The essays were screened and judged by a panel including: the Chinook staff; Kathy Glassman, president of CSEA; Susan Rottman, local author and teacher; and Independent editor Kathryn Eastburn.
Our thanks to the teachers who encouraged their students to participate and to all students who submitted essays. Winners will be honored at a 5:30 p.m. reception on Friday, Oct. 27, at Chinook. The public is invited.
Junior High School Winners
First Place Brandon Redlinger, Grade 8
Eagleview Middle School
"We don't have to agree with what we read, but we should learn from it."
The freedom to read means we shouldn't allow censorship or book banning due to subject matter, language usage or violent situations. To prevent children from knowing about the world and human nature is unrealistic. "Children are not innocent. They are just inexperienced," said Judy Blume, a veteran of censorship wars. Shielding children from the cruel reality of the world doesn't do them any favors. Instead of shielding children, parents can offer a perspective from personal experiences and help children interpret the world, its realities and flaws. Children, with guidance from parents, should be able to make decisions about what they read and believe. Parents need to take the responsibility, deciding what is appropriate or inappropriate for their children. We shouldn't sacrifice our First Amendment rights to censors just to be protected from what other people consider right and wrong.
The determination about which books should be restricted from children depends on their level of maturity. A person less mature might misinterpret the meaning of subject matter resulting in inappropriate thoughts, beliefs or behavior. Conversely, a person who is mature enough to comprehend what the author is implying will understand the message being emphasized. Again, parents' supervision is indicated, not banning.
Reading is one of our greatest freedoms. Censorship leads to conformity. This limits the range and variety of inquiry and expression on which our culture depends. Creativity, research, and technological advances would be limited. Democracy's responsibility is to make available a diversity of views, popular and unpopular. It's not right to coerce the thought of some and inhibit the efforts of others. All community members should have equal access to the entire range of written resources. Publishers' responsibilities are to give the full meaning to the freedom to read by providing books that enrich the quality and diversity of expression. The freedom to read is of little consequence unless the reader can obtain material to suit his purpose.
Libraries should be allowed to provide information presenting contrasting viewpoints on historical issues. History teaches students the events that shaped the world. Materials shouldn't be removed because of differing partisan or doctrinal views. A person's right to use a library for research should not be denied because of parents' conflicting views either. We don't have to agree with what we read, but we should learn from it.
The First Amendment guarantees our freedom to decide what we choose to read and think. Though someone may be convinced his views are right, that individual is not entitled to impose them on others.
Second Place Grady Castle, Grade 8
Eagleview Middle School
"Controversial writing ... keeps our minds alive."
The books that the world calls immoral are the books that show the world its shame." -- Oscar Wilde.
When books are banned, it illustrates a refusal of the censors to look at the world with open eyes; to close their eyes like they closed the banned book. Banning books divulges more about the censor than the book or the author brought into the limelight.
Freedom to read means that you are able to read freely without the possibility of being stopped because the material is inappropriate according to the challenger's belief system. If the challenger doesn't like the book, maybe he shouldn't read it or let his children read it. But banning books takes the books off the shelves, abolishing even the slightest chance that those condemned books might be able to be read at all. Banning for one bans for all.
"... I say let's get back to the good old First Amendment of the good old-fashioned United States -- and to hell with the censors! Give me knowledge, or give me death!" -- Kurt Vonnegut
The Bill of Rights makes important changes to the Constitution set to establish rules for the United States of America. Obviously, the most important change would be made first. If the First Amendment states that it is okay to write as you wish, then I believe it's okay to write as you wish. And a corollary to that is it's okay to read what you want, too. Depriving others of the chance to read is an unjust thing to do. It doesn't matter if another doesn't want to read a book because the author said something that was offensive, but don't try to control another's value system by limiting their exposure to ideas.
If the privilege of writing something one believes in is taken away, then the privilege of believing has been taken away. Freedom to read is the freedom to read anything. I have read many books I wanted to read even though it was prohibited and that's the way I want it to always be.
I want it to always be this way because my interest jumps a notch when someone tells me a book's controversial. Controversial writing causes sparks and keeps our minds alive.
"Free societies ... are societies in motion, and with motion comes tension, dissent, friction. Free people strike sparks, and those sparks are the best evidence of freedom's existence." -- Salmon Rushdie
High School Winners
First Place Kendall Anderson, Grade 11
Manitou Springs High School
"Books that break the mold are what we need."
Stripping books that some people deem inappropriate from high school libraries underrates youthful intelligence, clouds history and dilutes our culture to fit a mold of conformity. Oftentimes books are quite literally judged by their covers. There is much more to most frequently challenged books than a controversial topic. What lies between the covers are breakthroughs in expression, timeless plots, and new perspectives for readers. Books that break the mold are what we need. High school libraries should foster open expression without limitations by censors.
The dull reaction and sarcastic tone Kurt Vonnegut takes when describing war and massacre cause his books to be challenged in several communities. Misunderstanding provokes this ridicule. Vonnegut uses the phrase "So it goes" to describe numerous senseless deaths in his book Slaughterhouse Five. Vonnegut doesn't mean to devalue the importance of life, but rather, he emphasizes with the repeated phrase the horrible reality of lives lost. By assuming that high school readers can't understand and appreciate this, censors misjudge student intelligence and swindle teens out of experiencing groundbreaking literature.
Rape is not a tasteful subject for anyone. However, a novel can deal with this delicate subject with more empathy than the evening news. Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings confronts this touchy subject. Yet while rape may not be a comfortable topic, the problem is not alien to many young women. By pulling these books off shelves, censors close our eyes to the world around us. Such books can teach the confused or comfort the suffering. If ideas in books are too taboo for some readers, no one is forced to read them. Someone who thirsts for that information, however, shouldn't be deprived of the opportunity to find it.
In Mark Twain's novels, TheAdventures of Huckleberry Finn and TheAdventures of Tom Sawyer, many people confront uncomfortable language. These books offer the reader a peek into another time period when a different set of values reigned. We should be trying to reclaim the innocence of that era, not censoring the slang of the time. Censoring regional books such as these distorts history.
We should not underestimate our youth, disguise our culture, or sweep the past under the rug. A high school student can't be sheltered from what is true or from ideas that can change their lives. Everyone deserves an opportunity to be touched by literature. Censoring books in a high school library is not acceptable.
Second Place Annabell Woods, Grade 11
Manitou Springs High School
"Some believe they can hoodwink today's youth."
My generation, probably more aware of the world than our predecessors, faces challenges on all levels as capable adults, and we cannot allow ourselves to be swaddled when we are not infants. Censoring challenged books in high schools distorts constitutional freedom and robs young adults of potentially enriching literature. Some believe they can hoodwink today's youth. With some initiative and persistence, these people often succeed. While they preach purity, censors pervert and destroy many authors' ideas and stop our right to judge for ourselves what we can view.
As a child, the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, the Oz books by Frank L. Baum, and similar stories ignited my imagination with adventure and images of wizards, witches, and talking animals. The same reasons these stories stay alive and vivid in my memory are some of the same reasons that censors ban books today. When children today read the widely scrutinized Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling, I am certain that Rowling's words excite them as Lewis's and Baum's words excited me.
I gravitate toward literature that depicts reality. TheAdventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, criticized for displaying disobedient behavior and racial slurs, accurately portray the author's era. The artful precision that acclaimed poet Maya Angelou paints her personal experiences in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is censored because it discusses rape. A Separate Peace by John Knowles let me peer into our world at a different time. These books open the minds of high school students, rather than pervert them.
Regardless of what I believe is appropriate, others have the freedom to judge differently. If I believe a work is unsuitable, I can choose not to read it. I can even one day restrict what my own children read. When I tell others that they cannot read something, I impose my own values on others. In forbidding others from reading a book I do not own or have any grounds to regulate, I rob them of their freedom and, more importantly, their desire to learn. Today, the boundaries of purity and pornography, art and anarchy are faintly drawn. We live in a gray world where light and shadows mingle, making it impossible for a few individuals to make universal judgements over all people. By judging issues for ourselves, we excel beyond false logic, ignorance, and an imposed idea of purity.
Phillip D. Dressen, Grade 12
Centennial High School, Pueblo
Regina Caputo, Grade 11
Centennial High School, Pueblo
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Against Banning Books
August 30, 2009
At first glance, the debate over banning books appears unimportant. Nevertheless, this debate has divided our nation into those who favor censoring books to protect their impressionable adolescents, and those who argue that education should be open for everybody without interference from the government in restricting the publishing and accessing of these books. Issitt argues that censoring books violates the First Amendment, stating that "citizens must be free to seek out any media, regardless of content, that they deem appropriate for entertainment, information, or education. Denying the rights of the consumer, in any area, is one of the hallmarks of authoritarianism."
While I do not equate banning books with "authoritarianism," we do endorse Issitt's belief that individual citizens have the right to choose, under their own discretion, what books to read. The First Amendment protects the freedom of expression and speech, and by prohibiting certain messages, the government clearly infringes upon public rights. On the other hand, Healey claims that censorship does not "repress information that teenagers and children are exposed to," but merely gives parents the rights to educate their children in the ways they deem appropriate. Though I concede that parents do have the right to monitor what their children read, they do not have the right to remove books from public libraries or monitor what other children in the city read. Healey attempts to persuade readers that "censorship of books should not be about silencing voices on important topics, but about steering young people toward the best possible literature;" however, she fails to specify what constitutes as "the best possible literature." Some of "the best possible literature" also happen to cause the most controversy, including Huck Finn, Harry Potter, The Scarlet Letter, and To Kill a Mockingbird. Those who protest against these books have clearly not studied them in depth. For example, the main theme in Huckleberry Finn focuses not on advocating racism, as some suggest, but proving that race does not define a person's intelligence or capability for compassion. Even Healey admits that "concerned parents and community members react without taking the time to closely investigate the books they want banned."
While I agree that parents should play an active role in educating their children and as their primary guardians, have the legal right to monitor what their children read, I disagree that this legal right extends to controlling what other children in the neighborhood read as well. Prohibiting children from reading a book will not enhance their moral values. Rather, banning a book more likely will increase curiosity for reading it. I also empathize with parents who ban books with controversial or uncomfortable subjects because they are unsure as to how their children will react or how to explain such topics. A good way to discuss these subjects with children is to read books with various views on the subject so that children can experience multiple points of view before forming their own opinions. Healey herself agrees that such a method "might help young people better understand the world they live in, the human condition, and issues they face in their culture."
As Healey stated, parents also tend to ban books based on "moral grounds, although some books have been condemned for their perspectives on civic values and history." For this very reason, the general public should read these books. Our society, especially our younger children, needs to read these books since fully understanding a topic requires knowledge of both sides. If we choose to disregard even a highly unpopular opinion, we intentionally choose to live in ignorance, only partially educated in a topic we claim to know so well. Without a doubt, if we continue to ban books and ignore what some consider taboo topics, we hinder ourselves and our children from finding ways to solve society's problems, thus hampering the development of our nation as a whole.
Many conservative groups make the argument that the books that have been banned have material that is inappropriate, immoral or contradicting the beliefs they have ingrained in their children and/or their society. Take for consideration the controversial books that tackle difficult, touchy social issues like homosexuality. Books like "Heather Has Two Mommies," by Leslea Newman and "Daddy's Roommate" by Michael Willhoite (both books written for youth with gay parents) were shot down by conservative groups because they attempted to educate children about homosexuality, an issue parents felt needed to be taught to their respective children by them. While this may seem like a valid argument, really it is just skirting around the actual issue. Book-banning cases usually concern the protection of children and their innocence, but all that is happening is sheltering parents showing an awkward avoidance of their children's confrontation with uncomfortable matters. It is not only selfish, but also harmful to the overall education of their children. This act of prohibiting books is just the parents way of evading of the conversation with their child about these sensitive issues. These two books are issues that Healey brings up in her argument on how groups were upset about the way these books informed their children of homosexuality. Homosexuality and other touchy social issues are part of every day life, and for a group to attempt to censor this subject from younger society is almost absurd; these issues are not monstrous and the censorship of them not only shows prejudice but lack of respect. Banning books seems to be the most public solution for a private matter- not everyone should have to suffer restrictions because one group feels uncomfortable with the book. That being said, there are often books that contain graphic and often highly inappropriate material; I do consent that these books should be censored at the discretion of the parent, or anyone involved however, no one is forcing books upon others, so we should not be forced to remove them. Other groups would say that it's also the duty of the government to regulate these books to protect concerned citizens and their families, but I would have to disagree. It's the exact opposite of the government's role- our private lives, the books we read, should be regulated and controlled by us. Banning books from public congregations is not what the government was intended to do.
Topics that seem socially outlawed in public, let alone published, have been banned because their immoral content may have a negative affect on younger children. In these books, authors doesn't promote or encourage bad behaviors, they prepare their readers for some of the real world challenges. The child would never be able to learn these things if the book was banned, nor be able to form his or her own opinion about that certain topic. Healey discusses that the book, 33 Snowfish, a "dark story of three teenage runaways who are victims of various forms of abuse..." by Adam Rapp may be an unsuitable way to educate children on these timely topics. However, having these stories banned all together would just further shelter a child whose parents may not be willing to discuss these issues with them at all. Even though these books center around scary topics, they are educating children on real life matters that they will be exposed to once they venture into the world themselves. Healey goes on to make the point that the books should not be banned as well, since it is a matter of private opinion not one to be made by the public libraries of a community. She suggests that schools should "inform parents about the kinds of books they offer children" in their libraries and classrooms instead of banning them. With the knowledge that some of these books have to offer, children can learn how not to act and what can be the consequences if they do misbehave. This learning experience could turn around with the help of a parent and pass a positive affect over the child.
Clearly, banning books not only hinders a child's educational development but also leaves them unaware of the true state of the world. Books do not simply impart general information; they heavily influence a child, the future generation. Without regular access to books, both adults and children could not form sound opinions, only narrow-minded ones. Both advocates and opposers of book banning agree that "books are powerful instruments." Otherwise, a debate on the subject would neither have arisen nor lasted so long. Because books "can be used to...inculcate values and transmit ideology, and to stimulate the imagination," as Healey suggests, any person should remain free to select his or her reading material. This personal issue of selecting reading material has no relation to the government. On the contrary, government action interferes with individual education, a primary American value. Ultimately, children can learn personal responsibility in determining which books to regard and which to discard. In the future, these children will become well-educated adults who can benefit the American society.