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Berginski: Is a civics test necessary?

By Staff | Dec 26, 2014

Do you know who’s the current speaker of the US House of Representatives? Do you know why our country’s flag has 13 stripes? How many amendments are in the US Constitution? If a bill in the N.D. Legislature passes this session, high school juniors may want to start boning up on that stuff now.

N.D. lawmakers have the option of deciding whether or not passing a citizenship test – the same tests immigrants are exposed to – should be a requirement for graduating high school. The difference is that immigrants are asked 10 questions out of 100, and must get at least six right.

On its face it sounds like a great idea. After all, there may be some people in our country who don’t know that our government is divided into three branches: legislative, executive and judicial. Or even who the current Vice President is. (Hint: his last name is Biden.) Embarrassingly, there may be some who don’t know that George Washington was the first president. An article in the Bismarck Tribune mentions that in 2009, students – who have been citizens all their lives – from Oklahoma and Arizona utterly bombed the citizenship test. (What’s with these surveys from 2009? Was 2009 the last year where something exciting happened?) As embarrassing as it sounds, the need for such an action must be questioned.

What aim does this serve? Is it so we can have more people at polling places? The media do their job of informing the electorate about candidates and measures, and yet there are some who don’t vote anyhow. Something tells me the ability to answer 100 civics questions isn’t really a concern of those who don’t show up.

If a student fails the test, who gets saddled with the blame? The student? The teacher, particularly in Social Studies, Government and History courses? The latter sounds like a raw deal to me.

Plus what about students who only learn for the test? You know, the students who only want to learn what’s on the test, pass it and forget it later. That becomes problematic, because what’s on a citizenship test shouldn’t be stuff that is forgotten outright.

And what about adults who graduated high school before the decision was made? Do we make them take the test too, since we’re almost making it a prerequisite for entering the adult world? What if they fail the test? Who then is to blame?

Our young people not knowing how our country works is disconcerting, but one really has to ask if being able to pass a citizenship test should be a requirement to graduate from high school.

By the way, the answers to the above questions are: John Boehner; they represent the original 13 colonies; and 27.

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