Not too long ago a study suggested that recent immigrants generally knew more about our country and how it was governed than 5th generation natives. A slightly older study reported that only 12% of high school seniors had a good grasp of our nation’s history. And a Pew study in 2011 found that almost 50% of Americans thought that the main cause of our Civil War was a disagreement about federal authority, not slavery. There are likely a number of reasons for this state of affairs, including the reality that too often we get our “news” from the mouths of those who have a public platform because of wealth or celebrity. Teddy Roosevelt gave us a good reminder when he said that “you expect a man of millions, the head of a great industry, to be a man worth hearing,….but as a rule they don’t know anything outside their own business.” We need to be cautious about our sources of information.
But another recently mentioned factor (and this has been a public concern for several decades) is that civics (the study or science of the privileges and obligations of citizens) has not generally been taught in our schools for almost 40 years. Immigrants, to pass a citizenship test, are required to learn things about the glory and infamy, the power and abuses — the operating system — of our democracy. Perhaps that is why they know more than many of us about the most important aspects of our country’s governance.
Below is a link to a short citizenship quiz that our USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) provides to show examples of the types of questions our aspiring new citizens must be prepared to answer. Give it a try and either rejoice or take a civics book from our library and give it a read.