Friday, December 08, 2006

A new citizenship test


Citizenship ceremony in Detroit.

The U.S. government, that is, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), is trying out a new set of questions to be asked people who wish to become naturalized citizens. Out of 144 trial questions, the USCIS will eventually settle on 100 and pick 10 to ask each newcomer, requiring six correct answers for a passing score. Obviously aspiring citizens will have to study all of them.

I suspect lots of natural-born citizens could use a refresher course on some of the matters the new questions touch on. Examples follow.

Name one important idea found in the Declaration of Independence. Interestingly, one of several possible correct answers is the people can change their government if it hurts their natural rights. Isn't that anarchistic?

What does freedom of religion mean? Somehow I don't think James Dobson and Pat Robertson are going to like the proposed answer: You can practice any religion you want, or not practice at all.

Then there's What type of economic system does the U.S. have? The "right" answers are Capitalist economy or Free market or Market economy. How about Economy driven by greed?

Here's one Bush and the NeoCons would stumble over. Why do we have three branches of government? Right answer: So no branch is too powerful.

Then we get to substantive questions that might give lots of us pause. Name one thing Benjamin Franklin is famous for. No, flying a kite and understanding the science of lightening won't do. Think back into your history lessons and take a guess.

Or how about name one of the major American Indian tribes in the United States. Probably most of us could do this -- but would the USCIS examiner know if we were right? Fortunately [Adjudicators will be supplied with a complete list.] Really?

Gotta admit I'm thrilled this question somehow got into the mix: What did Susan B. Anthony do? No one would have thought of it when I was young.

Nor could anyone have posed this one: What movement tried to end racial discrimination?

Some of the geography questions will probably be stumpers. Can you answer this one: What is the tallest mountain in the United States? Hint: the right answer is one of two different names.

And I'd hate to take odds on how many citizens could do this one. Name one U.S. territory.

This test is clearly not easy. I asked my partner who teaches college freshmen how she thinks they'd do -- she doubts many could answer all the questions. History is not their strong suit. She had a student recently who assured her that Aristotle went to the movies.

And some people are simply not good test-takers; they get overwhelmed by anxiety and forget material they know. Apparently we are selecting for people who can control their natural anxiety at being interrogated by an official.

Immigrant advocates worry that the new test will be a real barrier for older immigrants whose English skills are already tentative. This does seem likely; we're in a season of increasing hurdles for immigrants. And possibly even more of a barrier to citizenship than the test will be the new fee: aspiring citizens will have to pay even more than the present $400 for the privilege of being questioned by an immigration official.

You can read all the questions here.

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