The Daily Beast serves up that hardiest perennial of “tsk, tsk” journalism: a poll highlighting our collective lack of history and civic knowledge. The U.S. citizenship test is comprised of 100 questions about American government, systems of government, rights and responsibilities, American history and civics, notes the Beast. “Ten questions from the 100 are chosen randomly for the test-taker. To pass, one must get at least six right.” About four in ten Americans can’t clear the bar we set for would-be naturalized citizens.
The essential conundrum. We in education blithely dismiss background knowledge as trivia and “mere facts,” but we (and more importantly, the broader world) continue to judge harshly those not in possession of facts we take for granted. Take the test yourself. The questions are of the kind every school child used to know back when school kids used to know things. And to be fair, some of the questions are trivia. The ability to name the authors of the Federalist Papers, for example, is probably not as important as understanding something about the role of the papers in the ratification of the Constitution. But the unspoken question to ask yourself is whether it would impact your opinion about a friend, neighbor or colleague if they couldn’t answer the questions.
Perhaps we should change the immigration test to a DBQ format. Or perhaps insist on naturalization by portfolio assessment.
(H/T Joanne Jacobs)