A student view on citizenship

Thursday, July 8, 2010

I trust that citizens all across Barry County enjoyed their 4th of July weekend, shooting off fireworks, grilling out with family and gathering with friends at one of the many Fourth of July celebrations held in the area. It was a quiet holiday at our house - the first we've spent without the boys at home. With the quiet came the opportunity to reflect on what the July Fourth holiday really means, and I found myself wondering if people really stop to consider what they're celebrating. It's easy to imagine that those who have lived through war or fought for this country's freedoms understand what July Fourth is all about, but what about this country's younger generation? Do they value freedom and democracy? Do they look at the American flag the same way as someone who fought in World War II or lost a son in the Vietnam War?

Over the weekend, I came across an interesting study that answers some of those questions and offers us a glimpse into the patriotric side of younger Americans. Conducted by the Bill of Rights Institute, an organization based in Arlington, Va., the study comes from an analysis of the top 3,000 essays submitted in the Institute's 2009-10 "Being An American" essay contest, which was entered by more than 50,000 young people this year. The essays centered on the themes of civic values, Founding Fathers, American heroes and founding documents, such as the Declaration of Independence.

And based on these essays, the Bill of Rights Institute was able to make some conclusions about our youngest generation's views on America and I am including several of these insights below.

* Perseverance and courage were cited most often as the civic values most essential to being an American. Other civic values identified by large numbers of students included equality and respect, entrepreneurship, responsibility and liberty.

* The top five American heroes list in order included: Thomas Jefferson (18 percent), Abraham Lincoln (14 percent), Martin Luther King, Jr. (12 percent), George Washington (10 percent) and Thomas Paine (9 percent). Other historic figures who received mention were Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Barack Obama, Rosa Parks, Patrick Henry, Thomas Edison, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Henry David Thoreau and John Quincy Adams.

* Students named the Declaration on Independence (47 percent) and the Constitution (33 percent) as the two most important and inspiring founding documents followed by Thomas Paine's pamphlet "Common Sense."

Based on these survey results, it would appear that America's teenagers understand the basic principles of democracy and they seem to believe that citizens have a responsibility to live by the values upon which America was founded. These results also reveal that perserverance and courage rank high among a young person's list of values and character traits. As adults, I believe one of the best lessons we can teach our children is to value the freedom we have in America and to understand that with freedom comes responsibility, and based on the results from the Bill of Rights Institute's survey, it appears that many young people are taking that lesson to heart.

Lisa Schlichtman