The new citizenship exam is supposed to focus less on trivia and more on understanding democratic values. Instead of just naming the three branches of government (executive, legislative, judicial), they may have to explain why there are three branches (balance of power).
Applicants must answer correctly six questions out of 10 chosen from a master list of 100.
It’s not hard to memorize answers to the current list of questions without understanding much about this country’s values. The new test is more challenging. But some of the proposed questions are awfully picky too. Why should new citizens have to know the minimum wage ($5.15 an hour), the highest mountain (McKinley) or which World War II general went on to become president (Eisenhower)? A few questions are confusing:
What is one thing only a state government can do?
Acceptable answers are:
A: Provide schooling and education
A: Provide protection (police)
A: Provide safety (fire departments)
A: Give a driverâ€™s license
A: Approve zoning and land use
Most people see education, police, fire and zoning as local decisions.
When the San Jose Mercury News asked current citizens — including a law professor who was on O.J. Simpson’s legal team, a close-the-border activist, a newly naturalized immigration lawyer and San Jose’s police chief and mayor-elect — to take the test, they struggled with questions such as “how many times has the Constitution been amended?”
Well, the 144 questions on the list will be tested on volunteers and winnowed down to 100. Presumably, the pickiest and most trivial questions will go, leaving questions that ask would-be citizens to learn more about their new country’s history and form of government. I don’t think it’s too much to ask.
Update: Dan Moffett suggests more right answers.
We elect a U.S. representative for how many years?
Answer the government wants: Two (2).
Other correct answers: Until they send lewd e-mails to pages, make millions off defense contracts, play free golf in Europe.
Or: Who does a U.S. senator represent?
Answer the government wants: All citizens in the state.
Other correct answers: Campaign contributors, lobbyists, people with stadium skyboxes.
It’s possible to know too much.