It’s an assault on the senses. Open the pages. Scan the images because sometimes reading the reality is overwhelming. Because, in the end, it’s real. It’s what happened.
The fact that Maus is being banned is…well…hideous. I understand that the book is “hard” to read. That it’s distressing. I will be honest…don’t know that I would have incorporated it into a middle school curriculum. Personally, I have used Maus in a Holocaust literature circle project. I had seniors read the book because I felt that seniors had the maturity and grace to read Maus.
Maus is a graphic biography of Art Spiegelman’s parents Holocaust experiences. It documents the train “ride” in the cattle car. The entrance into Auschwitz.
Maus shows selection. A simple word…selection. The idea of choosing something, like putting items in a shopping cart. Choosing what puppy comes home. But in this case, Holocaust selection–The choice of which people will live. Who will die. Selection that is done when people are stripped of their clothes because nudity doesn’t conceal illnesses or diseases. Nudity doesn’t conceal the ravages of starvation.
I understand why parents of middle schoolers might object to their preadolescents reading Maus because of this. Because there is a point at which Spiegelman documents his mother’s suicide. I am haunted by a woman in a blood-water filled bathtub.
But to ban a book….to exorcise its pages from a classroom….
I want to buy class sets of the book and display them, pages splayed wide open, and teach it. Teach the significance of a writer who uses people with animal heads as metaphors for entrapment, for the hunting down of humans. Symbolic allusions that create parables about hatred, about the refinement of murder without it being seen as murder because the people who were gassed with pesticides weren’t seen as people.
A single word which enables people to justify throwing babies in the air to use them as target practice…a fact documented in the book Night, another Holocaust book that I have taught. That was defamed and vandalized by one of my students in which he wrote racist and anti-Semitic remarks. And I couldn’t do anything because I couldn’t prove, without a shadow of a doubt, that he was the writer.
Dehumanization is a by-product of hatred. Another simple word. An extreme emotion. One created by….a moment of rage? A betrayal?
What’s worse…hatred that is created by education. Parents teaching their children to hate someone else because they are different? They think differently?
The polarization of the world (not just America) is highlighted through the very books that we ban. We ban what makes us uncomfortable, what makes us question. I don’t like the N-word. But I’m not going to stop teaching literature that uses that language. I want to confront its evil. I want to confront its hatred. Because if I shy away from teaching and acknowledging words that I dislike or make me uncomfortable, then I might also shy away from their hideous reality. And in that shying away, I worry, I am afraid that we will forget the history behind the words. The actions that were once considered acceptable but aren’t anymore. Because we changed. We grew as a society. Our humanity that was created because we strove to stop being INhumane. Un-human.
I consider my parents and my community when I teach. I do my best to consider what makes other people uncomfortable so that I might create a comfort zone. I want my parents and community to trust me. To know that I care about their students. But I care about humanity and human history. And I know that choosing not to learn about our history is choosing to repeat our history. And we have too many moments in our history that is filled with inhumanity.
Banning books is recycling history’s clock. It’s taking the clock’s hands and wedging them backwards and inviting the past to move from reflection to repetition. And in those moments of repetition, people are hurt. They die. They are selected to die. And each of those words…and their actions…matter.