The privilege of birth

The Patriot News: Area teens struggle with U.S. citizenship test

If American teens had to pass the same test to remain in the United States that immigrants must pass, many would face finding another country to call home.

Based on the results of The Patriot-News’ unscientific sampling of 10 high school-age youths, it appears our world would be a far different place.

I have to admit that I missed one question, the 13 original states. I added Vermont and Maine and realized 15 just wasn’t right.

I do take issue with the social studies teacher quoted here, though:

That’s why Mark Zeigler, who teaches social studies at Camp Hill High School, was not surprised to hear how local teens struggled with the test. It was not something they had been cramming for.

Zeigler agreed that the questions used in the test are very reasonable and the type of things kids ought to know, but he isn’t certain they measure knowledge that would be of real value to them as adults, or to a new citizen.

“The way we taught history in the past really doesn’t do democracy any good. If we just teach facts, that does not equate to more voters, more participation,” Zeigler said.

Today, the educational approach emphasizes more concepts and broad strokes of knowledge. The idea is to give students an understanding of the whole democratic process, not just a collection of facts.

I agree with the teach that concepts and broad strokes are important, but the facts in this test are part of understanding the concepts. How can you understand how government functions if you don’t know the three branches of government? It’s no wonder The Hostiles get away with attacking the judiciary. How can you understand elections if you don’t know about the Electoral College? How can you understand modern day foreign relations if you don’t know our three enemies in WWII? (I started college with the intent of being a history teacher and ended up with a minor in history, so this is near and dear to my heart.)

This has a serious impact on the way public dialogue is carried out in this country. Besides the attacks on the judiciary, this lack of knowledge also comes into play when people try to claim “majority rules.” Actually, the Founders recognized that majorities could be tyrannical, which is why they set up the system the way it is. It’s why Christianity is not the official religion of the country and English is not the official language. If young people (and plenty of older folks, too, sadly) don’t get this, we are heading down a dark path.

Andy in H-burg