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Korobov: Require civics tests across the country

BY MICHAEL KOROBOV | JANUARY 22, 2015 5:00 AM

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When the Cold War ended in the early 1990s, the result was not only a victory for the United States but a win for democracy across the globe. Liberal democracy, as a form of government, multiplied in countries across the world. This governmental structure focuses on fair elections, separation of powers, and the protection of human rights, civil rights, civil liberties, and political freedoms.

History has shown that democracy works; it has transformed the United States from a collection of British colonies to the world leader it is today.

Assuming elections are truly fair, a democracy largely relies on self-governance. The citizenry must be capable of making difficult choices. They must elect representatives that will ultimately bring them prosperity through their governing. In his book Politics, Aristotle states that, “if liberty and equality, as is thought by some, are chiefly to be found in democracy, they will be attained when all persons alike share in the government to the utmost.”

This education, which aims to elevate the understanding of citizenry to be informed about their government, is called civic education. The United States requires a civics test for people who apply to become citizens. The vast majority, 97 percent, pass with flying colors.

Americans who are already citizens, however, cannot say the same. CitizenshipFirst claims that nearly half of Americans fail the exam. In 2012, Xavier University conducted a survey that found that one in three Americans do not score high enough to pass. Some of the test results in this study were particularly disturbing — 75 percent did not know the function of the judicial branch, and 62 percent could not identify the governor of their state.

These results indicate that somewhere along the line in our education system, the ball has been dropped. A significant number of Americans don’t know basic information about their government.

The state of Arizona seems to have a solution: require high school students to pass a civics test to graduate. Students will be required to correctly answer 60 of 100 questions to pass. The test will be conducted throughout the normal curriculum, so that students will have the opportunity to retake the test if they fail.  

Some of the questions of the test include asking how many amendments the Constitution has, the purpose of the Declaration of Independence, the name of the national anthem, etc.

After sifting through all of the 100 questions, it was evident that the purpose of the questions is to merely provide a foundation for being an informed citizen. One of the questions even asks to name the current president. It seems perfectly reasonable to require this baseline of education to every student who wants a place in our democratic society.

The Civics Education Initiative, which pushed for the test in Arizona, is hoping to have the test be mandatory in all states by Sept. 17, 2017. I agree with this initiative. An informed populace is necessary for a well-functioning democracy. Additionally, we cannot require immigrants to pass a test that our own citizens would fail.

In 1789, Thomas Jefferson discussed the issue in a letter. He stated that, “Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government; that whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights.”


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