There is a new movement across the
United States to require students
to pass a civics test in order to graduate from high school or earn the General
Educational Development equivalent. Arizona last week became
the first state to pass such a measure.
Fifteen other States are in various stages of consideration of a similar
The movement is led by the Arizona-based Joe Foss Institute, founded by the eponymous former Republican South Dakota Governor and decorated World War II aviator, in response to concerns about a significant decrease in the civics knowledge among young Americans. The purpose of the institute is to increase patriotism and knowledge of American civics. The bipartisan movement is supported by a number of prominent Americans in various fields. In
Arizona, for example, former Supreme Court
Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who has championed the cause of increasing civics
education, publicly supported the measure.
The goal is to have all 50 States require the passage of the test by the
230th anniversary of the Constitution in 2017.
The examination is based upon the same test required for the naturalization of immigrants, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services Citizenship Civics Test. Students would be required to answer at least 60 of the 100 questions correctly, except that unlike the naturalization test, it will be in the multiple-choice format. Students may retake the test as often as necessary. The questions are considered the most fundamental about the American Revolution, Declaration of Independence, Constitution, the federal government, the 50 States of the Union and basic American history and symbols of patriotism. While the passage rate for immigrants seeking naturalization is over 90%, that of high school students is well under 10%, which is consistent with numerous surveys suggesting a disturbing lack of basic knowledge of American civics by high school students and young Americans.
With the increasing emphasis on mathematics, science and English, civics has been crowded out in curricula. Also, critical thinking skills, which are valuable, have been emphasized over memorization skills, which help develop the foundation of knowledge necessary for critical thinking in the first place. The purpose of public education and state education requirements are in order to promote good citizenship, something that is critically important in a representative republic, especially one with near-universal adult suffrage. The requirement by all 50 States of passage of the test would also help unite all Americans, naturalized or native born, by providing them with knowledge of our common American patrimony.
I had been concerned about the inconsistency in requiring aliens to pass a citizenship test in order to become citizens and gain the privilege to vote and the lack of any similar requirement for natural-born citizens, but at least the requirement that passage of the test be required in order to receive a high school or equivalent diploma decreases this inconsistency and should help promote better citizenship. I hope the preparation for the test, for which there already are sufficient materials, will begin early enough as to construct a foundation of knowledge that is built upon every year with increasing age-appropriate layers, in order for those students who opt not to earn a high school or equivalent diploma at least to have learned some of the basics. I would also urge the inclusion into curricula of state and local history and civics and some requirement of at least minimal knowledge in order to be awarded a high school or equivalent diploma.
I call upon all States in the American Union to adopt the requirement by 2017 of passage of the naturalization test to earn a high school or equivalent diploma.