Friday, September 28, 2007

Questions About Citizenship Questions

Hmm. I've been reviewing the questions, testing myself, and doing pretty well. Embarrassed to say that I thought there were 29 amendments, not 27, to the Constitution. There are some definite oddities that seem to take up current issues rather than longer-term knowledge of American citizenship.

For example, the test asks who the commander in chief of the U.S. military is. I find that odd, and rooted in current politics rather than wider knowledge. It doesn't, conversely, ask who has the power to declare war. I don't care for the immediate questions--the name of the vice president, for example, or what happened on Sept.11. I realize it shows us who's paying attention to current events but I like broader knowledge and understanding of what the country is all about.

And it seems very executive-branch focused:
Who signs bills to become law?
Who vetoes bills?
What does the President's Cabinet do?
What is the political party of the President now?

I'd love to know how many Americans could answer many of these questions, especially

New citizenship test is unveiled
The 100 questions are more abstract, relying less on rote memory. Some say they're also harder.
By Nicole Gaouette
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
September 28, 2007
WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration unveiled a revamped citizenship test Thursday intended to promote assimilation and patriotism -- a redesign some critics contend erects a higher hurdle for immigrants who want to become citizens.

The 100 new civics questions -- which test knowledge of American government, history and civics and take effect Oct. 1, 2008 -- will require less rote memorization and are meant to focus more on fostering identification with American values.

Would you pass the U.S. citizenship test?For example, applicants may currently be asked, "What country did we fight during the Revolutionary War?" But starting next year, applicants could be asked to explain why the colonists fought the British. They may also have to describe what the "rule of law" is and outline one constitutional amendment concerning the right to vote. (Applicants are asked 10 questions and must answer at least six correctly to pass.)

"This is a naturalization test which genuinely captures the applicant's knowledge of what it is he's about ready to be, a United States citizen," said Emilio T. Gonzalez, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. "It's no longer a test about how many stars are on the flag or how many stripes; it's a test that genuinely talks about those things that make America what it is."

But immigrants' advocates who tried to shape the test's redesign expressed deep disappointment. Some, citing a recent 69% increase in the citizenship application fee (now $675), said it was another barrier for legal permanent residents hoping to become Americans. They said that whereas the current 96 fact-based questions could be correctly answered in various ways, the abstract new questions required the exact answers in the study materials.

"We've always been concerned that people with lower levels of education would have trouble with this new test and people of lower income would not be able to pay for the process," said Fred Tsao, policy director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. "Mexicans, as a group, fall into that category. That's always been a concern. Of course, the administration will deny it."

Karen K. Narasaki, director of the Asian American Justice Center, worked with immigration officials on overhauling the test. She said the update was needed but "they seem to have missed the mark. We do think this adds to the barriers to citizenship."

Narasaki also said she thought the Bush administration might be politicizing the test.

She pointed to Question 67, which she said encapsulated the test's increased difficulty as well as a new political tinge: "The Federalist Papers supported the passage of the U.S. Constitution. Name one of the writers."

Conservatives who believe in restricting federal power often cite the Federalist Papers, a series of articles advocating ratification of the Constitution. During the 2006 immigration debate, Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.) offered an amendment to require that test-takers be asked about the Federalist Papers.

No comments: