We need a larger public campaign emphasizing
lessons in how America works, whether through
explanation of its political and administrative
process, its legal system, or other public authorities. The legal profession has a vested interest
in fostering an informed public so that informed
citizens will seek legal redress through the courts
and feel encouraged to participate in administering justice as jurors or citizen advocates for human rights. This will only happen if they believe
the system is reliable, fair, and affordable.
Several years ago, Newsweek gave 1,000
Americans the immigrant citizenship test. 1 The
results were awful, with some Americans being
unable to circle Independence Day on a calendar.
Likewise, a few years ago, the nonprofit Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI) gave 14,000 college
freshmen and seniors from 50 prominent national
universities a 60-question multiple-choice exam
about American history, economics, and foreign
policy. All flunked it, except students from
Harvard University, who scored an average of
D+. Later, ISI tested 3,500 adults, giving them
essentially the same exam. All flunked, and those
who had public service experience scored 5 points
below the average adult.
Though Washington has passed laws that
encourage civics learning, 2 the laws fail to compel
students to become proficient in American
history, government, economics, and foreign
policy. If more attention were paid to true civics
learning, student scores in civics would be better
and the student population would be less apathetic about such topics. The American Legislative
Exchange Council gives Washington a grade of
“C” for state-level education policies that provide
high-quality options to all students, but without
grading state schools on the topic of civics learning. These laws call for numerous evaluations
and assessments, but hard data about whether our
current approach to civics learning is effective is
lacking and/or difficult to locate.
A recent study by Opportunity Nation and the
Citi Foundation provides evidence of the value of
civics education. These organizations found that
Americans who are knowledgeable about civics
vote more often, have greater opportunity for
economic success, and are more thoughtfully and
actively engaged in their communities.
In November 2015, I circulated an op-ed to
former members of Congress, asking them to
endorse a civics learning renewal. Democrats and
Republicans enthusiastically signed on, urging a
Some of the questions from the Civics and History section of the
U.S. Citizenship test are listed below. See how many you can get
right. Answers to the questions can be found at www.uscis.gov/
1. What is the supreme law of the land?
2. What does the Constitution do?
3. The idea of self-government is in the first three words of the
Constitution. What are these words?
4. What is an amendment?
5. What do we call the first ten amendments to the Constitution?
6. What is one right or freedom from the First Amendment?
7. How many amendments does the Constitution have?
8. What did the Declaration of Independence do?
9. What are two rights in the Declaration of Independence?
10. What is freedom of religion?
11. What is the “rule of law”?
12. Name one branch or part of the government.
13. What stops one branch of government from becoming too
14. Who makes federal laws?
15. What are the two parts of the U.S. Congress?
16. What does the President’s Cabinet do?
17. What are two Cabinet-level positions?
18. What does the judicial branch do?
19. How many justices are on the Supreme Court?
20. Under our Constitution, some powers belong to the federal
government. What is one power of the federal government?
21. Under our Constitution, some powers belong to the states.
What is one power of the states?
22. What is one responsibility that is only for United States
23. Name one right only for United States citizens.
24. What are two rights of everyone living in the United States?
25. What is one promise you make when you become a United
26. What are two ways that Americans can participate in their
27. What is one reason colonists came to America?
28. When was the Declaration of Independence adopted?
29. There were 13 original states. Name three.
30. What happened at the Constitutional Convention?
31. The Federalist Papers supported the passage of the U.S.
Constitution. Name one of the writers.
32. What did the Emancipation Proclamation do?
33. What movement tried to end racial discrimination?
34. Name one American Indian tribe in the United States.
35. Name one U.S. territory.