Imagine a way to get your teenage kids interested in researching and critical thinking about the Constitution and the Founding Fathers. Now imagine your younger kids receiving a cash award for writing an essay about what they would tell the Founding Fathers if they could travel back in time, or your older teenager recording a winning essay about the relevancy of the Constitution. To top it all off, imagine your child receiving that award and praise from a group of combat veterans. Now stop imagining, and read about the VFW patriotic essay programs.
For over 60 years, the Veterans of Foreign Wars has sponsored the Voice of Democracy for high school age kids and the Patriot’s Pen for junior high age. Each program offers cash prizes from local posts across the country, with progressively larger prizes as winners rise from the post level to district and state level competitions. Each state submits their top entries to the national level, where the top prize is a $30,000 college scholarship to the school of your choice.
The Patriot’s Pen contest is for kids in 6-8th grades. They submit a written essay of 300-400 words on this year’s topic, “What I Would Tell America’s Founding Fathers” to your local VFW post (list of MN VFW posts here). Parents can’t write the essay for their kids, but they can help supervise to keep them on track. Imagine the conversations you could have with your kids about the Founding Fathers.
The Voice of Democracy is for 9-12 graders, and moves beyond a written essay to a 3-5 minute recording of the author reading their own work. The topic for VOD this year is especially germane to the times, “Is Our Constitution Still Relevant?” Not only do kids learn about the Constitution and how it applies to our country today, but they get practice in speaking their thoughts out loud. Winners will get practice in public speaking as well, as they are usually asked to speak at patriotic events such as Veteran’s and Memorial Day ceremonies.
There is no official number, but it was estimated that last year VFW posts across Minnesota gave over $40,000 in prizes. The top Patriot’s Pen essay from Minnesota, written by 6th grader Chloe Schroeder from Owatonna, received a $4,000 savings bond for her work.
For conservatives, the VFW’s patriotic essay programs are a Win-Win-Win. Win 1) Get today’s generation of teenagers (tomorrow’s leaders) to think critically about the Constitution and the Founding Fathers. Win 2) Show kids what a simple meritocracy system is; no affirmative action or nepotism here, only the top essays win top prizes. Win 3) Introduce your kids to the veterans who believe in liberty and freedom so strongly that they volunteered to defend them.