Give All Americans a Mandatory Civics Exam

Most of us who are born American citizens take for granted the basic freedoms and affluent way of life that our country gives us.

Living in the U.S.A., we're spoiled because we don't encounter abysmal poverty, despotism and the lack of value of human life that exists in the rest of the world.

Think about it. We rarely discuss or even ponder what it means to be an American in our daily lives. When was the last time you sat down and said to yourself, or thought for a moment, or even said in a prayer: "Thank God that I am American"?

Short of having served in the armed forces, or of having lived in a Third World country, it's never really apparent why we need to know how we got here and what we have.

Most immigrants, legal and undocumented alike, whether they are cleaning or writing programming code, share an elevated awareness that is lacking in most citizens -- how good the values and institution of this country are.

To address citizens' lack of awareness, there is a growing movement to require high school students to learn, much like pupils learned a century ago, the basics of American civics.

Making kids take a civics course is a good start, but is that enough? Why only test immigrants seeking citizenship, or even high school kids?

All Americans could use a civics lesson, and even a test once in a while -- particularly in these times when our basic tenets of freedom and affluence are under siege from fundamentalist terrorists and world enemies alike.

Arizona last week became the first state to pass a law requiring that high school students take a citizenship test as part of their graduation standards, beginning in the 2016-17 school year.

Arizona students will soon have to take the same 100 question test immigrants seeking naturalization do, and score a 60 or better to march down the aisle to "Pomp and Circumstance."

"Every single student in Arizona and across the United States of America should have basic knowledge and understanding of American government," Arizona state Rep. Steve Montenegro said back in September, according to The Arizona Republic. "Civics is just common sense."

Montenegro is right: How many teenagers know the office and the name of the person who assumes the presidency if both President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden can't serve anymore?

Ask or text a kid to see if they know -- bet they don't know the answer. I called my NYU-grad son and he said, "The secretary of state."

In fact, do you know? I bet most of you, your friends, co-workers and neighbors don't either. Mark Twain once said: "Citizenship should be placed above everything else, even learning."

So, having all Americans sit down and study a little American civics should be a majestic, bipartisan goal of all state legislatures.

Imagine a requirement that called for you to pass that 100-question civics test every time you renewed your passport or your driver's license -- both are government-issued documents that we routinely get without appreciating the privileges and freedoms associated with their use.

More Americans would know that John Boehner is the Speaker of the House and third in line for the presidency, and that there are 27 constitutional amendments, and that John Roberts is the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

And, maybe, more citizens of this great nation would think, and even talk about, how they appreciate being American too.

Published in "Context Florida" on January 14, 2015.

Steven Kurlander blogs at Kurly's Kommentary ( and writes for Context Florida and The Huffington Post, and can be found on Twitter @Kurlykomments. He lives in Monticello, N.Y. Column courtesy of Context Florida.