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maus and dear martin

February 1, 2022

Discuss Why School Districts Are Banning Books About the Holocaust and Racism

Ask Students: Who determines what books are available in your school library? What about your local public library? Why are school districts banning books?

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Watch the video below to learn more about the recent uptick in K-12 school districts banning books, particularly the role of school librarians and public librarians. Then read the following article described below on two more books that were recently banned by school districts for using inappropriate language or imagery.

The graphic novel “Maus” by Art Spiegelman tells of the atrocities committed during the Holocaust based on stories Spiegelman heard from his father who was a survivor; read Holocaust novel ‘Maus’ banned in Tennessee school district by the Associated Press to learn more. The AP article provides important context on the recent moves by school districts across the country to censor books:
 

The decision comes as conservative officials across the country have increasingly tried to limit the type of books that children are exposed to, including books that address structural racism and LGBTQ issues. The Republican governors in South Carolina and Texas have called on superintendents to perform a systemic review of “inappropriate” materials in their states’ schools.

Associated Press

Nic Larson’s “Dear Martin” was recently banned by two school administrations in North Carolina and Missouri. Read ‘Dear Martin’ pulled from Tuscola class by Hannah McLeod of Smoky Mountain News in North Carolina and Judd Legum’s Popular Information article which provides further detail, North Carolina superintendent abruptly removes MLK-themed novel from 10th grade class.

At Monett High School in Monett, Missouri, Superintendent Mark Drake says the book has not been ‘banned’ from the district, but for the time being it would not be taught, according to the Springfield News-Leader.

Drake said, “It would be a book that would go through the committee if the teacher still wanted to teach that or even if we wanted to have it on the shelf of the library,” he told the Monett High School Principal Stephanie Heman said a change was in order and that students initially assigned “Dear Martin” will instead be required to read “To Kill A Mockingbird” by Harper Lee.

Interestingly enough, Lee’s book has also been on banned books’ lists, however it remains many school districts go-to for teaching students about racism in the U.S. — a move that brings its own set of challenges. In 2019, NewsHour asked educators across the country for a list of alternative reads to “To Kill a Mockingbird” in the article 10 books besides ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ that tackle racial injustice.

Focus Questions

  • Who determines what books you read in class? Who determines what books are available in your school library? What about your local public library?
     
  • Who do you think should determine what books students should have access to? Should the request of one parent or a group of parents be enough for a superintendent or school board to ban a book?
     
  • Do you think there is difference in taking a book out of the curriculum versus taking the book out of a school library or public library? (There are examples of both decisions being made in the articles above.) Do you know if these debates are happening where you live?

Additional Resources

Read The Hill’s Movement to ban — or even burn — school library books gains momentum: “I think we should throw those books in a fire,” a Virginia school board member said last week at a meeting.

Watch this 2013 video about books that had been banned up until that time. Do you know any more books that have been banned since?

This House of History video addresses a number of world history standards through its many examples of book burning:

PBS NewsHour Classroom helps teachers and students identify the who, what, where and why-it-matters of the major national and international news stories.

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