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McMinn County School Board c/o
McMinn County School District
3 South Hill Street
Athens, TN 37303

Dear Members of the McMinn County Board of Education Rob Shamblin, Tony Allman, Jonathan Pierce, Donna Casteel, Mike Lowry, Mike Cochran, Sharon Brown, Quinten Howard, Bill Irvin, and Denise Cunningham:

In light of the McMinn County Board of Education meeting on January 10, 2022, I would like to plead for your reconsideration of removing Maus from the eighth-grade curriculum. I understand that your decision was not made lightly and that it has sparked national debate on the “banning” of books. I am also aware of the vitriol directed at you for your decision.

I have no interest in the acrimony of late. I simply wish to attempt to demonstrate why this book, Maus, is so very important in hopes that you will reinstate it.

I humbly submit that the most significant question is one that the committee overlooked, and one that should be considered before any educational decisions are made: What is school for? To clarify, I mean, what is its purpose and what do we hope to accomplish with it?

The answer, in my opinion, is to prepare students for the “real world,” that is, expose them to concepts and lessons unfamiliar to them, thus creating opportunities for learning. In this, we should provide students the environment to question what they are taught so that they can both truly understand that which we wish to teach and can be able to apply those skills to the world that awaits them after receiving their diploma.

To address your concerns, I ask the following: If this is our purpose, to truly educate our children and prepare them for the real world, then the sight of a woman’s breast—in cartoon form, no less—is not shocking in the sense addressed in the meeting. By eighth grade, students should have a basic understanding of anatomy and physiology, the form and function of the human body, or we and our science classes have already failed them. If we are willing to dispose of the basis of a curriculum in order to protect teenagers from a naked breast or words with which they are already familiar, we have further failed them.

Ugly periods of history have ugly events and ugly consequences attached to them.  In terms of the “vulgar and inappropriate behavior,” the Holocaust was vulgar and inappropriate. People were hanged. Children were killed. People were marched off to horrible conditions, and they were put on trains to be killed by the millions. The depiction as presented in the book, though disturbing, was not graphic.  Both as readers and as students, we should find this material disturbing. Being exposed to events of the Holocaust should be disturbing, otherwise we have become callous to the suffering of others and unable to grasp the significance of World War II.

We ourselves must learn the difference between demonstrating and promoting.

The gift of Maus is that it provides a real story of someone who survived the Holocaust. Rather than dry facts for memorization, it offers a survivor’s personal narrative of the events leading up to his imprisonment and survival. Because it is told in story form, it allows students to engage by connecting with the book, a method proven to encourage more expansive and deeper learning of subject matter. Imagine, if you will, a teacher using the first-hand account of a soldier in George Washington’s army as a primary resource, with a text book with facts and dates as reinforcement. Do you not think students would be more engaged with this method?  Do we not wish students to be better learners?

In addition to the subject of the Holocaust, Maus addresses subjects such as mental illness and suicide, betrayal and perseverance, stereotypes, motivation, and family conflict. All of these topics are already a part of a staggeringly high number of students’ lives; being able to explore and discuss them could potentially lead to more awareness, better coping skills, and better outcomes in students’ personal lives.  Do we not want these for our students as well?

While reading any book is potentially possible for anyone, offering in-depth insight into the subject matter and themes by an educated, trained, and highly skilled teacher is irreplaceable by simply reading the material.

Again, I respectfully ask that you sincerely ponder the questions of what the purpose of school is and what you want for your students in terms of their education. If your mission is to educate all students to be successful in a global society by providing excellence in educators, programs, and the environment,” Maus and books like it very much support that mission.  I further ask that you reconsider the removal of this Pulitzer-Prize and American Book Award winning Maus by Art Spiegelman.

Thank you for your time.

Most sincerely,
N. J. Ray

Ⓒ 2022 N. J. Ray. Letters from Home. All rights reserved.