Hey school board, leave those kids alone
A Tennessee school board has removed Maus, a graphic novel depicting the Holocaust, from its grade 8 curriculum. The novel, which uses cats and mice to symbolize Nazis and Jewish people, was removed on the grounds that it contained profane language and an image of a nude mouse. Librarians, teachers, parents and many in the Jewish community have challenged the school board, but they have stood by their decision. This has opened debates about whether there are grounds for removing material from school curriculums.
Unfortunately, this isn’t a new phenomenon or one that is particularly rare in modernity. Debates over the availability of the material in schools became news in the past year amidst conversations about teaching diversity, equity and inclusion. Florida’s recent move to ban the teaching of Critical Race Theory springs to mind.
This issue is important to me because I believe it is directly tied to our most fundamental mistake in modern discourse and political thought. We have become people who cannot entertain opposing views.
Many people today have made up their minds about the issues of the day. When presented with something in opposition to this view, no chances can be taken. The opposing idea must be purged from the mind with vigour to uphold a sense of self, whether for you or for others. That is, people do not want anything to challenge the views they hold to such an extent that they don’t dare think critically about an issue, even if they have never considered any of the counterarguments to their ill-conceived perceptions.
The true mark of a wise person is the ability to consider an argument and allow it to ruminate in the mind without judgement or praise. To simply consider the circumstances that may have contributed to the argument, conclusions and how it would feel on a daily basis to believe in such an argument. If you can do that, you become more peaceful and understanding, but also engage in an intellectual tradition that has brought forth the greatest ideas of mankind.
So, to bring us back to banning books from schools or removing their curriculums. This is never acceptable. To deprive people of the opportunity to engage with ideas, even if you believe them to be dangerous, is not education.
You must encourage people, and especially children and young adults, to read works by a variety of authors and make up their own minds.
Don’t make it up for them and then build a curriculum around it. If you have to ban books on Critical Race Theory from schools, you’re not allowing for education, you’re engaging in indoctrination because the “correct” way of thinking has been decided by politicians. True education begins when the mind is furnished with thoughts one agrees with and disagrees with vehemently. Only from there can true wisdom be found.
And on Maus, it’s quite evident no critical thinking was at play in the Tennessee school board’s decision.
If what you take away from Maus are profane language and a nude mouse, you have pulled off the near-impossible task of missing the entire message of the book. You must allow students to engage with the material you find egregious because this allows them to engage with the broader idea of the novel Maus, which has served as a way to explain the Holocaust to young people through its symbolism, storytelling and accessibility.
Hands off our books.