The news the last few days has carried reports on how the Citizenship and Immegration Services branch of DHS have changed the citizenship test to focus more on concepts of what it means to be an American, and how our government works, as opposed to historical facts and figures, such as who said what. I was thinking about this in relation to something pointed out by my daughter’s 8th grade history teacher. She noted that history often gets short shrift in the standardized testing: 8th grade history has to cover not only US history from the constitution to WWI, but review 5th, 6th, and 7th grade history. This happens again in 11th grade, where they have to review 8th, 9th, 10th, as well as do the 11th material (US history post WWI). I also noted the time dilation problem: we give students one semester to study over 200 years (1769 through 1915), and then one semester to study under 100 years (basically, 1915 through about 2000). That’s not fair: you can’t do the same depth of study. Is it any wonder that kids today don’t see the similarities between GWB and Andrew Jackson, or that history is repeating itself in so many ways?
This got me thinking about the changes in the citizenship test. Are we teaching our children what it means to be Americans? Are we raising critical thinkers like Thomas Paine, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe. Washington wasn’t on the list, because he talks up a storm with those wooden teeth, but when it is time to sign the parchment-o-rooni try to find him. Do they understand what representative government is (it’s not voting party-line, but it is also not voting solely in accordance with poll numbers)? Do they understand what each of our enumerated freedoms are, and why they are so important to fight for? Are we raising robots or aliens?
My daughter’s teacher said: “If your child is fourteen by November, realize that in four years they will be voting for our next president.” Are we really preparing our children to intelligently do this, especially with how we teach social studies in the schools? Are we adequately preparing our immegrant population for citizenship? Just as with converts to Judaism, often they value it more because it was a conscious choice instead of a birthright? But as with conversion, are we ensuring they learn sufficient material so that their old ideas from their old political systems don’t remain — that they truly understand how things work (and, alas, don’t work) in the US?
All good questions. Maybe I shoulda’ been a history teacher.