Every once in a while, I'll hear two people discussing their favorite baseball or football team. What impresses me is the details they know about a particular person on the team. For instance, if it's baseball, they know the player's hitting average, how much he weighs, the last time he participated in a double play, where his home town is and even how many times he has been married. The scope of their knowledge is amazing. That thought passed my mind as I perused a recent New York Times article about what it takes to become an American citizen.
Last year, a record 1.1 million immigrants were naturalized as American citizens, and they had to answer some pretty tough questions to make the grade. Apparently, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service selects 10 or 20 questions from a base of about 100 to find out how much prospective citizens know about our nation. To pass the written part of the citizenship exam, they must answer either seven out of 10 or 12 out of 20 questions correctly. According to the INS, more and more immigrants are diligently learning as much as they can about our nation in order to gain citizenship.
On the other hand, according to the New York Times article, the established citizenry is largely ignorant and indifferent about American history and civics. So I was interested to see just what questions the INS uses.
Some of the initial questions are simple: What are the colors of our flag? How many stars are there on our flag? Who is president today? Who is vice president today? But as you move down the list, things can get a little dicey. Question No. 33 is a good example: How many voting members are in the House of Representatives? So is No. 34: For how long do we elect the representatives? For some of us, those two questions could be difficult. No. 58 also could be tricky: What holiday was celebrated for the first time by the American colonists? And what about No. 61: What is the basic belief of the Declaration of Independence?
It may seem like pretty rudimentary stuff to you. But try some of these questions on your friends and you may be surprised. No. 64: Where does freedom of speech come from? No. 75: What were the 13 original states of the United States called? No. 76: Name three rights or freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights.
Seems like basic stuff as we enjoy summer in this great nation of ours. It's a country we all love but sometimes take for granted because we are either too busy or don't really care. However, our borders are literally bursting at the seams with individuals who care very much about learning more about the U.S. because they know how lucky we are to be here. I think that's probably more important than who won a golf tournament or the batting average of a local sports hero. But on the other hand, that's what's so great about this nation: We all get to set our own priorities.
That's your right,
Charles S. Lauer