It's always interesting, and instructive, to find out what's on kids' minds. After all, those little squirts will be the decision makers and money-spenders before you know it.
Recently, I had a wonderful opportunity to do just that: In a weak moment I agreed to be one of the judges for an essay contest for sixth, seventh, and eighth graders in a Toledo parochial school.
The students wrote essays on the subject of patriotism, but their viewpoints strayed into the economy, consumerism, careers, taxes, politics, religion, and just about every other field.
After reading each essay three or four times, my first thought was: We're all in a lot of trouble. But, on second thought, as pre-teens or young teenagers, most of us probably had an imperfect understanding of the way things work. And the good news is that most had at least a clue about the values and virtues of patriotism, and they showed their desire to help.
A number of the essays touched on the impact of prices on consumers. One writer offered to "do lots of stuff for my country to take down prices for just little things like toys, bas-ketballs, and CDs, because every time a CD comes out it costs like $12.99 just for a little disc. It could be $4 instead so there would be more records sold."
That same essayist also volunteered to "rebuild the houses that are messed up, like if someone's house is about to fall apart. I would make houses more affordable."
You certainly couldn't accuse these kids of being unambitious. "In the United States of America, if I want to be a doctor, a lawyer, a nurse, a basketball player, or anything, I can do one thing or all of them!" one wrote. "I love being an American patriot!"
Some of the students evidently believe taxes are high enough already. "When we get older, the money we make is the money we keep," one student contended. "We don't give it to the government, or mom and dad." He or she added: "We have the right to vote on taxes, on school issues, [and other] things that affect our lives."
Several wrote of the need to protect the environment, stop pollution, and conserve energy. And one wrote: "I try to buy a lot of products that are made in the United States."
One student wrote of the need for loyalty. "If you work for the government and you get mad, don't go to another country and tell [our] secrets," he or she warned.
Another was grateful for the lifestyle ancestors didn't enjoy. "There weren't any computers, cell phones, security cameras, or other electronics we use today."
One student seems cut out to be a tourism promoter. "We welcome all to visit our great country and see for [themselves] what a great place it is," the youngster wrote.
Here are a few other snippets from the essays:
•"I believe our country will make it through anything that comes in the way of freedom or rights."
•"I understand that freedom and democracy come with a price, and I am willing to defend it with my life if my country calls upon me."
•"I love America, and I would not do anything to hurt America."
•"I would never back down from someone, but I'd tell them the USA is truly the best country in the whole wide world."
•"I only want what's best for our country that I plan on living in for a long time. I don't want our nation in bad shape as I'm getting older. Then we could have to live in a messed-up America."