That remarkable statistic comes courtesy of Lisa Malaquin-Prey, a Kindergarten teacher at Brevard Academy, a Core Knowledge school in Brevard, North Carolina. Malaquin-Prey discussed her journey to citizenship last weekend at a Washington, DC conference hosted by Team CFA, a network of charter schools in North Carolina, Indiana and Arizona—all of which teach the Core Knowledge curriculum. A New Zealander by birth, and Australian by upbringing, Malaquin-Prey has lived in the U.S. since 1997.
While working as a camp counselor years ago, Malaquin-Prey described how she used to “stand respectfully” when the Pledge of Allegiance was recited. “I heard those words every day for 9 weeks, but they didn’t hold a lot of meaning for me,” she recalled. She followed the same routine for years in her classroom, explaining to her students that she didn’t recite the Pledge with them because she was not a citizen. But at the same conference a year ago, Malaquin-Prey found herself unexpectedly brought to tears by an old video of the comedian Red Skelton explaining the meaning of the Pledge of Allegiance, and resolved to become an American citizen.
“I’m listening to it, and all of a sudden. I get it. I’m hearing the Pledge of Allegiance in a new way and I’m getting it. While watching it, I was shocked at how I reacted to it. I remember feeling flushed and tears came to my eyes. I remember looking around at the other people at my table, and no one is reacting the way I do, and I was embarrassed. And then everyone stands to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. And I stand, and while everyone around me is saying it, I’m thinking ‘I want this. I want to be a part of this. I want to earn the right to say this!’
It took Malaquin-Prey six months to complete the naturalization process, which includes demonstrating proficiency in speaking, reading and writing in English, and answering questions that show your knowledge and understanding of the United States in three areas: American Government (principles of American Democracy, system of government, and rights and responsibilities); American History (the colonial period and independence, the 1800’s and recent American history); and Integrated Civics (geography, symbols and holidays.) On the day of the test, you are asked up to 10 questions from a list of 100 possible questions. You need to correctly answer six of the ten to pass.
While describing the process, Malaquin-Prey asked the audience to “raise your hand if you teach 4th grade.”
“When you look at the content of the Citizenship Study Guide, 74 out of the possible 100 questions could be answered using the 4th Grade Core Knowledge Social Studies Curriculum, specifically the domain units on Making a Constitutional Government and American Revolution. When you look at the content of the Citizenship Test, what the American Government feels a citizen should know and understand mirrors the Social Studies objectives of the Core Knowledge Curriculum.”
The Core Knowledge curriculum, she concluded, is “filled with opportunities for students to understand the principles of American democracy and the rights and responsibilities of U.S Citizenship.”
“Beginning in Kindergarten, students are learning about former Presidents and American Symbols and the meaning of Democracy. In 2nd grade, students explore the Constitution and answer the question, “What is government?” In 4th grade, students delve into the ideas behind the Declaration of Independence and examine every part of the constitution and the levels and functions of government.”
Malaquin-Prey passed her exam with ease and took the Oath of Allegiance in Charlotte, North Carolina, in January. “My proudest moments that day were, raising my hand and taking that Oath, collecting my citizenship certificate, and above all, being asked to lead the Pledge for the first time for more than 100 new American Citizens,” she recalls.
For the record, here are the six questions asked of one of our newest fellow citizens:
- Who is the current Chief Justice of the United States?
- Name one war fought in the 1900’s.
- The House of Representatives has how many voting members?
- Who is the “Father of our Country”?
- We elect a U.S. Representative for how many years?
- In what month do we vote for President?