The federal government shouldn't be faulted for wanting to put more meaning in citizenship tests immigrants are required to pass.
Instead of the current rote-like examinations, the Citizenship and Immigration Services department is experimenting with questions intended to demonstrate the meaning behind our fundamental institutions.
For example, a prospective citizen is asked today to name the three branches of government or to explain what the Emancipation Proclamation is. The new approach would be to ask why we have three branches of government or to name one problem that led to the Civil War.
Answers need not be precise or comprehensive. Acceptable responses to the three-branch question would include: balance of power, separation of power, distrust of centralized authority and so on. Possible answers to the Civil War question would be: slavery, economics or state's rights, among others.
Tougher questions than today's test? Perhaps. But the immigration services agency began a long process this week by unveiling 144 draft questions that it plans to try on citizenship applicants in 10 cities. The agency posted the draft questions on its website (www.uscis.gov) and invited responses. Eventually, the questions will be narrowed to 100 and used in 2008.
No change of this sort should be expected without scrutiny from immigrant groups. The government should take their concerns and suggestions seriously because those groups are on the front line of the immigration process.
We have one suggestion that might prove useful. Let the immigration service test the questions on American high school students, who could serve as the control group. Would 10th-graders, for example, be able to name one important idea found in the Declaration of Independence? (Hints: All people are created equal, or the power of government comes from the people.)
Let's see if our students do well on the tests.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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