Citizenship test is Trivial Pursuit

Memorizing facts does little to prepare immigrants for citizenship.

Do you know three distinct events that led to the U.S. Civil War? Thanks to a government initiative to create a more meaningful citizenship test, immigrants will be answering civic questions of this nature to attain citizenship. Last week, the U.S. government unveiled the new citizenship test, which will focus on the principles of democracy rather than on historical facts. However, even though our present system does not provide for a meaningful path to citizenship, the new test does little to improve the current standards.

After working for several years to redesign the test, Citizenship and Immigration Services has created a test that is quickly gaining praise around the country. Proponents of the new design say it will require immigrants to gain a better understanding of America’s history and government institutions, which is a key part of being American. Under this new test, no longer would it be sufficient to name the three branches of government (executive, legislative and judicial); instead, applicants will also be expected to know why there are three branches.

However, the new test fails to resolve the problems of our current test. Citizenship is not test taking and thus should not consist of simply memorizing information. Instead of requiring immigrants to memorize things – whether they are facts or concepts – the aim should be to require each immigrant to attend local language classes. Only with a good grasp of the language will immigrants be able to make a smooth transition into our society. The ability to speak English is imperative in attaining higher paying jobs, understanding the educational and health systems and exercising their rights as citizens. We have been spending valuable time (4 years) and money (6.5 million) changing the wrong things.

The new test does bring up one good point: the importance of our country’s battles for democracy. These historic battles are the foundation of our country. In a day when the fundamental principles and freedoms of this country have been forgotten, we could all brush up on our civic knowledge.