In both volumes, the Nazis are portrayed as cats, the Jews as mice, and the Poles as pigs. As one reviewer of the original Maus noted, "Spiegelman has transformed Nazi Germany into one monstrous mousetrap."
The portrayal of the Nazis as cats of course brings to mind the animals' quickness to strike their enemies and their propensity to pounce mercilessly on mice and then cruelly play with them prior to going in for the kill. This unorthodox approach of using mice, cats, and pigs in comic-strip form to tell the story of the Holocaust strangely heightens, rather than diminishes, the shocking nature of a world turned upside down by a society that condoned or looked the other way as mass murder was perpetrated in the name of a perverted ideology.
The initial volume, like its sequel, tells the story of the Holocaust via Artie's attempt to come to a deeper understanding and appreciation of his parents' experiences during the Holocaust years. Artie interviews his father, Vladek Spiegelman, and the reader "hears" two stories of survival-Vladek's direct experience of the Holocaust and Artie's story from the "shadow of the Holocaust."
Maus II shuttles between locations in the United States, Europe, Auschwitz (which is, at various times, referred to as Mauschwitz), Birkenau, and Dachau in the aftermath of the Holocaust. The reader is introduced to the pain of survivors as they discover the loss of family members, return to homes taken over by former neighbors, and attempt to reside in communities where it is still unsafe for Jews to be seen. Maus II also clearly delineates how life in the years following the war, even in countries such as the United States, was far from easy. As the survivors discovered, although distance from the geographical location of horror can be achieved, it is nearly impossible to flee from nightmares.
Artie's attempts to come to grips with his parents' nightmarish past punctuate the book: "I know this is insane, but I somehow wish I had been in Auschwitz with my parents so I could really know what they lived through! I guess it's some kind of guilt about having had an easier life than they did" (16).
Both Maus and Maus II are remarkable for their artisanship, artwork, story line, accurate use of language (Vladek speaks broken English that is both endearing and realistic: "They registered us in....They took from us our names. And here they put me my number," ).
The mesmerizing black-and-white drawings are detailed and stark. Together with the story line and the text, the comic-strip panels create a phantasmagoria of moods.
Many teachers will find this stunning achievement valuable. At the very least, it ought to provide a fresh perspective on the Holocaust and serve as a useful resource in the classroom.
That said, I am hesitant to recommend this volume unequivocally for classroom use. Because general knowledge about the Holocaust is minimal and because many students may have a propensity to view a comic strip with a lightheartedness inappropriate to the subject matter addressed here, teachers need to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of using such a work. If used with finesse and a great deal of care and structure, a class reading of the volume could prove to be a stunning learning experience. If used in a perfunctory manner, the result could be abysmal. Of course, such caveats are true of any complex and profoundly significant topic.
It should also be noted that both volumes include some profanity. Although the profanity does not mar the overall achievement and quality of this fine volume, it might be deemed inappropriate in some school settings by some parents or educators.
When all is said and done, Maus is an incredibly engaging and thought-provoking piece of art. It is also a unique and valuable resource for those keenly interested in teaching and learning about the Holocaust.
University of Arkansas
Opening Doors: Perspectives on Race Relations in Contemporary America, edited by Harry J. Knopke, Robert J. Norrell, and Ronald J. Rogers. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1991. 234 pp. $22.95 hardcover. Reviewed by Jerry Phillips.
The editors begin Opening Doors by suggesting that Alabama Governor George C. Wallace's 1963 attempt to block the admission of two African-American students to the University of Alabama would become a lasting symbol in civil rights history. What follows are ten well-written, often critical responses to that historical hypothesis.
The perspectives can be divided into approximately three positions. First, four chapters consider race relations in the United States since Wallace made his stand. Each chapter takes a different approach to explain how human relations in the Deep South reached this moment of crisis. By placing Wallace's stand in the text of historical conflict over human relations, these chapters detail some of the underlying problems that have impeded the advancement of race relations in the United States.
Next, three chapters explore social scientists' study of the primary attributes of prejudice and discrimination. Here, current psychological and social-psychological perspectives are presented. Specifically, one point of view examines the circumstance of prejudice on an individual level, while a second examines how the effects of discrimination and prejudice can be transformed into variables for research, especially in school settings. For example, schools can be used as the major construct to represent modern institutions.
Finally, three chapters look to the future by considering a number of ways to address prejudice and discrimination on the individual, institutional, and sociocultural levels. One chapter describes strategies for helping individuals change their own behavior and that of relevant groups to which they belong. Another provides an assessment of institutional changes that have occurred over the past twenty-five years and uses historical perspectives to forecast changes that may occur in the future. Another chapter develops a sociocultural context for change strategies, arguing that "blackness" is more than a color, it is primarily a culture.
For the social studies teacher, Opening Doors describes the progress that has been made in the relationships between and among the races from an "I-was-there-in-1963" perspective. It can help us understand both hate and volition. It also serves to broaden teachers' perspectives on the traditions, values, and attitudes that have contributed to misunderstanding and violence in race relations.
Closing Doors succinctly describes our country's progress in the relationships between races since Wallace's stand, but it is more than a look backward. The authors are making progress in the future. As such, this book fits nicely with other contemporary critical work, especially Jonathan Kozol's Savage Inequalities (New York: Crown Publishers, 1991), and David Vold and Joseph DeVitis's School Reform in the Deep South: A Critical Appraisal (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1991). All three present a philosophical platform for challenging racial attitudes in the United States.
University of Arkansas at Monticello
Schoolhouse Politics: Lessons from the Sputnik Era, by Peter B. Dow. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1991. 299 pp. $34.95 cloth. Transforming Power: Domination, Empowerment, and Education, by Seth Kreisberg. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992. 264 pp. $17.95 paper. Reviewed by Kathy Bickmore.
Powerful Ideas: Teachers' Involvement in Curricular Innovations
These two books present contrasting views on how teachers develop their abilities to teach critical and creative thinking within the complex constraints of diverse public school classrooms. Schoolhouse Politics focuses on the power of pivotal ideas to inspire and move teachers and their students. Transforming Power focuses on individual innovative teachers' development of ideas about power. In both cases, conflict is in the foreground as a catalyst for classroom interaction and thinking, and in the background as the risk and the raison d'etre of innovative education in a pluralist political context.
Peter B. Dow's Schoolhouse Politics examines "Man: A Course of Study" (the MACOS curriculum), a project funded by National Science Foundation grants to its parent organization, Educational Services Inc. (since renamed Educational Development Center). The MACOS project was developed in the mid-1960s through an extraordinary collaboration of scholarly and practical talent during a generation of educational reform brought about by the perceived national security threat of the 1957 Soviet Sputnik expedition. Dow traces the shaping of this prototype for a new kind of elementary social studies course and chronicles the events that led to its demise. As a participant in the process, tempered by reflection and interviews a generation later, Dow captures vividly the conflicting array of voices interested in the project, thus providing rich insights into alternative conceptions of social studies curriculum.
The MACOS project applied Jerome Bruner's key theoretical principle: if curricula are built around powerful organizing ideas (e.g., what is human about human beings?), then students can construct deep and transferable understanding at an early age. In an era of rapid change, only the most fundamental concepts can make new situations comprehensible. Instead of an "expanding environments" curriculum that progresses gradually from the local and familiar, MACOS used "post-holes" (vivid details regarding selected unfamiliar cases). MACOS units employed cross-species comparisons to illuminate concepts of language, life cycle, and learning, and cross-cultural comparisons to illuminate concepts of social organization, technology, and explanation of the unknown. The course used participatory pedagogy and primary source materials rather than a textbook: like "expert" scientists, students were intended to take responsibility for inquiry and evaluation of uncertain knowledge. Conflictual ideas were embraced as learning opportunities. Clearly, MACOS represented a challenge to accepted ways of thinking about children and education.
Teaching Conflict in a Plural Society
Three decades after the genesis of MACOS, the theme of educational reform has shifted from raising the ceiling of excellence in training scientific leadership to broadening the floor of minimum achievement for common citizens. Dow presents tantalizing but disjointed tidbits regarding the accessibility and comprehensibility of a curriculum such as MACOS for a broad range of students. On the one hand, the use of diverse activities and media tapped into an unusual range of student abilities and learning styles, presumably giving more students an opportunity to learn. "Teachers were surprised to find that they could no longer predict who might be the star performer on a given day" (259). On the other hand, complex and speculative curriculum may increase the variance among students: unstructured and unexplicit activities draw upon academic confidence and "codes" for proper participation that are skewed along lines of privilege (Delpit 1988). An evaluation of the 1966 MACOS field test, for example, found boys substantially more enthusiastic than girls in the same classes about the "ESI way of teaching" (115). The problem of "fit" between conceptually rich curriculum and diverse students deserves clearer focus and further investigation.
Once teachers overcame the MACOS creators' initial ambivalence about their abilities and importance as partners in curriculum development, some instructive issues were illuminated (139). Foremost was the value and difficulty of managing conflicting perspectives, both in subject-matter content and in pedagogical process. Teachers had to clarify for themselves and to become comfortable with the course's controversial material before they could shape learning environments in which their students could freely explore such ideas. Further, Dow's story shows that even successful classroom implementation and dissemination by skilled and enthusiastic teachers does not protect true innovations from the jaws of interest group politics.
Teaching Power: How Important Is the Subject Matter?
It is in situations of conflict that problems of power become most salient. Dow reports that "the overriding purpose of the teacher program was to empower teachers, to give them confidence in the power of their own minds and in their skills as instructors, just as the course was designed to empower children" (154). Empowerment of teachers and their students is the central concern of Transforming Power. According to Kreisberg, a teacher or student who is empowered has a "voice," or "a degree of self-confidence" born of thinking and acting, understanding and control (163).
Kreisberg's assumption is similar to Dow's: teachers can (and should) learn to practice sharing democratic power in the classroom to improve students' opportunities to develop as empowered citizens. Curriculum innovation may be fostered by supplementing the resources of neighborhood schools with outside skills and ideas. Kreisberg interviewed six teachers, all active participants in one chapter of Educators for Social Responsibility, a ten-year-old organization whose mission overlaps that of ESI/EDC. His study focuses not on ESR or any of its curricular innovations, but on the generalized "empowerment experiences" of a few of the organization's most committed teachers.
The teachers in Kreisberg's study were attracted to ESR by their concern about world events, especially the arms race. Because their experiences are analyzed independent of this important subject matter, however, a wealth of potentially pithy detail is lost. Although all six teachers apparently participated in developing ESR-sponsored curricula, the book barely mentions this material. Each teacher discusses power issues with occasional reference to a different curriculum, from English to health to world hunger. What makes these six teachers' stories so potentially interesting is that they came to their understandings of educational empowerment through collaborative work on innovative curriculum that did not shy away from conflict. What makes this book so frustrating is that the specifics that would ground this inspiration in reality or allow others to learn from their experience are obscured.
Can problems of power, joint inquiry, or conflict be handled generically? According to Kreisberg, "the process of empowerment can occur anywhere, under just about any conditions" (194). Perhaps so, but this doesn't show educators how to get from here to there. Dow illuminates the particular intersection between the contents of MACOS and the historical time and place of its dissemination, thus explaining both the enthusiasm of participating teachers and the backlash from sectors of the political community. Here is a curricular lesson along Bruner's own lines: the intrinsic interest and educational value of vivid specifics outweighs that of predigested generalities.
Delpit, Lisa. "The Silenced Dialogue: Power and Pedagogy in Educating Other People's Children." Harvard Educational Review 58 (August 1988): 280-98.Kathy Bickmore
Cleveland State University