An interesting e-mail popped up in my in box at work on Monday. It stated that a think tank had asked more than 1,000 Arizona high school students 10 questions from the citizenship test, a test given to immigrants looking to become naturalized citizens. According to the survey, only 3.5 percent of the students passed the test. A similar quiz was given to high school students in Oklahoma, with even worse results, 2.8 percent passed.
The more I looked into the story behind these stats, the more I became disturbed, and not just because of the lack of civic knowledge by students. I'm concerned how these tests were reported to the public.
The stats are pretty alarming, but when you look closer, you see some reasons why these students may not have done so well.
First, according to the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, a national research firm administered the quiz over the phone to a random selection of students. That's right, over the phone, which meant that the student had to be home and willing to take the test. As one of my co-workers put it, "You're asking a teenager to give you a straight answer on a survey?"
Second, students hanging out at home cannot be compared with immigrants looking to become permanent members of U.S. society. Immigrants have a very strong reason to study U.S. history and civics in depth. These are people whose lives and livelihood may depend on becoming U.S. citizens. To teenagers, unfortunately, questions about civics are just another thing to be rapidly memorized before the next test and then forgotten.
Third, one of the options for an answer was "I don't know." If I've learned one thing about teenagers, it's when given the option of answering "I don't know," many will take it even if they do know the answer.
But all excuses aside, the results are still rather dismal. Especially when you consider that the 10 questions asked of the Oklahoma students were some of the easiest on the citizenship test. Here are the questions. See how well you do:
1. What is the supreme law of the land?
2. What do we call the first 10 Amendments to the Constitution?
3. What are the two parts of the U.S. Congress?
4. How many justices serve on the Supreme Court?
5. Who wrote the U.S. Constitution?
6. What ocean is on the East Coast of the U.S.?
7. What are the two major political parties in the U.S.?
8. We elect U.S. senators for how many years?
9. Who was the first president of the U.S.?
10. Who is in charge of the executive branch of the government?
Pretty easy when you consider some of the alternatives, such as who wrote the "Star Spangled Banner," what are the requirements in order to serve as a U.S. senator and who becomes president if the president and vice president die?
There are probably a large number of teenagers and a few adults who are wondering why this information is important to life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness. Quite simply, an informed populace makes better decisions.
If you don't know who your current senators and congressmen are, how can you make an informed decision on who to vote for or who to petition for a change in the law? If you don't know how laws are made, how can you change them? How can you appeal a judgment against you if you don't know how the appeals courts work? If you don't know where the U.S. is on the world map, how can you judge how much of a threat another country is?
All of this affects our daily lives because it is the people we elect who help make the laws that we have to live under.
The answers to the 10 questions are: 1. The Constitution. 2. The Bill of Rights. 3. The House of Representatives and the Senate. 4. Nine. 5. Thomas Jefferson 6. the Atlantic 7. Republican and Democratic. 8. Six 9. George Washington 10. the president. The answers to the other three questions are: Francis Scott Key; a senator must be at least 30 years old, have been a citizen of the U.S. for the past nine years and must be a resident of the state they represent; and the last answer, the speaker of the House of Representatives.