By Don Bragaw
The Office of Citizen
A Responsible Balance Between "Patriotic Assimilation" and Global Citizenship in Preparing Immigrants for Their Role in a Democratic Society
What Form Should the Naturalization Test Take?
In several recent columns, the news columnist David Broder reported on two recent surveys of college students. He bemoaned the sad state of the knowledge of history by college freshmen and the apathy and non‑involvement of young adults in the political process. Broder's laments are neither startling nor new. This has been the lament of elders about youngsters since the beginnings of our country's story. More recently, in the late 1940s and continuing through the 1960s, Allan Nevins at Columbia University conducted at least three decennial tests of knowledge of American history. He discovered each time, to his great dismay, that students performed with dismal results. In 1893, 1899, 1905, 1910, 1916, 1920, and 1932, historians and/or political scientists also bemoaned the state of those disciplines in the schools and recommended specific remedies for school curriculums.
Similarly, there was a outcry not just about history and civics, but about all education resulting from the launching of Sputnik in the late 1950s, and critics took up the cudgel, decrying the sad state of education in general science in particular and the loss of pride in our American civic tradition. A surge of presumed curriculum reform occurred in the 1960s and early 1970s, and it was asserted that by teaching the tools of historians and political scientists to students and challenging them with critical issues and problems, they would become historians and political scientists themselves. These efforts reached few ears and even fewer classrooms.
A series of tests administered by the National Assessment of Educational Progress in the late '60s and early '70s revealed that knowledge of both civics and history were no better than they had been previously, and, indeed, were perhaps even worse. Stentorian attacks on the educational establishment were again voiced by people like William Bennett and Lynne Cheney. They and others called for a return to the Golden Age and for severe reform. The question was always: Should history and civics be reformed, and, if so, how could that be accomplished to preserve the "threatened" culture and encourage civic participation? Multiple efforts were again tried by professionals in the field to remedy perceived faults in the teaching of and learning about the American ethos and civic life. What I stress here is that the condemnation and reform of history and civics is a constant in our country's history each generation perceiving that what "is" is either wrong or terribly inadequate, with each generation arguing the case for or against greater patriotic emphasis. A concerted study of the American "civic tradition" would reveal that with but few exceptions it remains in both schools and in the American mind as it existed when the Americanization process took over both the naturalization process and the schools at about the time of World War I.
While this debate could be considered a healthy decennial national exercise, this exercise over the last decade has become critically altered by the advent of a changing world. This is a world whose economic, political, cultural, and technological involvement and people movement has forced us into what I suggest is a new tripartite citizenship local, national, and global a transnationalism that posits a reexamination of identity. This globalization process can no longer be ignored; it is a reality of daily life, and each day makes the issues identified with it more intensely personal and involving, if not fully understood. Its economic and political ramifications sweep away traditional boundary lines and highlight simultaneously the commonality of humanity and the enormous disparity between what Thomas Friedman in his 1999 book called the "Lexus" (those who are globally connected) and the "Olive Tree" (those who remain rooted in the past). n the longer view, this may be a battle for technological supremacy more than a contest of cultural supremacy. History and citizenship may be emerging today as a matter of global concerns overriding national or cultural concerns, even while remaining intensely personal and involving. One of the major issues is the flow of peoples across traditional boundaries and the resulting challenge to national identity. Our schools are ill-prepared for this new phenomenon and if this is difficult for native speakers, the challenge is even greater for teachers and children who also struggle with language barriers. This encourages us to reexamine the nature of what we want children to learn and to be.
The political and educational response to all the regular criticisms of schools is: first, to condemn the public schools for failing society; second, to propose and then implement a variety of state and national (non‑federal) tests; third, to propose a set of national goals (supplemented by state input) and ask for their voluntary enforcement by state governments (required goals are anathema to all politicians). Most recently, there is an effort to have sets of standards adopted and implemented (again, voluntarily) for each school subject, including history and civics. This last effort also carries with it the implication that some type of effective measurement device be developed to evaluate whether the standards are being carried out. It should be noted, however, that while some federal monies were involved in the development of these standards, some of the support also came from philanthropic grants (for example, the Pew Charitable Trusts). Both the standards for history and for civics were heavily financed by federal government grants to specific independent agencies (UCLA, and the Center for Civic Education) that applied for the right to develop them. It should be carefully noted that no federal imprimatur was to be attached to the developed standards beyond recognition of the financing. For both these projects, evaluation of testing measures was done primarily by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), whose funding comes mainly from an educational consortium of the states, but, indirectly, federal monies are also involved. In devising standards for both civics and history, careful attention has been paid to the multicultural nature of our society, and to the expanding international involvement of the United States. Both standards efforts underwent extensive critique by educators, politicians, and other interested parties. Because of its relative newness to the consciousness of the schools, the global content (as opposed to "internationalism") of the standards is minor.
Because of the traditional role assigned to the states to carry out educational endeavors, there has been a consistent denial of federal intervention in either the standards or their evaluation. This has resulted in individual states following their own designs for what they believe will improve their educational programs; several of them have either adopted a rigorous testing program at several grade levels, or encouraged the local adaptation of the standards for their civics and history curriculums, or both. In states where testing is not mandatory, teachers and administrative personnel have often charted independent courses in keeping with their belief that those closest to children know what is best for them. This assumed expertise is occasionally informed by the latest research and/or current trends, such as the standards movement. Textbook publishers have generally incorporated the major intent of the standards. While this may take a variety of forms, texts, nevertheless, are designed to meet teacher/administrator demand for a base upon which to develop lessons and conduct classes. The vast majority of students is still taught, and still learn, from the standard; they read, recite, and regurgitate based on methods of instruction fundamentally controlled by the text a condition that has existed since the days of Noah Webster in the early 19th century.
The standards projects and their results have swamped the schools with documents that, while well-intentioned, have overwhelmed the vast majority of administrative and teaching personnel. In the elementary schools, individual teachers, who are responsible for most, if not all, areas of the curriculum, are especially hard hit. In the case of several of the standards projects, a real effort has been made to provide implementation assistance, but it is just not possible for these projects to assume responsibility for the vast numbers of schools involved.
The standards' content, however, has also proved to be of some concern. In the case of the history standards, disputes have arisen over whose, what, and which history has been incorporated in the standards. Arguments over the inclusion or non‑inclusion of, for example, Paul Revere, or Cochise, or Armenian-Americans are but simple examples of what that dilemma entails. While recognizing to a greater extent than ever before that we live in a multicultural and interdependent world, the history standards remain decidedly vast, and continue to encourage the type of didactic instruction that has always plagued history and civics. Instruction continues to be about, as I have written, a "guillotine, [that] chopped off the heads of nameless, faceless people whose blood spattered no textbook page; no moral or ethical dimensions of the deaths were examined. History was civic‑less and bloodless. People moved across the pages but did not act or react." As Grant Wiggins, a leading educational reformer, has asserted, we are (particularly with history) faced with what he has called "the futility of trying to teach everything." History, despite heroic efforts of reformers, is still one long "canoe trip" through western civilization, with occasional excursions into the favorite ethnic or politically charged flavor of the month.
Richard Merelman and John Hibbing, who evaluated the civics standards for the American Political Science Association when they first emerged, were not encouraged that what they read would lead to better civic education. They suggested that, apart from some minor errors of fact, which they identified, the emphasis of the standards remains centered on what has been described as "institutional civics (structure and function)" which is the equivalent of "teaching everything" but leaving out understanding or, in architectural terms, form without function. Some of their criticisms of error have been either corrected or modified in later editions of the materials. The standards' politically and educationally correct words are certainly included to cover all phases of governmental operations. But missing may well be what Richard Pratte has described as "the civic imperative" the need at every educational level for citizen involvement in the clear, persistent, and emerging civic issues of their lives. It can be said that both the history and civics standards are but a first step and that implementation material will follow (and some has). But I would suggest that the standards are such as to overwhelm rather than foster the civic imperative or, indeed, the "strong democracy" envisioned by Benjamin Barber in 1984
The Office of Citizen
K‑12 civics education gives too much attention to our government's clean constitutional components and arrangement and too little attention to the natural give and take (and sometimes rough and tumble) that inevitably occurs when large numbers of diverse people are allowed and even encouraged to get involved in government. If the public is divided on the proper solutions to society's problems (and the American public is) and if democracy involves working through these differences in an open manner (it does), the resultant process can be nothing other than slow and unruly and perforce will involve debate and compromise. Yet, these simple points have not been impressed upon the psyches of most residents of the United States.
-John Hibbing, 1996
Compatible with David Broder's clear call for active citizenship, Hibbing has zeroed in on an apt phrase to describe the kind of civics that will not only motivate young (and old) people (native or immigrant) to participate in the affairs of their society the "barbarics of democratic processes." Unfortunately, Hibbing's points of "barbarity" are almost as dull and forbidding as the ancient civics text he uses to illustrate his dismay with secondary civics education. Rightly, he identifies the rough and tumble students should come to realize exists in the process of doing the citizen's civic business at the personal, local, national, and global levels. What he fails to bring to the fore is the nature of what Joseph Tussman identified in 1960 the rough and tumble "Office of Citizen" meaning, the involvement of every citizen in the affairs of personal and public life. Pericles admonished some of the Athenian population that if they wanted to do business in Athens they were obligated to participate in its governance. It is to this powerful notion of the "office of citizen" that I would direct the attention of any reformers of civics and history education and of the naturalization process in the world today. Robert Bellah and his associates, in their classic 1986 takeoff on De Tocqueville's study of the American polity, defined citizenship as: "virtually coexistent with getting involved with one's neighbors for the good of the community... One of the keys to the survival of free institutions is the relationship between private and public life, the way in which citizens do, or do not, participate in the public sphere."
The encouragement of student involvement in their civic learning should act as a continuous‑K‑12 theme to set young people's involvement in the future as participating citizens. Both Horace Mann and John Dewey were very early and critically significant exponents of the school as the "laboratory of democracy." As Mann pointed out in mid-19th century:
In order that men [sic] may be prepared for self government, their apprenticeship must commence in childhood. The great moral attribute of self‑government cannot be born and nurtured in a day: and if school children are not trained to it, we only prepare ourselves for disappointment.
In their day, as well as in ours, the school fails in that role. History and citizenship education remains rote and remote, unpersonalized, and antiseptic with regard to the barbarity of the world as it truly exists and operates. But there are examples of "barbarous" practice that encourage me to believe that the office of citizen, an office more concerned for the public good/interest than for individual gain/interest, should and can become a reality. There is a suggestive template in recent literature. Says Ralph Ketcham, citizenship professor and historian at Syracuse University:
Suppose that from their earliest acquaintance with public affairs children were taught that the crux of their education to become "part rulers" in a self‑governing society (which each would be) was a posture of disinterestedness, a habit of thinking that one's participation in democratic government must as much as possible pay attention to the good of the public as a whole. And suppose, even more fundamentally, that the classroom itself became a laboratory where children practice learning cooperatively, where the teacher-kept "common good" perspectives are in constant view, and where the experience of finding the whole greater than the sum of the parts became commonplace.
Let me give you an illustration. A third-grade teacher from a coastal North Carolina town involved her students in a local issue that had the potential for making them consciously active civic participants. The issue involved local shrimp fishermen many of whom were the parents of the children involved. In their study of turtles in science class, the students discovered that many of these animals were accidentally killed when they became trapped in the fishermen's nets. The children became interested in this situation. The teacher seized upon this concern, recognizing that this was an opportunity for raising her students awareness of an important local issue that had economic, political, social, and cultural implications. She immediately organized an integrated unit of work around the survival of the turtles, but helped the students pose the problem in such a way that they would also need to consider the needs and rights of the shrimp fishermen. This was a real public issue of great local moment, in which public good and private interests were involved.
For their literature and science lessons, the students read stories about sea turtles. Several local fishermen were invited to class to explain how they went about fishing. They visited the shrimp fishermen on their boats for a firsthand look at the fishing gear. A local librarian, who was also a local historian, told them stories about the local fishing industry and the development of the town around that industry. A representative of a local aquarium, which also had a sea turtle hospital, told the students about the ways in which certain turtles had become an endangered species all over the world. The local newspaper ran a series of articles about the dilemma of the shrimp fishermen and the unfortunate turtles that became trapped in their nets. The children were told about this dilemma, and they wrote their own "newspaper" with illustrations, had class discussions on the problem, and took up the plight of the sea turtle.
Significantly, the students also went home each night, where dinner-table conversation often revolved around the concerns of parents and friends about their livelihood as fishermen or as merchants dependent on that industry. The teacher began to get some telephone calls from parents inquiring about what was going on. After she patiently explained to all who called what her purpose was (including a general letter to all her student's parents), she received general support.
When the local newspaper ran a story with pictures of a "TED" (Turtle Excluder Device), which made it possible to fish for shrimp without harming turtles, the children were ecstatic. But when they got home, the family discussion was not quite as enthusiastic, for they learned that these devices were very expensive and not all family fishermen could afford to put them on their boats unless they had help to do so. This stimulated additional discussion at school.
The teacher again brought in some of the fishermen, some local government people, and a local bank representative, all of whom came in and talked about the problems of refitting the boats, the costs of such devices, what loans were, and how they might help the fishermen. A visit to the chamber of commerce helped the students understand that the local, state, and federal governments were also interested in the issue, and might be able to give some assistance. The students created posters saying, SAVE THE TURTLE, which were hung around the school and in local stores. They received an invitation to appear at the local government meeting where the issue was being discussed as an issue of civic concern, and the children were invited to provide some of the information which they had gathered. The debate raged both within the town, over dinner tables, and, most significantly, continued on in the classroom beyond the "end" of the unit of work. If a third grader can perform these acts of civic involvement, then so, too, can applicants for American citizenship.
Did the children solve the problem? Find the solution to the dilemma? Force the town into doing something? No, not really. While the TEDS were largely incorporated by the fishermen over several years, (not without protest), some with assistance from a variety of government levels, as well as using their own resources, student input was only peripherally involved. But maybe it had an impact at home? Maybe as symbols of the future? Maybe as environmental monitors? What was important was the students total physical and mental involvement (the total academic curriculum was involved), their real exploration into learning both facts and opinions, their ability to see some real response by a community that gave them a greater sense of civic efficacy. Did that learning last? I wish I could say that some major follow-up research was conducted to find out. What I do know is that the next-grade-level teachers were neither as creative nor as interested in pursuing similar experiences to build on this foundation largely because such activities were not specifically included in the prescribed curriculum. I'd like to believe that the experience was like an inoculation, but I am not sanguine about the rest of the students' program through grade 12, indeed, through any post-high-school experience.
I would be more optimistic if I could be assured that somewhere in their middle- and secondary-school experiences they were exposed to two other programs that at least carry out the intent of the civic involvement/public issues/public good idea. One of the more successful programs of the Center for Citizenship Education, Project Citizen (1996), grew out of their Civitas project. Designed for middle-grade students (grades five through eight or nine), teachers who choose to use the program, (and who receive specialized training) engage their students in some type of cooperative, public issues project usually chosen from a local or regional issue (but some have chosen topics that reach into the global domain). The issue becomes the program, engaging the students in tools of research, substantive debate/discussion, and, where possible, some kind of civic action. The students are required to prepare, maintain, and, later, present a portfolio describing their involvement. One of the features of the program is a series of competitions in which the portfolios are evaluated by participating teachers, and a recognition system has been established to reward excellence, based on the program's criteria. An interesting aspect of this program is the involvement of the National Conference of State Legislatures, providing an imprimatur of a major governmental institution. Begun in 1997, the program has been exported to schoolteachers in emerging democracies across Eastern Europe, and was recently introduced into Russia. These nations are struggling to develop curricula that will fulfill their desire for programs illustrating and training for democratic citizenship. While still in the early stages, some evaluation studies have indicated that the program is at least effective where it has been implemented.
A secondary-school program that has the same or similar goals as Project Citizen (public issue/citizen action) is the Public Issues program (sometimes identified as the Harvard Social Studies Project). This program emerged as one of the more successful curricula from the federally sponsored projects of the 1960s. The Public Issues series that resulted were "designed to help you [the student] to take and defend a position on public issues." Through a series of historical readings and case studies, the students were presented with sufficient information to inaugurate a deeper investigation about a significant issue (for example, "Immigration: Pluralism and National Identity"). The teacher had the option of making this a one-week or two or more week unit of work. It was a unit that could fit into regular American history courses (about the turn of the century or current times) or be dealt with separately in a senior problems course, or some such. Recognized by social studies educators as being effective, the series, originally issued from the late 1960s into the mid‑1970s, has now been updated and reissued by the Social Science Education Consortium. In doing research for this paper, I ran across a similar program from Brown University entitled "Choices for the 21st Century." The series is subtitled "Public Policy Debate in the Classroom." Both these programs have as their goal the stimulation of students to consider, research, reflect on, discuss/debate various perspectives, and come to some type of logical resolution of the issue to the degree that they can. There are other programs similar in purpose to these; indeed, over the years, several have come and gone.
In the mid-1980s, the New York State Education Department instituted a required 12th-grade course entitled "Participation in Government" (familiarly known as PIG), whose goal was to encourage active student involvement in public issues. The design of the program allowed schools to determine the extent of real community involvement that would be included, but, at minimum, the students were required to select a public issue (local to global) and follow the investigatory and reflective pattern described above. This requirement generated two independent publications that emerged from the Maxwell School of Citizenship at Syracuse University, long a leader in public policy education. One emphasized a policy skills analysis approach (Coplin and O'Leary, 1988), the other leaned toward a more philosophically Socratic approach (Ketcham, 1988). To my knowledge no longitudinal studies have been done for any of these programs to see whether a program has had any salutary effect on the citizenship performance of these students in their adult life. What we do have is anecdotal evidence that students, when they complete the PIG program, are at least conscious of the need to look carefully at the issues that confront them, their nation, or their world. Recognition should also be given to states, such as Maryland, that require some type of public service as a measure of competence before students graduate.
Central to all these programs is the need for the promotion of active and productive citizenship from day one of school. Utilization of inquiry skills to investigate issues of personal and public concern is the "stuff" of both history and civics programs. In the elementary and secondary schools we have got to realize, finally, that Napoleon is dead. His only use is as a vehicle for studying the critical public issues of that time and the private and public policies he and others used to deal with them. History is for me a personalized investigation into the personal and public issues/policies that existed at any one stage of time it is the study of the civic process.
A Responsible Balance Between "Patriotic Americanism" and Global Citizenship in Preparing Immigrants for Their Role in a Democratic Society
Required here, obviously, is a clear definition of terms. If what we mean by "patriotic Americanism" is memorizing the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Gettysburg Address or components of them the result is a very mixed message on a number of scores. This is, after all, the type of program that has resulted in poor student performance on national tests. In addition, this term has traditionally been applied only to the United States, and yet the term American/ism is at least hemispherical. The closed and traditional meaning has always involved institutional political knowledge and specific references to great men (and an emerging small number of women) and major events/documents of our history (as is indicated on the present naturalization test). I don't believe that anyone would deny that some of this knowledge is a good thing, but as is always true of a little knowledge, this type of information will not necessarily result in "good citizens."
Sometimes overlooked in the rush to make judgments about a person's civic responses is that the motivations for civic behavior are impacted heavily by significant factors unrelated to institutional government or American iconography. Among these is, of course, the weight that tradition has in people's civic formation. This has sometimes taken the form of myth, for example the "rags to riches" Horatio Alger syndrome alive and well in Silicon Valley.
Tradition has been passed down from generation to generation, and from native to other shores. Do people respond to issues of personal or public concern on the basis of what has been tried and true and handed down to them as if it were gospel? Of course, this is the beacon that dominates present-day action; one need only refer to the political conventions of 2000 to see it in powerful action.
Related to this is the "How to Become a Millionaire" frame of reference. Study after study has been concerned with the impact of television (and its progenitor, the movies) on the beliefs and actions of people. This vision of "America" sends so many mixed messages as to confuse even the most sophisticated of people. Should we consider the impact of television on the education of immigrant children? If so, what is the role of visual and aural literacy in schooling, and how do we go about making that as important as knowing the exact number of representatives or senators?
Frequently forgotten is that institutional civics has an underground form: street/neighborhood politics and government. Where people live, the conditions under which they operate their daily lives these are the gauge of survival. Immigrants awaiting the final steps of the naturalization process are living a civic life of whatever dimension exists in their local area. Their local public issues are things like children being able to play safely; getting to and from stores without molestation; health conditions; making enough to survive; paying for medical expenses; racial/ethic/gender/age discrimination; and the like. These are more intimate and real to their lives than the existence of the Gettysburg Address. This active civic learning comes in department stores (Walmart as "super America"), in labor pools, around the soft drink machine, in poolrooms and arcades, in streets, neighborhood parks, front stoops, and backyards, or at athletic events, McDonald's or Outback, and so on. People, immigrants or not, find themselves in these situations, and they struggle to understand the mechanisms the policies that seem to dictate the rhythm of their lives. How do we address this in a naturalization test? The test as it presently exists is an exercise in memorization, not an exercise in citizenship skills and reflection.
Now that the computer has become so universal, it, too, has the ability to shape civic responses. Or, as has become obvious, it still remains out of the reach of thousands, and therefore another example of not being in the "loop" of knowledge. But along with television and other technological wonders (cell phones, for instance), the computer has, perhaps with greater impact than anything before it, become a local, national, and global connector. There is now almost nothing that I cannot find on the Internet; information abounds and multiplies before my eyes; opinions and perspectives are prolific (if sometimes not profound); technological, ideological, scatological, etc., information flows as an unchecked river; visual images and audio sounds both please and assault me; and, what is more, all this comes to me from the world over. The president assures us that in another ten years, all children will have access to this global phenomenon. How will this assault have meaning in our civic life? How has this new "magic pill" affected new, about‑to‑be citizens?
A brief word here about this new "global" world with which we find ourselves, our schools and communities ill‑prepared to deal. In many ways this is a formidable task, but only if we ignore its existence and make no room "in the schoolhouse inn" for it. In truth, global positioning is no more, no less, than private and public issues writ large. As one scholar puts it:
If the United States is to survive and thrive in the next millennium, students future voters and leaders need to be prepared for a variety of potential challenges and opportunities. If the past is a reflection of the future, our students will confront issues that have global dimensions with positive and negative aspects. To make wise decisions, our youth need wide preparation in understanding the world.
To address this new world, in 1998, the American Forum for Global Education, in cooperation with the National Council for the Social Studies, proposed some guidelines for the way in which schools might adapt current standards to provide for a global perspective. This group's compilation of global issues, problems, and challenges includes ten categories:
Conflict and control
- Political systems
- Economic systems
- Global belief systems
- Race and ethnicity
- Human rights and social justice
- Technocratic revolution
- Planet management: resources, energy
- Sustainable development and environment
Evidence mounts that none of the above areas of issues or problems will easily disappear. It would be the hope that students are at least exposed to them and deal in depth with several as they progress through school. Again, I need to stress that no one is expecting students to "solve" or "resolve" these issues or problems; what we should be able to expect is that they learn to grapple with them and to form intelligent opinions, and then to take some kind of action. There is no political agenda here, for each of these issues generates multiple reactions and feelings. It is important that students realize that not all people greet the technology revolution with open arms and that there are times when a national perspective is so strong as to prohibit the free discussion of an issue. They must also realize that there are issues whose dimensions are universally critical (e.g., AIDS in Africa; limited resources, such as oil; environmental pollution); that all these issues demand discussion, debate, concern, emotion, reason, and some kind of action local to global in nature and that many of them are insoluble except by transnational action.
Determining the real nature of citizenship is to come close, then, to identifying it as becoming informed, discussing and acting, or not acting, upon issues/problems/dilemmas of a personal or public nature. Personal actions might include such things as: speeding in traffic zones; filing or not filing one's income tax; dumping garbage along the roadside; being a whistleblower; using the word "person" instead of him or her when speaking or writing; going bowling and not voting; welfare cheating; throwing food in the cafeteria; running in the halls; deliberately causing injury on the football field; call an "in" tennis ball "out"; taking extra swings at "tee‑off"; etc. These types of actions may involve strictly private decisions without public acknowledgment, or decisions made alone or in concert with or against others, in public or not. Obviously such decisions also may have some public impact, but their immediacy is personal.
Public issues will range in degree from local to global and be designed to have an impact on a specific government action, such as: an organized "truck-in" against NAFTA; testimony at a local zoning hearing; organizing a write‑in campaign concerning the dispersal of nuclear waste; debating in local, state, or national elections against or for a position on abortion or tax cuts; supporting a moratorium on whale fishing in the Pacific Ocean; boycotting French wine and perfume; or marching on Washington with the goal of supporting gay issues or protesting cuts in the AIDS budget of NIH. The distinction I am making here is one of the "personal" versus the "public" good and the clear intention that one has to make a statement or commitment to the larger public good through civic action. But it is not enough merely to know about the issue; a citizen ("if he is to do business here," said Pericles) must also be willing to participate in the life of the community, be it in Downers Grove, Chicago, the United States, or the world. What our schools have been remiss in is helping students learn the skills adequate to the task of holding "the office of citizen."
What Form Should the Naturalization Test Take?
What follows is written with the full realization that the INS backlog on processing new immigrants is formidable, and that there seems to be a present feeling that the test must be made even simpler than it already is. I am also aware that others have made similar suggestions to my own, with little acceptance. There are two questions that need very much to be dealt with: (1) What are the citizenship knowledge, skills, and application factors that should be considered in establishing a benchmark for immigrants in establishing their citizenship eligibility? (Present guidelines specify that the applicant "need[s] to demonstrate knowledge," which is then defined by the test questions themselves.) (2) What is the best procedure for determining that, and who shall make the determination? I deal with the first question below. The second question needs very serious consideration. It may well be that the INS needs to separate itself from the testing process and turn that function over to some educational institution. Community colleges seem uniquely positioned to accept such a responsibility as long as adequate funding is provided. Oversight of such activity might be the better role for the INS.
Based on all that has gone before, I believe that the naturalization test should have multiple parts, maintaining the need for simplicity of administration, but recognizing that memorization is not evidence of civic responsibility. In one part, some of the more relevant memorization information can be retained. This might, however, be organized around central ideas that should also include significant American history questions; that portion might be in a fully separate section clearly labeled "American History."
A further section should be image-based (pictures, cartoons, illustrations, etc.) and present a problem of everyday life (related to one or more of the topics above), which then would allow the test taker to work through the situation. This could be accomplished through one of a variety of short-answer responses, and/or a small, but cogent, piece(s) of written response.
A third section would be more open-ended, and deliberately designed to find out how a person might identify, approach, and respond to some kind of public issue one that would, under ordinary circumstances, require the test taker to work through a process of thought. This (and the previous section) also has the advantage of being administered orally, if necessary. Obviously, this poses problems of flexibility of response but as educational evaluators (and other types of evaluators) know, this is a soluble problem. If the response is to be written, it might serve as the demonstration of writing ability as well.
Still another process must be considered as worthy evidence of good civic behavior: having prospective citizens perform some type of public service. This could take the form of volunteer service to any one of a number of worthy causes: charitable, environmental, political, educational, etc.; a certain number of hours would be designated.
What is suggested here is a test of citizenship, of civic participation, not of textbook memorization a test that should be equally applicable to all students, not just to immigrant children or adults. The test must recognize that immigrant children and adults (and native children and adults) have intelligence, native and "educational," and must show respect for his/her own and others achievement. This further suggests that expectations would be raised, and the hurdle more closely related to real life. If the citizenship test is to have any meaning other than being just another damn obstacle to be surmounted it should require the application of knowledge, not just the flaunting of it. National identity must be more than names and dates, not just for immigrant children (and adults), but for all in the American civic society.
Don Bragaw is a professor emeritus at East Carolina University and has also taught at Syracuse and the State University of New York (SUNY), Binghamton. He has served as president of the National Council for the Social Studies and Social Science Educational Consortium. He has taught students at the primary, secondary, undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate levels, and he is the author of numerous publications on social studies education, public policy education, history, and global education. He currently edits the newsletter of the American Forum for Global Education.