BOSTON — YOUTHFUL voices often get drowned out by the sophisticated sounds of adult talk. But ``if we really cherish democracy, we listen to what our children have to say,'' says Ernest Fleishman, director of education at Scholastic Inc., a New York educational publisher. As the success of the ground war sinks in, ``a new pride'' in the United States is being expressed by many students, says Fred Brown, principal of Boyertown (Pa.) Elementary School. The students' daily recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance carries more meaning now, he says.
Last month, Scholastic and the polling organization of Louis Harris and Associates conducted a first-and-only national survey of student opinions on the Persian Gulf war. The findings offer insight for anyone interested in helping young people understand war and the world.
Eight- to 18-year-olds in 59 public and private schools participated in the survey, which is based on 1,379 responses.
More than half of the third- to 12th-graders supported US involvement in the Gulf war and two out of three gave President Bush a favorable rating in terms of dealing with the situation.
``But students were able to make distinctions based on circumstances,'' Mr. Fleishman says. If it meant ``heavy American deaths and injuries,'' only 11 percent would have supported the effort.
For many students, the Persian Gulf conflict was not a remote, impersonal issue. Sixty-four percent said they know someone who is serving in the Middle East. More than half of those surveyed were frightened about how the war might affect them personally.
When asked: ``If you were old enough to serve in the military, how likely would you be to volunteer to fight in the war in the Middle East?'' 45 percent chose either ``very likely'' or ``somewhat likely.''
Sixty-five percent of students considered the main purpose of US involvement in the Gulf to be stopping ``one nation from taking over a neighboring country.''
Of all those surveyed, 63 percent said the war in the Middle East made them feel proud of the United States. Asked about war protests, 54 percent said they oppose them and 70 percent said that they would not be likely to join a demonstration against US involvement in the Gulf.
When it comes to war talk, kids report having conversations most often with parents (77 percent), followed by friends (65 percent), and teachers (63 percent).
``This poll told us very strongly that students agree with their parents' views,'' Fleishman says. Only 9 percent of those polled said they disagree with their parents' point of view about the war.
Differences of opinion emerge when these findings are broken down by grade level, gender, race, and geographic region.
Grade level: Students in grades 9 through 12 registered the highest support for the war, while third- through fifth-graders were most opposed and most frightened about terrorism and the war's impact on their own lives.
Gender: Girls were significantly less supportive of the war than boys. They were more afraid about how the war will affect them, felt less pride about US involvement, and were dramatically less likely to volunteer to serve in the armed forces, although 30 percent did consider it a possibility.
Race: Black students were least in favor of the war. ``This war is not worth fighting at all,'' said 41 percent of black teenagers and children. Blacks were least supportive of the president's handling of the situation and most concerned about terrorism and other repercussions.
White students gave President Bush the most positive rating, with 73 percent in favor of his efforts. Fifty-seven percent of Hispanic students gave the president a positive rating.
Region: Youth in the South led the nation in supporting the war - 63 percent to 19 percent. Students from the West were the least proud of their country's role. Midwesterners were the least supportive, but still favored the war 48 percent to 31 percent. In the East, students were most concerned about terrorism.
``Young people have many of the same feelings of unease and concerns about the Persian Gulf war as their parents,'' says Louis Harris, chairman of Louis Harris and Associates. But, he says, they have more doubts and worries than their elders. Twenty-one percent of young people said ``this war is not worth fighting at all,'' while 14 percent of adults held such a position.