quiz from a recent Newsweek. These are 25 questions that might be asked of an immigrant to the U.S. who is seeking citizenship. Apparently the way it works is that you are randomly given ten of these questions and have to get six of them right. The test was given to a wide swathe of Americans and 38% failed. Go ahead and take the test if you're so inclined, then meet back here. (Updated to say that the link to the first question is HERE)
(For anybody is not so inclined, you might just take a look at this issue of the magazine on line anyway. I actually swiped it from the laundromat because it has an article by Paul Theroux on Japan's recent tragedy, another by Simon Winchester on the lost city of Atlantis, and even a piece by Stephen King on what he considers to be some must see TV.)
All done? Great. Let me start out by confessing that though I would have passed the 25 question quiz, on the shorter and official version, it depends a lot on what the ten random questions were. Odds are good, but still. And a lot might have ridden on the fact that I temporarily blanked out on the name of our current vice president. I could see him but that was it. I'm sure it would have come to me, but that's a lot to have riding on a memory glitch.
Now I'm not going to argue that Americans aren't pretty ignorant. Every time you watch one of the late night shows ask random people on the street if they know who the current Speaker of the House is, or even easier questions, you realize that a lot of people aren't exactly keeping up with current events. But I didn't entirely buy the larger premise of the piece, which was to bemoan our educational system and then propose remedies.
First of all, this kind of quiz is the kind of thing that is a bit like the DMV quiz. Sure, you know it all somewhere, or knew it once, but before you go in for the quiz, you get a little booklet, swat it up, and hone your memory. I know we have a lot of high school dropouts in this country, but most people who did complete all four years did have to take Civics, or at least in California they do. So you did learn at some point about the three branches of government, the two houses of Congress, the Bill of Rights and amendments at some point. Didn't you? I'm not saying it's particularly deep knowledge, but it does at least give you a structure to start from.
Secondly, the citizenship quiz makes a funny contrast with the proposed remedies in this follow up article , which among other things, advocates teaching the broader implications and questions that our history brings up. Surely the way you ace the citizenship quiz is by a lot of rote learning and ignoring the bigger issues altogether.
Maybe because I got it wrong, I question whether it is really important to know how many members there are in the House of Representatives, except when you're a strategist for a major political party. And I wonder if knowing how many amendments there are (yeah, wrong again) is as important as knowing what was at stake in a few crucial ones, like those that abolished slavery, and gave voting rights to a wider and wider portion of the population.
Excuses, excuses. What else did I get wrong? I blew it on Presidential succession (wrong house, though of course I had known it and will know it again), and I messed up on the supreme law of the land (Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? Did I mention I have a cold?). But the one I would have contested if it was all that stood in the way of me and the swearing-in ceremony? I said that one of the powers of the federal government was taxation.
Yeah, it's been recently on my mind.