Yes, the test would encourage students to pay attention to civics education
Yes, high schoolers should have to pass a citizenship test to graduate.
Before you groan about students having to understand basic civics, take a moment to think about other graduation requirements. Most states require students to pass lab science classes and take Algebra II, even though many won’t use that information once they graduate.
Civics differs because such information will always be applicable as long as the student lives in the U.S.
Many states do require a U.S. government or civics course, but it’s typically a very small requirement, and it’s not clear that all students are getting the necessary information nationwide.
By using a national citizenship test, there is an established benchmark for students to meet.
These tests don’t have to be insanely difficult either.
The purpose is to make sure students understand the basics of American government.
A typical citizenship test is ten questions taken from a pool of 100, including “What is one right or freedom from the first amendment?” and “Name one war fought by the United States in the 1800s.”
It is important for someone living in America to understand these basic historical and governmental concepts, and for those who grew up here, it shouldn’t be extremely difficult. However, it’s important that we don’t leave people behind who haven’t been taught enough about these issues.
There are a few reasons why a citizenship test matters.
First, it’s important for students to understand the privilege they have growing up in the U.S.
We are, after all, living in one of the most advanced and prosperous countries in the world. It is only right that we learn to be grateful for our lives here and the protections given to us by our American ancestors and veterans since 1776.
Second, our government’s laws and institutions deserve not only to be understood and respected but also questioned and improved upon.
With a basic knowledge of civics, people can better become involved in government and hold the government accountable.
Third, knowing basic history and government affairs helps students contextualize news and significant issues.
For example, how is someone to truly understand the ‘Muslim ban’ without also considering freedom of religion? How will someone determine the right of colleges to ban controversial speakers without understanding freedom of speech?
People hear the words all the time, but making sure students understand where these concepts came from and why upholding them matters is crucial to them participating in the contemporary issues of the day.
Lastly, there is the obvious benefit that students will have a better idea of what they’re doing when they enter the voting booth. That’s always nice.
Let’s do it then: use those ten questions and let’s teach these kids some civics.
Grace Douglas is a freshman government, journalism, and philosophy major from Aberdeen, South Dakota.
No, the test sends a bad message about citizenship
Despite being enacted when illegal immigration is a “national emergency,” Gov. Kristi Noem claims the new mandatory citizenship test for high schoolers has nothing to do with prodding undocumented students.
Let’s take Noem’s word for a moment.
Before examining the partisan politics and xenophobia lying beneath the bill, let’s judge it for what she says it is: a way to improve civics education.
During her State of the State address, before rousing the audience to a standing ovation, Noem quoted Civil War General William Beadle, who stated, “[education should prepare] for all civic and social duties. Not for wage earning alone, not for money making alone, must we educate.”
Not many could argue with that.
After all, if students are to lead this country, they need a thorough understanding of what civic life is.
But we must ask if a citizenship test is really the key.
Let’s look at what the test would require, which is hardly anything.
Students would be required to answer seven out of 10 questions correctly. The questions, which range from U.S. history, government and geography, are easily found online.
Examples include, “Who served as President during WWI?” and “What are the first three words in the Constitution?”
For adults whose history memory is dusty, the questions could pose some difficulty. A survey conducted by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation found that only 36 percent of American adults passed the test.
But for high school students who are fresh out of government class and arrive having studied even the bare minimum, the test will most likely be a breeze. If it isn’t, they can attempt it an indefinite number of times until they pass.
If the test’s aim is to improve civics education, it falls miserably short.
After Noem announced the bill, Senate Minority Leader Troy Heinert, D-Mission, raised a fundamental question: “What is citizenship and what is really going to come from it?”
Just as being a musician requires more than knowing how many sharps are in a b minor scale, being a citizen requires much more than knowing the names of the original 13 colonies.
Citizenship requires attentiveness to current events, voting in elections, investing care into our communities—both environmentally and socially.
By mandating students pass a ten question quiz we’re saying citizenship requires the bare minimum, that we can do only what’s required of us and call ourselves citizens.
If Noem wanted to improve the civic life of future generations, she would promote volunteering, debate teams and student government. She would encourage high schoolers to share their thoughts on current events.
Most importantly, she would embody social responsibility by treating undocumented students with compassion rather than passing bills that further ostracize them.
Jessica Ruf is a senior English and journalism major from Sioux Falls, South Dakota.