The Left Claims a Tennessee School Board Banned a Holocaust Book; Fact-check: False

AP Photo/Melinda Deslatte

McMinn County, Tennessee, made the news late last night and it will, I suspect, make news today. If one is a devotee of the left, McMinn’s school board is composed of knuckle-dragging Neanderthals and anti-Semite book-burners. Reality is different.

McMinn County has a total population that wouldn’t fill a baseball stadium but it became a lighting-rod on Wednesday, when its school board voted to remove one book from the 8th grade language arts curriculum.

The book, titled, “Maus,” is a serialized graphic novel. “Graphic novel” is another way of not calling a 296-page comic book a comic book. Its subject is the Holocaust, and it’s illustrated with animal metaphors. Jews are mice (thus the title), Germans are cats, and the French are frogs. The author of “Maus” is Art Spiegelman. “Maus” is told as an interview with Spiegelman’s father (a Polish Jew) who survived the Holocaust. Published in the 1980s, the novel uses heavy-line cartoon imagery to tell a story of the Holocaust. In 1992, it won a Pulitzer Prize by special award.

When the school board in McMinn County removed “Maus” from the 8th grade reading list, that decision should have remained as a local choice of a small rural county school board changing its middle school curriculum. Frankly I am surprised that “Maus” was part of reading material for any 8th grade language arts course. It seems more appropriate for high school or college.

Someone must have alerted the crazies on the left because a local non-story was turned into a national story literally overnight. CNBC called it a book “banning.” The headline blared:

“Tennessee school board bans Holocaust graphic novel ‘Maus’ – author Art Spiegelman condemns the move as ‘Orwellian’ “

Spiegelman is quoted as saying:

“I’m kind of baffled by this,” Art Spiegelman, the author of “Maus,” told CNBC in an interview about the unanimous vote by the McMinn board to bar the book, which is about his parents, from continuing to be used in the curriculum. “It’s leaving me with my jaw open, like, ‘What?’”

Except, that isn’t what happened. The book isn’t banned. Maus was removed from a reading list because the board fielded complaints about curse words and a depiction of nudity that the board deemed inappropriate for 8th graders. “Maus” wasn’t even banned from the school library. Copies weren’t torched, and it wasn’t banned because it’s about the Holocaust.

Also the school board’s vote was taken on January 10th. Over two weeks ago. The vote didn’t come to light until the night of January 26th. January 27th is Holocaust Remembrance Day. The timing was intentional. It was orchestrated that way. Someone wanted to time this to embarrass McMinn County and to frame this as something like:  “Local Tennessee knuckle-draggers ban Jewish book on Holocaust Remembrance Day.”. It’s pathetic, obvious, and a lie.

By example, the place where all sense of reality goes to die (Twitter) was ablaze with the “ban” lie.

Note the language: “Just voted” and “banned.” Both are lies. Neil Gaiman implies that the school board in McMinn are Nazis.

“Maus” is an interesting work of art that uses cartoons and text to make a valid point. But as an avid reader and cartoonist, and as a parent who once had children in 8th grade, I don’t think “Maus” is the best literary source to tell the story of the Holocaust — whether as history or as language art. Would I have objected to its use as a parent? Probably not, but McMinn County made the call to remove it from one grade’s curriculum, as age inappropriate. That is all it did.  It didn’t ban Spiegelman’s graphic novel.

But a good and useful lie was launched, and McMinn became a lightning-rod for the left and the “twitterverse.”

Never let a good lie go to waste.