In an article last week about Montgomery County's three Presidential Scholars, it was incorrectly reported that Gabriel Paulson's father, Paul, came from Russia. The older Paulson is a native of Czechoslavakia.

Idealism just doesn't seem practical to many people today, even many young people. But three select Montgomery County high school graduates say the problems of the nation and the world will not deter them from pursuing idealistic goals.

When you are singled out "as one of the brightest people in the United States, you feel like you owe . . . a debt," explained 18-year-old Orde Kittrie, a June graduate of Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda.

Kittrie, Gabriel Paulson, 18, who graduated from John Fitzgerald Kennedy High School in Silver Spring, and Ann Lofquist, 17, of Whitman, agreed that their selection as 1982 Presidential Scholars was as much a "responsibility" as an honor.

A pool of about 2 million high school seniors nationwide who took college entrance examinations was whittled to 1,000 finalists who scored well. The Commission on Presidential Scholars, appointed by the president, eventually chose 141 students representing every state, the District of Columbia, and U.S. citizens living abroad. Leadership qualities and extracurricular achievement, in the end, were major criteria used by the commission to select the winners.

The Presidential Scholars each received $1,000 and medallions from the White House. Lofquist, one of 21 scholars chosen for achievement in the arts, received another $4,000 from two special grants.

Last week the students stayed at Georgetown University while making the rounds of a meeting with Education Secretary Terrel H. Bell, a White House tour and a reception at the Organization of American States.

Paulson plans to begin studying physics and philosophy at Princeton this fall, hoping to "follow a new direction" because "the obvious things in science have all been mopped up. . . . Physics actually is a branch of philosophy."

The youth, who speaks Russian and German fluently, learned the languages at home from his parents, who immigrated to the United States in the 1950s. His father, Paul, who came from Russia, works in the Slavic Division of the Library of Congress. His mother, Gisela, is a native of Germany.

Paulson said one of his favorite activities is visiting monasteries, because he admires the lofty ideals and inner spirit of their members. His parents, he said, have focused their attention on the activities of the Eastern Orthodox Church, rather than on his academic career.

His other major interest has been more financially rewarding. Paulson is an experienced, although currently unemployed, auto mechanic.

About five years ago, he decided to stop watching television.

"I had too much devotion toward something meaningless. It had an insidious control over me." He said he has no intention of turning on the set again.

The question of harmony among people of different races and nations seriously concerns him.

"We need to be safe from the Russians, but we can't continue to preach our incompatibility. People need something to bind them. . . . If someone were to invade from space than we'd suddenly feel a cohesion with the Russians ."

One of Orde Kittrie's principal hobbies is riflery. He was also the co-president of his high school's chapter of Amnesty International.

"It's not as hypocritical as it sounds," he said, explaining that shooting for him "has nothing to do with the possibility that the rifle could kill someone." Kittrie confines himself to target-shooting only.

He plans to study international relations at Yale with the hope of one day becoming secretary of state "or something like that." Although he wants a political life, he says, "I hope I never become a bureaucrat."

Kittrie hopes to work for the governnment because he believes he can change the system most effectively from "the inside."

"I'm not for picketing and chanting. I'd rather get inside the government and see what I can do."

Kittrie is named for the late Gen. Orde Wingate, a Scot, who organized the Israeli Defense Forces during World War II and under whom his father, Nicholas, now an American University law professor, served. Every year at the anniversary of Wingate's death, the younger Kittrie speaks at a memorial service held by about 100 friends at Arlington National Cemetery.

Kittrie learned Hebrew from his father and Spanish from his mother, Sara, a native of Mexico, who directs an alcoholism program for Hispanos in Washington.

He said he once idealized Winston Churchill, but has come to believe that even the famed British leader had his bad side. Kittrie cited his conviction that Churchill could have saved the Jews in the World War II concentration camps.

"I admire the eloquence and leadership of John Kennedy and the honesty and guts of Mordecai Anilewick who led the Warsaw ghetto rebellion," he added.

In his application essay to the Presidential Scholar Commission, Kittrie discussed his belief that education is the key to democracy.

"If teachers were just going to be technicians, we could buy computers," he said. As a first step toward improving the educational system, Kittrie believes teachers' salaries should be raised.

Ann Lofquist, one of 21 students selected for outstanding achievement in visual and performing arts or creative writing, hopes that by the time she graduates from college she will be able to support herself with her painting. Her father, Karl, is a physicist with the National Bureau of Standards. Her mother, Etsuko, worked as a bacteriologist until her children were born.

Lofquist will enroll this fall as an art major at Washington University in St. Louis, where she also hopes to study ornithology and paleontology.

Although she doesn't "read much fiction" in her free time, Lofquist said, "I go to the library and clean out the shelf on certain subjects. I'm really interested in the Renaissance, especially Florence, and monasticism. I was going to design my own cloister."

Lofquist and several friends have formed an early Renaissance singing group.

She said she is disturbed by the materialism in today's society, citing the expanding credit system as an example of the need of people to receive "instant gratification."

"I can't agree with Reagonomics," she said. "The U.S. is too highly developed to work as a capitalist society. Capitalism is good to start off with, when a small business has a chance."

Lofquist also believes improving the educational system should be a higher priority among policymakers, saying that her own experience has borne out that quality teachers can open the minds of students to subjects in which they never had any interest.

She explained that she had a calculus teacher this year who for the first time showed her "the aesthetic side of math, the beauty of a perfect problem."