• Susannah Colt

WHO SHOULD PASS THE CITIZENSHIP TEST? NH Republicans want high school and college students to pass

I often wonder what inspires legislators to write certain laws. Take, for instance, HB319, the bill requiring the university system and community college system students to pass the 2020 version of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services naturalization test before they can graduate with a degree. This is a companion bill to HB320, which was signed into law by Gov. Sununu last year that requires all high school students in New Hampshire to pass the citizenship test.

Republican representative from Merrimack, Michael Moffett has sponsored both bills arguing that there is a lack of knowledge in civics and U.S. government in high schools and colleges. At a hearing last year in support of HB320, Moffett criticized some school for prioritizing lessons about climate change over civics education. This is a broad sweep of criticism of our history and civics teachers, and I dare him to provide proof of that claim. (Also, see Mr. Moffett’s My Turn essay published on Dec. 23, 2021, “Manny, freedom and civics.”)

Of course, the high school law passed largely on party lines, with Republicans in favor and Democrats opposed.

I decided to take a look at the 128 questions for the 2020 version of the citizenship test to see how hard or easy it was. It covers questions relating to (a) principles of American government, (b) system of government, (c) rights and responsibilities, and American History, including (a) colonial period and independence, (b) 1800’s, and (c) recent history and other historical information.

When the civics test is administered to applicants it is given as an oral test during which the applicant is asked 20 questions randomly picked out of the 128 and in order to pass the applicant must successfully answer 12 questions, which is 60%.

Under HB319, the students must answer all 128 questions and in order to pass they need to answer 70 correctly, which is only a 55% passage rate. In other words, our students can be 5% dumber than new citizens of the United States.

If the applicant for citizenship is 65 years or older and has been living legally in the U.S. for 20 years or more, they are told in advance which 20 questions they need to study. At the oral exam they only need to answer ten questions and in order to pass they must answer six of the questions correctly. That is one of those rare occasions where being older has its advantage.

I read through the questions and answers and I’m pretty sure I would pass the 60% threshold, so I’m going to include a few sample questions to test your civic mindedness:

1. How many amendments does the U.S. Constitution have?

2. What amendment gives citizenship to all persons in the United States?

3. When did all men get the right to vote?

4. When did all women get the right to vote?

5. Why do U.S. Representatives serve shorter terms than U.S. Senators?

6. Who wrote the Declaration of Independence?

7. Who lived in America before the Europeans arrived?

8. What group of people was taken and sold as slaves?

9. What territory did the United States buy from France in 1803?

10. What is the supreme law of the land? [No, it is not Donald Trump!]

If you can answer correctly six of those questions, you too can become a citizen of the United States.

In fact, I think all people running for political office in New Hampshire should be required to answer correctly 70 of the 128 questions before they can put their name in the hat (I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and not require them to reach the 60% threshold). We should at least require our legislators to be as civic minded as college students in New Hampshire, if HB319 becomes law.

Those who are currently sitting as representatives, senators, executive councilors and governor should also be required to take the test in order to keep their jobs, unless they reject the passage of HB319 and repeal HB320 and leave the teaching of history and civics to already qualified teachers, who will provide context to the subjects presented so the students are not just being taught to pass a test.

* * * * * *

P.S. For those who are interested in knowing the answers to the questions, I’m happy to provide them here. I did not add this to the essay that ran in the Concord Monitor on Sunday, Jan. 9, but I did have a friend write me and tell me she couldn’t answer many of the questions I listed. I did pick some of the harder questions, but I threw some easy questions in as well.

My friend and I also agreed that we were probably not taught about how many amendments there were to the U.S. Constitution in high school or even in college if we didn’t take American History. When I was in law school, I learned about the major amendments, like the Bill of Rights (Amendments 1-10) and the 14th Amendment. The 27th Amendment hadn’t even been ratified until after I graduated law school (ratification date May 7, 1992).

My point is, someone could easily memorize how many amendments there are to the Constitution, but would they even know what the amendments mean in their daily lives. That is a subject for another day.

Answers: 1. 27; 2. 14th; 3. 1870, after ratification of 15th Amendment; 4. 1920, after ratification of 19th Amendment; 5. To more closely follow public opinion; 6. Thomas Jefferson; 7. A multitude of Indian tribes; 8. People from Africa; 9. Louisiana Territory; 10. U.S. Constitution.

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