A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Thursday, November 30, 2006

What if everyone had to pass it?

The citizenship test is getting revamped:
The government on Thursday unveiled 144 revised civic questions it will try out on immigrants who want to become Americans, as part of an effort to design a more meaningful citizenship test.

"When you raise your hand and swear your allegiance to the United States, you really ought to know what you are swearing allegiance to," said Emilio Gonzalez, director of Citizenship and Immigration Services, a Homeland Security Department agency. "You ought to internalize by that time, the very values that make this country what it is, the very reason why you are raising your right hand. ... Citizenship is not test taking."

The draft questions will be tried out on immigrant volunteers in 10 cities early next year. Gonzalez was not ready to give specific dates. Applicants must verbally answer six of 10 questions right to pass the civics portion of the test.

The government wants the citizenship test to require a better understanding of America's history and government institutions. It expects to spend about $6.5 million to make the changes, said Alfonso Aguilar, director of the citizenship office.

Citizenship and Immigration Services has been working for several years to redesign the test. A 2003 attempt was tried out in some cities, failed and was scuttled.

Under the draft questions, no longer would it be sufficient to name the three branches of government (executive, legislative and judicial). Applicants could also be asked why there are three branches.

Acceptable answers could include: So that no branch is too powerful or to separate the power of government.

The redesign is aimed at making sure applicants know the meaning behind some of America's fundamental institutions, said Chris Rhatigan, an agency spokeswoman.

"There's not one, rote SAT-type question and answer," she said.

The questions released Thursday will be given to immigrants who volunteer to take the new draft test.

The questions will be tried out early next year in Albany, N.Y.; Boston; Charleston, S.C.; Denver; El Paso, Texas; Kansas City, Mo.; Miami; San Antonio; Tucson, Ariz.; and Yakima, Wash.

The questions will go into use in the pilot cities before advocacy groups get a chance to point out any problems or concerns. After the questions are tested, the agency plans to spend a year examining results and reviewing the questions with groups with expertise and interest in the tests.

Immigration officials want to narrow the number of questions to 100 and launch the redesigned test in early 2008.

Another possible question would delve into the history of the Civil War. Applicants are now asked, What was the Emancipation Proclamation?

Current applicants need to know that it freed the slaves. In the future, however, prospective citizens will need to have a deeper understanding of the Civil War and name one of the problems that led to it.

Acceptable answers could include slavery, economics or states' rights, Rhatigan said.

In the pilot, volunteers answering the new test questions can at anytime stop and take the current exam so as not to lose the chance to become a citizen, Rhatigan said.

A variety of groups with varying ideologies about immigration have been working with Citizenship and Immigration Service, meeting with them monthly, to advise the agency on drafting the questions.

Immigration advocates want to ensure that the new test does not make becoming a citizen more difficult, while groups that want to control immigration want to ensure newcomers are not simply memorizing information.

Fred Tsao, policy director for the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, said the question about three branches of government is vague.

"The answer could be anything from because the Constitution says so to a long lecture on 18th century French political philosophy, which is where we got the idea," Tsao said.

I wonder what would happen if everyone had to take this test?

Let's start with the politicians. Who's first?


At 11/30/06, 9:57 PM, Blogger elementaryhistoryteacher said...

When I taught 5th grade we always discussed the wave of immigration in the late 1800s. We compared it to current immigration and the citizen test was discussed. Students were always amazed at the questions. I understand the need to update the test. Unfortunately I don't think the revamped version will encourage illegal aliens to move on down the road of citizenship.

At 11/30/06, 11:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I give the current one to my 8th graders for "fun" at the end of our Constitution unit. They're always amazed how much seemingly random stuff is and I'm always amazed at how little you actually have to know about our system of government and citizens' rights to pass it. I need to look at the new one this weekend--I'm curious.

At 12/1/06, 6:50 AM, Blogger Nic said...

I have to agree with Mrs Walker...I took the test in 1987 and it included questions like, "Who was the first president of the United States?" and "What is celebrated on the 4th of July?". Mine didn't even have 100 questions, this guy in a cowboy hat read from a list and then when he ran out of questions, began trying to make up harder ones until I finally missed one, at which point he declared I "passed". It was really kind of a joke.

At 12/1/06, 7:15 AM, Blogger Mrs.Chili said...

Ms. C, I think everyone SHOULD have to pass it.

I teach at Tiny Community College in my town. This term, I taught a public speaking course, and early in the class I went over the idea of free speech and the ethics of public speaking. Not a single student - NOT ONE, in thirteen - could name which amendment granted the right. Not one.

Now, I'm not claiming to know the Bill of Rights like the back of may hand (though I CAN recite the Preamble to the Constitution - thanks, Schoolhouse Rock!), but I do think it's important to have at least a passing familiarity to the document, don't you?

I'd like to get my hands on a copy of the test, just to see how well I'd do....

At 12/1/06, 11:54 AM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

I think so too.

At 12/1/06, 12:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Liz from I Speak of Dreams. A sample of questions was in the morning's paper. I couldn't pass it cold -- I'd have to brush up esp. on the Constitution. Maybe it should be added to high school exit exams.

At 12/2/06, 11:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Those citizenship tests sound an awful lot like the "interpret the Constitution of the State of Mississippi" tests given to African Americans who wanted to register to vote in the 1950s and 1960s.

I wonder if the people giving the tests know all the answers that are correct.

At 12/3/06, 8:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I gave my 8th graders questions from the question bank from the old test. I told them they had to pass in order to get their driver's license at 16 (it took me multiple rehearsals to say it with a straight face) and if that failed they had to wait until they were 18. They freaked but took the test. We had one of the best discussions I have ever had in a classroom after I let them off the hook. Talk about connecting to desperation...

At 12/4/06, 11:39 AM, Blogger MommyProf said...

Your title reminds me of a column in the New York Times where the writer asked people who should know to tell the important difference between Sunnis and Shiites (I think there was an FBI guy, a congressman, etc.) and they couldn't...

I have a colleague who recently took and passed the citizenship test and felt insulted by how easy it was.


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