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Tech Faculty Weigh in on Book Bans

Dr. Ted Pelton works in his office next to “The Complete Maus” novel on Feb. 11 in Henderson Hall. Pelton plans to continue teaching this work to his sophomore literature classes. Photo by Sarah Aku.

The controversial ban of Art Spiegelman’s “Maus,” a graphic novel portraying the Holocaust, by a Tennessee school board has caused sales to increase on Amazon, resulting in it becoming a bestseller.

“The Complete Maus” collection currently sits at No. 3 on the bestseller’s list. It previously topped the list at No. 1.

In McMinn County, Tennessee, the school board voted unanimously to have “Maus” removed from the curriculum due to inappropriate language and nudity. The book “The Bluest Eye” was also recently added to the growing list of banned books by the Wentzville School Board of Missouri due to its “divisive” content.

Dr. Ted Pelton, author and English professor, disagrees with any school board’s decision to ban books.

“There’s a lot to talk about here, but I think that where teachers have decided these books are appropriate in the curriculum, board members should be very careful to avoid censorship,” Pelton said.

Mari Ramler, a literature professor at Tech, has a lot to say over the “Maus” ban.

“I hope we are intelligent enough … I hope we recognize that we are a national disgrace. And I do not say that hyperbolically. We are on NPR, we are on CNN, we are now known for banning a book on the holocaust. For dumb reasons. For reasons that do not follow with its rhetorical aim,” Ramler said. “We banned a public memory project on the Holocaust for being taught in our school because it had swear words and female breasts. That seems crazy to me. It is making Tennessee a point of derision and mockery.”

Tennessee has received a lot of backlash from McMinn’s decision to ban “Maus.” Once people started to catch word of the ban, immediate action was seen across the U.S.

“That in other states, people in our own state, people like me, people like the comic bookstore in Knoxville that just raised $3,000 to send the book to kids in McMinn,” Ramler explained.

Not only are people taking action in Tennessee, but also nationally. In some states, teachers and professors are offering classes for the kids of McMinn so they can still learn about the book. In other states, books are being given out for free to anyone who would like to read the book.

Some are doubting the ban as questions over the internet are circling about the school board’s curriculum. The main problem seems to be the young viewers and the graphic images they’re being subjected to in the classroom.

Pelton believes these types of books exist to help heal society.

“I reject terms like ‘divisiveness’ or ‘inappropriate language’ to characterize these books,” Pelton said. “I think it’s even more divisive and inappropriate to assume that we live in an unproblematic society that doesn’t need books like ‘Maus’ or ‘The Bluest Eye.’”

While he has never heard of Tech having censorship in the past, Pelton doesn’t want to rule out the possibility of it happening in the future.

“Where censorship is concerned, history has shown us that it can happen anywhere, so I would never say never,” Pelton said. “But I think when we have such dangers afoot in society, there is always the danger of self-censorship.”

Pelton currently teaches “Maus” to his sophomore literature classes and has no plans of stopping. Ramler will continue to help the McMinn community in any way she can. With the help of local professors, and those like-minded, “Maus” will live on like Spiegelman intended.