Banning Books? The Fear of Learning
An article in the Washington Post last week (Schools are quietly pulling titles from their libraries) brought back the issue of book banning. A hot topic a couple of months ago, it had quietly moved to the back burner in the weeks since war in Ukraine drew our attention halfway around the world.
I had started this post in February so today picked it up again to review, dusted it off, and updated. As the Post article showed, book banning, or “books quietly being removed from library shelves,” is still with us.
History has never looked fondly on people who ban books, but book bans are certainly still happening. Such are the times we live in and ignoring inconvenient facts has become another way to stay inside our comfortable bubbles with those who agree with us. We’re all too eager to be offended.
When my son was three years old, we took him to see Stephen Spielberg’s animated movie, Fievel: An American Tail, the story of seven-year-old Fievel Mouskewitz who immigrated to America in 1886 with his poor Russian Jewish family. In the movie, mice depicted the Jewish immigrants dreaming of a better life in America, and cats were the anti-Semitic bad guys shattering those dreams by terrorizing and preying on the mice.
Fast forward to the current banning of the graphic true-life novel, Maus. In January the school board in rural McMinn County, TN (midway between Knoxville and Chattanooga) voted unanimously to ban the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel, written by Art Spiegelman, from being taught to eighth graders. (A graphic novel is one that is illustrated in comic-strip format, telling its story in panel form similar to comic books.) In Maus – German for mouse – Mr. Spiegelman used mice to represent Jews and cats to represent Nazis during World War II.
The Maus banning caught our now-adult son’s attention.
“I took a course on graphic novels in college,” he said, “and one of the books we read was Maus. It is a necessary read about the horrors of the Holocaust, from first-hand accounts of the author’s father. The fact that some places are banning it is stunning and depressing.”
The cat-mouse analogy had come full circle for him. The need to never forget and thus never repeat the horrors of the Holocaust had been learned.
Maus tells the terrifyingly true story of the author’s parents during the Holocaust in 1940s Germany when more than six million Jews, gay, and disabled people, were rounded up and murdered at concentration camps including the notorious Auschwitz. It’s history. Tragically, after the war, Mr. Spiegelman’s mother committed suicide.
There are all kinds of book bans for all kinds of reasons but perhaps the ones against history are the most troublesome.
Virginia hasn’t escaped the book banning wave. The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that Hanover County Supervisor Michael Herzberg asked the school board to fast-track its decision on the removal of the children’s book, “A Place Inside of Me: A Poem to Heal the Heart” by Zetta Elliott and a 2021 Randolph Caldecott Medal honoree, described as “a children’s illustration book about a Black woman who was shot and killed by police and a young Black boy’s experience as he works through his emotions over it.”
The RTD added that, “In November, a pair of Spotsylvania County School Board members called for books containing sexually explicit material to be removed from schools and burned. The American Library Association reported 330 challenges to books in schools from September to November, twice as high as the year before.”
Which begs the question, what are they so afraid of?