Beyond the Baton - May 2021

Many of you know that while I am a permanent resident of the United States, I was born and raised in Canada.  Soon after receiving my green card, my wife and I discussed whether or not I should apply to become a full citizen.  After some research and deliberation, I decided that it was the right thing to do.  We both feel fortunate to live and work here, and do not foresee any external move (to Canada, for example) in the near future.

Applying for citizenship is a bit of an ordeal, but less onerous than applying for residency, so I felt fairly comfortable with assembling the documents, the security checks and the fees associated with the application.  The hard part is the interview, civics test and language proficiency test, scheduled (after a long COVID delay) in late May.

Fortunately for me, I will have no problem with the language proficiency test, although I can imagine all sort of prospective citizens finding this step to be extremely difficult.  And as long as I remember things like my wedding anniversary and my wife’s birthday, I should be fine in the interview.  (August 13 and February 18 by the way for the doubters out there.)

The civics test, however, is a different story, and I’ve found the whole process very illuminating on many levels.  The test draws from 100 possible questions, ranging from government (57 total questions), history (30), geography (8), and symbols and holidays (5).  In order to pass, I must answer 6 out of 10 selected questions correctly.  For all you keeners out there, here’s a link to the test I’m studying for (100q.pdf (uscis.gov) and here’s the version of the test revised in 2020, with expanded questions (M-1778, 128 Civics Questions ans Answers for the Naturalization Test (2020 version) (uscis.gov))

It is difficult to find an “official” rationale for this test, but it isn’t too hard to guess why the test exists.  Citizens of a given nation, broadly-speaking, share a history, culture, values and (a) language(s), much of which might not be known to folks not raised in said country.   Thus a crash course of what it “means” to be German, Korean, or in my case, American would be in order.  I understand and wholly accept this rationale and have no problem with taking this test.  (Generally I only get one wrong out of 100 when testing myself these days.  Shout out to the Tyler Public Library for having naturalization kits with videos, booklets and flashcards for me to borrow!)

Is it reasonable to expect that any 100-question test could possibly define “American-ness” to prospective citizens?  Of course not.   It most certainly is regional, malleable and probably not possible to define in any concrete way.  Nevertheless, the test could be more useful and relevant in my opinion.  There should be more questions on recent history and current affairs, for starters. (Disclaimer: the 2020 version does address this to some degree).  Definitely more questions about science, arts and culture, and sports, as there are currently NONE.  (One question about American inventions was added to the 2020 version, see below.)  I can guarantee that most folks on this planet know practically nothing about football and baseball, and there probably should be one question on each.

But talk is cheap, right?  The immense challenges of adding, cutting and crafting questions for the civics test are easy to imagine, so I’m putting my money where my mouth is and proposing some actual new questions for consideration:

1.      What is the first line of the chorus of the folk song This Land is Your Land

2.      Name one well-known American visual artist.

3.      Name one well-known American musician (any kind of music).

4.      In baseball, how many strikes make an out?

5.      In American football, name one play a quarterback is usually responsible for.

6.      Name one of the three horse races included in the Triple Crown.

7.      Name one American manufacturer of cars and trucks.

8.      Name one example of an American innovation. (Note: actual question from 2020 test)

Despite some real gaps in the civics test, I am looking forward to my interview and hope to be invited to a naturalization ceremony soon!

Richard Lee

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