangelical zeal for the paragon of virtue and morality, Donald J. Trump?

    1. Sure, just as the school board I reference above that banned Mockingbird is almost certainly slanted left based on the article and location.

      1. Two points. Maus isn’t being attacked by the woke or the elect, but rather by conservatives. This is clear from the article.

        Second, Mockingbird is still being made available to students. This is explicitly stated by one of the board members. We can certainly debate if it is appropriate to require students to read it or if the board is being overly sensitive, however, the situations are not equivalent. Maus is being banned by conservatives, Mockingbird is being made optional.

    2. Yeah, Tennessee is hardly a bastion of wokeness. Heck, I hear tell they had a prosecution there about a century back of a substitute teacher who broached a certain theory in science class.

      1. It makes sense that the most sexually repressed factions of a society would embrace porn, since it is very difficult to stifle one’s biological desires. Pedophile priests immediately come to mind as an extreme example.

  5. Do these people really think their kids aren’t hearing swearing or seeing nudity in other forms? Really? Do their kids play video games? Do they watch TV? Or Youtube?

    1. Do they have a mobile phone?

      A number of years ago, one of my relatives were concerned about their kids joining FaceBook (they both had phones).

      I didn’t mention to her the possibility of being more concerned about their access to how to make bombs, and, of course, porn.

      The ‘solution’ was they could join, but they had to friend me so I could monitor what they did. Again, A fundamental lack of understanding about how things work that I didn’t bother explaining.

      As I turned out, I did advise them about re-posting certain things that might be looked at unfavorably during a future job interview, but, being many years into the future, they weren’t all that concerned about it.

  6. I read Maus as an undergraduate. I have absolutely no recollection of nudity or obscene language. What I do remember is the absolute horror that was the Holocaust. I suspect that would be the experience of most readers.

    1. Yes. It’s an excellent and powerful piece of literature. It takes a rather extraordinarily perverse mind to find the small number of cuss words the most shocking thing about it!

      1. Or, it takes someone who hasn’t read it for content, but rather either (a) scanned it for dirty words and images, or (b) simply repeated some constituents’ complaint without investigating it for reasonableness.

        1. You may be right but, if so, I’d suggest that both (a) and (b) are extraordinarily perverse ways of evaluating a book’s suitability for schoolchildren.

        2. As Lewis Black said, there is a poor guy sitting in an office somewhere reading the script, counting ‘One fuck, two fucks, three fucks, …’. And you’re out if you hit the limit — go somewhere else with your show 🙂

  7. “Tennessee School Board.”

    Holy cow, that’s the problem right there.

    “State schools” are a grave mistake, and never ought have been invented.
    You are giving Government (force) power over ideas.
    That forms a binding Orthodoxy.
    Government ought be completely banned from education.
    There should be strict separation of State and School.
    That way, ‘banning’ would not be censorship.
    Only government can legally censor (ban).
    Schools ought compete in the marketplace of ideas.
    You don’t like one schools principles?
    Choose another.

    1. Schools ought compete in the marketplace of ideas

      Do you have an example of this type of system working? As someone who has attended a very wide variety of k-12 schools, that scares me. For all that is wrong with public education in the us, it at least provides a baseline education that includes science and math. The same cannot be said for all of the other ‘choices’.

      1. I agree with the peril: horrid schools would exist and parents will send children to them. However, they can do that now. A parent can send a child for religious indoctrination, or to one rooted in dangerous political positions. And as we see, ‘public schooling’ is farcically not immune to horrid content, not to mention ‘cancelling’ science and math.

        Meanwhile, the existence of government-controlled education that is “free,” pushes out the development of viable large-scale superlative schooling, which could become ‘universal’ through volunteer commons donation.

        1. Ah yes, just like the Bush $300 tax credit check lead to a huge increase in improved private schools. Because consumers very rationally thought about their kids’ long-term educational needs and invested their money in private schools that would meet them. Right? That’s what happened?

          The problem with your plan, John, is the problem of the commons. Or the prisoner’s dilemma if you like that analogy better: individuals often make short-term resource decisions which damage all of us in the long run. I’m no communist who thinks government should provide all goods and services, but there are certainly SOME cases where the net benefit to society for collective spending and action is great compared to the outcome of letting individuals do it. Common defense. Roads and similar infrastructure. Hospitals (whom the never-paid-in-for crowd will then demand treat them when they are sick) and public health. And education.

          1. @eric

            You just doubled down on support for the problem I posted, that government-controlled and compelled education is the establishment of an official Orthodoxy of ideas.

            I gave my reason. You did not give yours. Do you think collective social services is axiomatically good?

            1. I did give you my reason. Public education ensures a standard of education that many individuals would not choose to pay for, but which nevertheless provides a long term benefit and high return on investment to them. It is requiring ‘cooperation’ in a large scale social game of prisoners dilemma, to all players’ benefit. And I’m not talking only about parents here – individuals with no kids would almost certainly not pay for local schools, but they absolutely derive benefits from it. It increases their property values, lowers their crime rates, and brings higher value businesses to their communities. But under your model, since nobody is compelling them to pay for these benefits that they receive, the vast majority of them would choose to be parasitical free riders.

              Moreover, US education doesn’t establish a “standard of Orthodoxy” the way other nations do, because in all cases our States make curriculum decisions, not the federal government. That means we have 50 different education experiments going on, not just one orthodoxy. In some cases, the State even devolves some of this power down to counties and school districts. Texas, ironically, has massive power in the school textbook market precisely because this bastion of libertarian conservative freedom does not allow districts much power. Texas strictly regulates and enforces the textbooks all Texas public schools must use. You think conservativism is going to usher in some free marked education system that’s going to be better than what liberals support? Don’t make me laugh – Texas strives for a more compulsory uniform orthodoxy in it’s K-12 system than practically any other state.

              1. You got sidetracked onto the Texas situation and proved my point for me. Government — state or local — is enforcing an orthodoxy. You object to the Texas flavor of this, but reject my principled position that NO government of any kind whatsoever ought compel education.

      1. Replaced with something better. No one left out. Free speech and government schooling is a contradiction in terms.

          1. @Ken Kukec

            Hmm. Why don’t you state a specific objection to my position, and/or contribute to a solution for the wretched public school system we have now, rather than throwing up rude challenges.

              1. The proper response to someone going Socratic like you did is either a) challenge back that they have not given any sign or effort to reflect my position, or to offer theirs, and therefore it would be wrong to answer their ad hoc aggressive questions; or 2) hemlock.

                That last is sarcasm. I am applying #1. Socrates does not deserved response to random barbs from a person of unknown motive, and without them exposing the basis of their challenge.

              2. I don’t have any problem stating my objections, if any, to your position. I was simply endeavoring to determine what implications are entailed in your policy proposal first.

                I don’t understand your defensiveness.

                I don’t recall anything in Plato’s dialogues suggesting that THAT is the appropriate response to a Socratic inquiry.

        1. You state that free speech and government schooling is a contradiction in terms as if it were axiomatic but I don’t think the evidence supports that. Millions of people pass through the publicly organised education system and emerge with a plurality of world views, political opinions and personal ethics that reflect not just their school but their family, local community, peer groups and what they see and hear on various forms of media, amongst other influences. Most people’s experience of school is that they encountered a variety of teachers who influenced them in different ways – some positive and some not – who clearly held and expounded different values or ideas.

          I am also intrigued by your throw away ‘no-one left out’. How do you ensure that in your proposed system? Schools are expensive to run and in an entirely privately funded and organised education system the children of the wealthy will continue to do well but who will pay for the poor to be educated? You mention a ” large-scale superlative schooling, which could become ‘universal’ through volunteer commons donation” but fail to answer Eric’s objection that too many people would choose to be parasitical free-riders. A further objection might be that a large scale provider of education on this basis might be even more likely to impose some kind of orthodoxy of thought than the government. I’d imagine that the various churches and other religious groupings would be at the front of the line to step up for this particular opportunity.

          1. ” in an entirely privately funded and organised education system the children of the wealthy will continue to do well but who will pay for the poor to be educated?”

            This is a false dilemma, I think because “do well/poor/wealthy” is never so simple.

            The “wealthy” can afford to pay mortgages and tax in expensive districts. Such districts can be found to support public schools with good results. Or they can afford to add-on education extra-curricularly, thus hiding the source of how the good results materialize. The “poor” cannot afford to live where good schools can frequently be found – perhaps explaining the result in Tennessee described here.

            Thus, the “wealthy” do not necessarily choose private school, and their children can enjoy good results. The “poor” might also skip out on public school, through use of various instruments, for instance “school choice” or “home school”, etc. which are still available to the “wealthy”.

            1. Yes, you’re right perhaps I over-simplified; various factors may influence a child’s educational outcomes. But I was referring to a hypothetical future in which, at John Donohoe’s suggestion, there are no more publicly funded and managed schools. That would leave only privately funded schools. In these circumstances the wealthy, who can afford to pay for private education, will still be able to ensure their children receive schooling, as the market will no doubt ensure provision for those who can pay. Those who are too poor to pay, though, will rely on provision funded by Donohoe’s putative philanthropic donors which may be fine if those donors materialise in sufficient numbers but, as Eric suggests, there is a substantial risk that they won’t in which case…what?. It seems to me that these two points are true irrespective of any other other factors you mention.

              I would also reiterate the point that the kinds of organisations – eg religious institutions – that might step forward to provide philanthropically funded schools are quite likely to be rather keener on imposing an orthodoxy of thought than government funded schools are.

              1. “But I was referring to a hypothetical future in which, at John Donohoe’s suggestion, there are no more publicly funded and managed schools.”

                Agreed – that will never happen in the United States.

                “… religious institutions – that might step forward to provide philanthropically funded schools are quite likely to be rather keener on imposing an orthodoxy of thought ..”

                They already have stepped forward – appealing to such needs as better hours, diaper changing, pandemic-related changes, anti-woke stuff,…

            2. @ ThyroidPlanet

              I once lived this point. Along the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains and I-210 starting west of Pasadena, CA. You have a string of lower middle and then middle middle moving west to east. Then you come to La Cañada Flintridge, California. That’s where the families of people employed by Jet Propulsion Laboratory and California Institute of Technology live, and the old wealth north of Los Angeles. The high school there is astounding. “College prep” is insufficient, more like “Ivy prep.” It is driven by taking its share of California state funding and supplementing by high local taxation. Yes, there are at least three ultra high-end private schools as well, one Catholic. It is an enclave of wealth and privilege through an enmeshment of government and private.

              A local public school, Blair High in Pasadena, attempted to push up the hill by brining the International Baccalaureate program in. I moved away, so I don’t know the results of that. Blair was a middle/low scoring high, with a lot of dropout, at the time.

              As far as ‘unfair …” I don’t blame the residents of La Cañada. The game is sitting there. Why wouldn’t you game it like this. A potent campaign to assert unfairness would have to amount to lopping off the head of that game by legislation or unreal taxation.

          2. @ Jonathan Wallace

            You used a pragmatic approach to challenge an abstract principle. Here’s the repeat of the principle: When government is allowed the power to force a standard of education, and coerce funding, attendance, administration/staffing, and curriculum, free speech has been squashed by the power establishment of an Orthodoxy. You present a picture of theoretical examples of people retaining their independence of mind. Well, I could counter with assertive examples of repression, deterrence of free thought, and grooming for mediocrity. All of that is aside from the problem of rogue toxic cadres infecting the structure of the orthodoxy and supplanting any good in it with woke deconstructivness.

            As to your second paragraph, yes, in the marketplace of ideas, competing standards could emerge, some anathema to a given person. This is still better than a forced orthodoxy.

            Also, the private funding and universality issue … to much for me to argue today on the run. It is solvable, and to a better degree than we have today.

            1. Theoretical examples? Not really. It is a matter of observable fact that millions of people who pass through public schooling emerge with a plurality of views.

              You state that the private funding and universality issue is solvable to a better degree than we have today but having been invited to do so several times you have declined to explain how. How do you deal with the issue identified by Eric of parasitical free-riders?

  8. I was already an adult when I read Maus and my reaction was much like yours, Jerry. It was brilliant. It was powerful. I was amazed at how much impact the graphics had.

    This is a pretty serious stuff for eighth graders. To my thinking, it wouldn’t be the nudity or the naughty words that might lead a school district to question the appropriateness of the work. It would be more a question of whether kids of that age are mature enough to learn how much cruelty there is in the world and how that cruelty is not just ancient history. But, this broader question seems not to be the stated issue. Rather, it’s the bad words and nudity.

    When books are banned based on small, but very concrete, matters—such as use of the word “damn” or the depiction of a naked mouse—and not the broader content of the work, one has to wonder what the real motivation is for banning the book is. An obvious possibility is that it represents an effort to limit teaching of the truth of the Holocaust. This isn’t the same as Holocaust denial, but the purpose could very well be to tuck the Holocaust back into the recesses of history—to relegate it to the past, eventually to make it go away. Maus makes the Holocaust so real and present that it cannot go away.

  9. I think this particular ban is from a right wing school board, not from “the elect” side of the spectrum. Most of the school book bans are from Christian Nationalist types these days. (And have been traditionally.)

  10. Naked mice? What next? Cats and dogs living together?

    When I was at school, our library had a copy of Manwatching by Desmond Morris. It was very popular and I learned a lot from it.

    As for Micky Mouse’s trousers, they’re fine, but don’t forget Donald and Daisy Duck.

  11. RE: Maus


    Growing up, there was nothing I’d’ve rather been, than a cartoonist (this is back in the day when comic strips were lauded; comic books were trash. I of course wanted to be a comic strip artist…a Kelly, a Trudeau, a Frank King, etc).

    Just wasn’t good enuff (so I went to college for journalism and ended up writing and later producing aviation television for a well-known aviation group).

    I love the comics medium, though. (And, d@mn!t, grammatically it should be “Graphics Novels,” not “Graphic Novels.”


    All of the above said, I link to an article by a journalist and editorial comics aficionado, for his view:


    My “rule” as a parent was if a child could frame a question intelligently, he/she got an answer equivalent to the intelligence of the question. For reading, if I thought you could understand the content, you got to read it. (I learned that from my mother, a Catholic school teacher and principal who allowed me to read “Serpico” during my eighth grade year.)

  12. “Board member Tony Allman supported the move to remove the “vulgar and inappropriate” content, arguing: “We don’t need to enable or somewhat promote this stuff.” ”
    Let me express my appreciation to TA and the school board for best promotion of a graphics book ever. I’ll be just one of many thousands reading the book thanks to them.

  13. Eighth-graders are mature enough to deal with Maus and the school board is wrong to remove it from the curriculum.

  14. Since many if us are sharing our reading experiences from childhood, let me add to the group. Jerry’s comment about the power of using animals as metaphors reminded me of Pierre Boulle’s novel The Planet of the Apes, which I read in eighth grade prior to seeing the movie adaptation in the theater with a bunch of my friends. Sexuality and nudity abound in both the book and the movie, and, as you might know, the movie ends with Charlton Heston pounding the sand on the beach and shouting, “God damn you all to hell!” Look at me today, a pillar of the community! Seriously, per contra Tennessee school board, I’ve read Maus and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to a teenager.

  15. “… the school board, which after deciding to redact the book …”

    Isn’t this supposed to be a good thing? Voting? Land of one-person one-vote?

    1. You’re joking, right? Yes, voting is usually good, and is for President, too, but let me hear you say this, please, “Isn’t voting a good thing, even if we elected Trump?”
      Just because voting is good doesn’t mean that the results will be great.
      You’re moking with your comment, right?

      1. There’s no mocking.

        I agree, a United States Public School board has delivered an outrageous decision for outrageous reasons. I’m ignorant if this model serves public schools elsewhere/other countries. Perhaps it is authoritarian there.

        Does Tennessee need a new school board? Or is it good that they can vote even though I do not like the result?

        This is what runs the U.S. Public School system, as I understand it – local school boards. If teachers were empowered to lead, this result, I argue would be different.

    2. There are some things our Bill of Rights puts beyond the will of the majority as expressed by a popular vote. Freedom of speech (and of all that that entails, such as academic freedom and freedom of conscience) is among those things.

      1. So a new school board can be voted in is the solution.

        Except I do not understand how teachers are supposed be empowered to lead as they are expert figures of authority – not a local school committee.

        To illustrate, aren’t the public works departments empowered to decide which asphalt to use or not? The popular vote on the best asphalt is not expected to be meaningful because most people are not responsible to understand asphalt.

  16. I’ve just gone to to get a copy of Maus and lo and behold, it has a “Teachers’ Pick” label slapped on the listing. There’s hope yet!

  17. “A Tennessee school board has banned a Pulitzer prize-winning novel from its classrooms over eight curse words and an illustration of a naked cartoon mouse.”

    Reading this from the article by Samantha Lock is somewhat misleading in that it trivializing the issues involved. I first read Maus years ago and there’s no question it’s a work of semi-genius. Whether it’s appropriate for elementary school children is a different issue—and a debatable one.

    If you read what the school board members actually say, it’s clear that “eight curse words and an illustration of a naked cartoon mouse” aren’t the extent of their concerns: “You see the razor [when the mother commits suicide], the blade where the mom is cutting herself. You see her laying in a pool of her own blood” [should be “lying,” not “laying”: this is a mouse not a chicken!] “It shows people hanging, it shows them killing kids.” Despite the bad grammar, these are points that merit engagement, not ridicule.

    I’m not saying I agree with the Tennessee school board, just reiterating a point our host made in a recent post—namely, that we need to be careful about dismissing ideas out-of-hand simply because they come from a right-wing source.

    1. Eighth grade is not “elementary school”–it’s junior high or middle school and the children are about fourteen years old. They are old enough to handle this material; every reader on this thread except for you seems to think that.

      And I am not sure what you mean about your little homily at the end, for I certainly did not dismiss the ideas or articles because they come from a right wing source. I have read the book and in my view it’s fine for 14 years old. And, you note, the nudity and curse words were flashpoints that helped them ban the book.

      1. “And I am not sure what you mean about your little homily at the end, for I certainly did not dismiss the ideas or articles because they come from a right-wing source.”

        You misunderstood my point. I was referring to your column about “The Elect at Princeton University” (1/27) in which you said: “For those who ignore reports from such sources [arch-conservative Rod Dreher], you might skip this and see the post from the Guardian above, but I pity such folks for refusing to engage with Right-wing sources. . . .” In other words, I wasn’t suggesting that you were dismissing the ideas because they come from a right-wing source, but agreeing with you that it’s unwise to do that. At least I thought that’s what you were saying. In any case, thanks for replying.

  18. I read a couple of articles on this, and got conflicting information. One reported that the book was removed from required curriculum for 8th graders. The other said it was removed from the schools.

    In either case, The Maus books are irreplaceable. And 8th graders are plenty old enough to read them. My kids read the books much earlier than that.

    As an aside, there are many wonderful graphic books about serious historical events and eras. Among my favorites are Tardi’s books on WW1
    and Mizuki’s “Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths”

    But Maus defined the genre.

  19. This week, in my ongoing substitute teacher adventures, I have been tasked to read a chapter a day out loud to fifth graders. The book is “Woods Runner” by Gary Paulsen. The setting is the U.S. Revolutionary War. (I’m not sure why it’s necessary for the teacher to read it out loud; why can’t the students simply read it at their leisure?)

    Yesterday, the chapter I read featured an 8-10 year-old girl, Annie, uttering “damn.” Fine and good. I caught the word in time. I declined to say “damn” out loud in front of the students. I substituted “darn,” and let the whole “damn” world rail against me.

    Not a few students said, “We know the word! Say it!” I said, “No, that’s not the point. I have little doubt that most if not all of you know it. I don’t wish to run the risk of having my name on the front page of the local newspaper [a Peyton Place rag if there ever was one] because someone had a problem with my saying “damn” out loud in a classroom.” I have never sought that “opportunity.”

    It’s one thing for students to read books. It’s another to read aloud to them.
    Was I bloody obligated to utter “damn” out loud? I consider that compelled speech. Can students under any circumstances be compelled to read that out loud? Surely not. But if it’s okay, is it okay for, say, kindergartners? If not, by what criteria? During the course of the instructional day, shall a teacher utter “damn” (and other expletives to and with which students are exposed and familiar) as often as it strikes the teacher’s fancy, regardless of students’ ages, with any given student powerless to have a say whether s/he should have to hear it? And if students (say a first grader) utter them – especially directed at a teacher (and that happens not a little across The Fruited Plain) – to be consistent, who is to utter the first word of remonstrance to students?

    1. ” . . . because someone had a problem with my saying “damn” out loud in a classroom.”

      To be clear, I did not utter “damn” out loud to the students.

      1. Relax, Fillippo, most of the people here can both read and comprehend simultaneously. Chewing gum, on the third hand …

        1. Thanks. It was for the not “most.” I notice other posters occasionally post such clarifying correctives. (And inasmuch as our Host occasionally gets the “white glove”/”pole vaulting a piss ant” treatment regarding such grammatical/syntactical matters.)

  20. I assume I will be criticized, hopefully not censored, but I will make a point based on my current reading of “A farewell to arms” by Hemingway in a Penguin classics edition. All “cuss” words or expressions ( they are not many, but we are dealing with tense situations amongst all classes of society) are replaced by equivalent words such as “milk” for s— and “obscenity” or “unprintable” for the usual verb. I must say it does not detract from the quality of the text. The reader understands the state of mind withoug being constantly confronted to filth. In centuries past, those words were barred (not banned) in the text.

    I am over 60, and I was reflecting that the invasion of foul language on the air or in books started in the ’80s. I don’t believe this added anything good to the public discourse, space, and the education of younger generations. The only space where profanities are not used today is administrative written communication. Everything else uses foul language to ? make a point ? sound modern ? relate ?

    This is not needed. And it is not a question of color supremacy. Foul language misses the point.

    I am not an antisemit and as a matter of fact, I am the last (non practising) Jew of my lineage. The above thoughts apply to all printed text and aired material.

    1. I am not sure what your argument is here; you are just telling us that you are offended to see words in print that we hear every day. I am not offended (I am 12 years older than you are)? And you’re not going to change the way people speak.

      So, what argument are you making besides “I’m offended to hear or read profanity.” As for me, yes, I like to see in print or on the screen the words people actually use. To redact them is to redact real life and real people, which gives a false depiction of reality. And THAT is an argument.

    2. Profanity is part of a writer’s palette. Redacting it from an author’s writing is like removing the color blue from Picasso’s paintings.

      Speaking of Hemingway, I recently reread “Snows of Kilimanjaro.” In it at one point, Helen reminds Harry that they used to love staying at a particular hotel in Paris. Harry (who’s dying of gangrene) replies, “Love is a dunghill.”

      As originally written by Hemingway, what Harry says is, “Love is a pile of shit.” I don’t know whether the change in the published version was made by Hemingway’s longtime editor Max Perkins or not (though I doubt it), but anyone who thinks there’s no difference between “Love is a dunghill” and “Love is a pile of shit” has a tin ear.

  21. Sure, 8th graders have seen this stuff before. But, long ago when I was assigned to read a certain book in high school with eye-raising content, it made me question the educators’ choices. Spiegelman calls Tennessee “demented”? Demented is writing a kids book with foul language and not expecting any pushback.

    1. What on earth makes you think that Maus was written as a children’s book? Next thing you’ll be telling me that Judge Dredd, “Buster Gonad (and his Unfeasibly Large Testicles“, and “Watchmen” were also written for children (though I must admit to having been too young to have sex while drinking and driving when I first became a fan of the Judge).
      Has anyone checked the Tennessee dictionary to see if someone has deleted the entries between “bowdlerisation” and “irony”?
      Grud, what sickos.

      1. Voice of Reason: “Demented is writing a kids book with foul language and not expecting any pushback.”

        Gravel-Inspector: “What on earth makes you think that Maus was written as a children’s book?”

        Perhaps Voice of Reason should have instead said: “Demented is making an ADULT book with foul language conveniently available to students in the school library (and possibly also requiring/compelling students to read/listen to it), and not expecting any pushback.”

  22. You should please make clear that it was from EIGHTH GRADE classroom; and why don’t you PUBLISH the eight words and the illustration on your website, here. — at what age of a student do you believe these words and images should be presented by our schools and responsible for their affects.

    1. Oh sweet Jesus in a chicken basket: another first time commenter who comes barging in here without reading the rules, without reading the post, and without an ounce of civility.

      Look, jackass, the I quoted the article:

      Ten board members unanimously agreed in favour of removing the novel from the eighth-grade curriculum

      As for the eight words, it doesn’t matter what they are: eighth graders will have heard them.

      BTW, the word is “effects” not “affects”. I’m getting tired of chowderheads like you making rude and completely unsupported comments. You will post here no more. Go find some prospector so you can carry his possessions.

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