BuzzFeed last fall posted a YouTube video titled “Can You Pass the U.S. Citizenship Test?” After going viral with over 1.4 million views, people took to social media to test out their own skills and share with their friends. Soon Facebook was flooded with users sharing and comparing their results on a U.S. Citizenship practice test. (I’m not including the link to the video. Not all of the content is family friendly.)
Obviously, the video featuring people offering ridiculous answers to elementary questions was meant to be fun, but it’s a serious concern when many Americans can’t answer even the most basic questions about the liberties, rights and duties of being a U.S. Citizen.
While the video was making the rounds, Arizona’s favorite Coldstone Creamery CEO, Doug Ducey, was on the campaign trail advocating as part of his platform for governor the idea that Arizona should require its students to know the same material about civics that someone applying for U.S. citizenship would have to know. Then-candidate Ducey thoughtfully argued that Arizona kids should graduate with a solid grasp of basic American history and what it means to be an American citizen. It’s an idea that voters of all stripes responded to.
Flash forward to last Monday, when during his State of the State address, now-Gov. Ducey emphasized the importance of ensuring that students are taught the principles on which America was formed. He cited quotes on the issue of civics education from President Ronald Reagan, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, and John Adams. He then remarked, “To appreciate all this wisdom, however, it helps to know who Justice O’Connor, President Reagan and John Adams are. But for too many of our kids, those names sadly don’t ring a bell.”
The governor asked the audience how students could be expected to protect the principles of our country when they vote if they are not properly educated for the task. He called on the Legislature to send him a bill that ensures Arizona kids know their American civics and that he would “sign it immediately.”
The governor will get his chance to sign the American Civics Bill into law soon. The legislation is on a fast track, with identical bills introduced by Rep. Steve Montenegro and Sen. Steve Yarbrough in their respective chambers with bipartisan support. The Arizona Chamber is strongly in favor of the bill.
The Scottsdale-based Joe Foss Institute, led by former Rep. Frank Riggs, has been a longtime supporter of increasing the standards on civics testing. They offer a civics education program, the “You are America” Civics Series, which aligns with the Civics Education Initiative and state social studies requirements. Civics education is something we can all support, regardless of party. On Monday, the Foss Institute released a statement with remarks from former Senators Jon Kyl, a Republican, and Dennis DeConcini, a Democrat, who both praised the governor for his support of the new legislation.
Once it becomes law, beginning in the 2016-2017 school year, students will need to pass the civics test in order to earn a high school diploma or high school equivalency diploma. Students would be required to correctly answer at least 60 out of 100 questions on the civics test in order to receive the passing grade. The questions come from the same pool of 100 questions used on the U.S. Citizenship Test. In Arizona high schools, a 60/100 is a D-.
I come at this issue from a unique perspective. My wife, Tali, is a naturalized U.S. citizen, born and raised in Israel. From her perspective, the content of the U.S. Citizenship civics test is absolutely something students in America should be learning in the classroom. As she reminds my daughters and me, It’s important for students to learn the principles that make this country great and worth fighting for. It will help build a stronger sense of national identity and patriotism. Citizens should appreciate that they have the privilege to live here and they should give back to the land that has given them so much opportunity. At the very least, my wife hopes that the new requirement will spark some discussion around the dinner table. (And my wife is always right.)
The Arizona Chamber has been vocal in its support for high education standards, and that extends to social studies. This new civics education requirement prepares students for their responsibilities as citizens and, as the governor said, helps create a generation of better informed voters. For those who rightly complain about low voting percentages, this citizenship test makes clear that voting is a right and a responsibility for citizens.
Civics education matters. After all, if you’re going to call yourself an Arizona high school graduate, you should know the difference between Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and Judge Judy.
Glenn Hamer is the president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry.
The Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry is committed to advancing Arizona’s competitive position in the global economy by advocating free-market policies that stimulate economic growth and prosperity for all Arizonans. http://www.azchamber.com/.