Cutting Through the Hysteria about a Tennessee School Board’s “Ban” on a Book about the Holocaust

“McMinn County Bans Maus, Pulitzer Prize-Winning Holocaust Book,” ran the headline in the TN Holler, a progressive Tennessee-based news website. Soon viral outrage followed, and the story made its way to CNBC and CNN. Arthur Spiegelman, who authored the graphic novel Maus—based on his father’s own experience in the Shoah—declared that the McMinn County school board’s decision had “the breath of autocracy and fascism about it.” But the book was not banned, writes Thomas Balazs, as he attempts to cut through some of the hysteria:

First things first: Maus is not being “banned.” The McMinn County school board simply voted to remove it from the middle-school Holocaust curriculum. That’s not a ban, it’s a routine curriculum change. The Holocaust will continue to be taught, and Maus will be replaced with another text. Even if McMinn County removes Maus from the middle-school library (and it’s not clear they plan to do so), that still wouldn’t constitute a ban. They’re not saying kids can’t read it or that bookstores can’t sell it. They don’t have the power to ban Maus even if they wanted to. It’s freely available on the Internet to those who know where to look and can be found in nearly every library and bookstore in the country.

I’m a writer. I’m an English professor. I’m a comic-book lover. I’m a Jew and a [child of a] Holocaust survivor. I understand perfectly why Maus is great. It was important in my life. It helped me to understand my father, who was a lot like Spiegelman’s. That doesn’t mean I get to insist that every county in the country include the book in its eighth-grade Holocaust program. I don’t know the kids in McMinn County, but I doubt they’ll become Nazis because they didn’t get to read Maus until ninth grade.

Nor will they become degenerates if they read it in seventh grade. But it’s not my call (or yours) unless you live in that county, and it’s certainly not anti-Semitic or book-burning to replace one Holocaust text with another. Even on International Holocaust Day. Even if it’s Maus.

So, why all the weeping and gnashing of teeth? Some elements on the left clearly want to use this issue in order to discredit recent parental efforts to remove inflammatory texts about race or explicit sex-education materials from school curricula. . . . The debates about critical race theory and sexually explicit graphic novels have nothing to do with Jews or the Holocaust, and there’s something cynical and exploitative about political attempts to link these controversies.

Read more at Quillette

More about: Critical race theory, Education, Holocaust fiction, U.S. Politics

How to Save the Universities

To Peter Berkowitz, the rot in American institutions of higher learning exposed by Tuesday’s hearings resembles a disease that in its early stages was easy to cure but difficult to diagnose, and now is so advanced that it is easy to diagnose but difficult to cure. Recent analyses of these problems have now at last made it to the pages of the New York Times but are, he writes, “tardy by several decades,” and their suggested remedies woefully inadequate:

They fail to identify the chief problem. They ignore the principal obstacles to reform. They propose reforms that provide the equivalent of band-aids for gaping wounds and shattered limbs. And they overlook the mainstream media’s complicity in largely ignoring, downplaying, or dismissing repeated warnings extending back a quarter century and more—largely, but not exclusively, from conservatives—that our universities undermine the public interest by attacking free speech, eviscerating due process, and hollowing out and politicizing the curriculum.

The remedy, Berkowitz argues, would be turning universities into places that cultivate, encourage, and teach freedom of thought and speech. But doing so seems unlikely:

Having undermined respect for others and the art of listening by presiding over—or silently acquiescing in—the curtailment of dissenting speech for more than a generation, the current crop of administrators and professors seems ill-suited to fashion and implement free-speech training. Moreover, free speech is best learned not by didactic lectures and seminars but by practicing it in the reasoned consideration of competing ideas with those capable of challenging one’s assumptions and arguments. But where are the professors who can lead such conversations? Which faculty members remain capable of understanding their side of the argument because they understand the other side?

Read more at RealClearPolitics

More about: Academia, Anti-Semitism, Freedom of Speech, Israel on campus