New immigrants to the United States must pass a test of 100 questions on American civics in order to be naturalized. The test includes questions ranging in difficulty from “Name the current president” to “What was the main concern of the U.S. during the Cold War?”
The Arizona-based Joe Foss Institute created the Civics Education Initiative (CEI) two years ago to advocate every state enact legislation requiring students to pass a test based on the U.S. naturalization exam as a condition of graduation from high school. Some states have adopted the program minus that condition.
The original goal of the campaign was to have laws enacted in every state by September 17, 2017, the 230th anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution. As of October 2017, the institute claimed success in only about half the states. Lucian Spataro Jr., chief academic officer and vice president of legislative affairs at the Joe Foss Institute, told School Reform News he believes the initiative can reach success in every state by the end of 2019.
Initial State Success
The Civics Education Initiative has persuaded eight states to require students to pass a test to receive a diploma, according to a September report from the government-chartered Education Commission of the States (ECS). The ECS report found 17 states had adopted a test, but not all require a passing grade for graduation.
The ECS report stated the campaign failed to pass legislation in an additional 18 states where it attempted to do so.
According to ECS, states that rejected the legislation did so largely because of concerns about imposing more tests or the usefulness of the proposed tests. States declining to adopt an exam were worried it would encourage “teaching to the test,” the report stated.
Spataro says the CEI test wouldn’t encourage such practices.
“Teachers don’t teach to the test unless it’s a standardized test that is tied to some metric or salary or something like that,” Spataro said.
‘Civics Has Become Secondary’
Part of the Joe Foss Institute’s vision for the CEI is to instill the ideals of the nation’s founding, which Spataro says schools have lost.
“Civics has become a secondary or less important discipline in the eyes of kids, teachers, and schools,” Spataro said. “That’s not how Thomas Jefferson had established schools. That’s not his idea of what schools were set up to be.”
Cites Widespread Ignorance
Robert Holland, a senior fellow at The Heartland Institute, which publishes School Reform News, says polling data illustrates the urgent need for stricter civics requirements.
“History and civics are linked subjects, because to understand how our government works, it is necessary to understand the founding principles of the American Revolution as brought to life by the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution,” Holland said. “It is appalling that only about one-fourth of our high school students know that the first 10 amendments to the Constitution are the absolutely crucial Bill of Rights, which protects our individual liberties from governmental intrusion.”
Holland says progressive educators are at fault for bunching together history and civics with other disciplines under the umbrella term “social studies” long ago.
“Knowledge of history and civics began going downhill many decades ago when progressive educators began shoveling those basic subjects into a mishmash—including psychology, sociology, global studies, and much more—called “social studies,” Holland said. “Today, very few states require a major in history as a prerequisite to teaching history to high-school students. Many new teachers lead history or civics classes without having had even one standalone course in those subjects.”
‘A Warning Device’
Holland says administering the U.S. naturalization test to high school students would help guide curriculum improvement.
“Administering high school students the same test given to candidates for citizenship would be one good way to document glaring deficiencies in civic and historical knowledge that ought to be corrected,” Holland said. “Most of the questions are simple. For example, ‘Who wrote the Declaration of Independence?'”
Harry Painter ([email protected]) writes from Brooklyn, New York.
Jan Brennan and Hunter Railey, “The Civics Education Initiative 2015-17,” Education Commission of the States, September 2017: https://heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/the-civics-education-initiative-2015-17?source=policybot