Recently Arizona became the first state to pass a law requiring high school students to pass a uniform citizenship exam prior to graduation. Several other states are lined up to do the same.
I have a better idea. Let’s put people running for public office to the test. Require that they prove a little something about the government they wish to serve before we give them that responsibility. My hunch tells me there would be more than one candidate who would need to hit the books, likely including a few proposing this sort of legislation.
This is nothing more than political posturing, isn’t it? At the most benign this is about faux patriotism. It self-serving. Politicians want to show that they somehow endorse the values of the United States, whatever those might be. At its worse, it is xenophobic, trying to weed out those who are not “like us” or force them to learn the rules.
It seems to me that lessens in civics AND history are the route to take here. The subject of these tests should be part of a school’s curriculum anyway. Learning to think — being able to process and understand — should be a priority, not rote memorization. And isn’t it ironic that in a time when people increasingly push back on efforts like Common Core that so-called citizenship exams should be proposed and passed?
Something bizarre happens when Mr. Smith gets elected these days. Regardless of training or background, the mere endorsement by his peers in an election miraculously turns Mr. Smith into an expert of all these, a veritable genius. Mr. Smith knows more about education, for example, than people who have spent a career studying and working in the field. This especially dangerous in an era when opinions crowd out facts in political debate.
These bothersome citizenship exams are little more than busywork. Good citizenship is about more than passing a test. It requires thoughtful and constructive participation in a process that supports practical goals. How do we teach that? I would suggest we don’t teach it as much as we set a positive example. In that regard it isn’t students who need an additional lesson or two as much as it might be the people we should expect have already passed those lessons.