Is our children learn good? It’s a question many parents have, especially since the Common Core lesson plan replaced the equally unpopular Rare Periphery curriculum. Even people who don’t have kids in the schools worry that the next generation of voters will be as thick as a Shamrock Shake when it comes to civics, and hence will make ill-informed choices.
Unlike adults, of course, who agonized over their vote and stood in the booth clutching a well-thumbed and annotated copy of the Federalist Papers to their chests, hoping for the ghost of Washington to whisper in their ear.
Yes, that were us. But can we has more educated voters if we give them civics test? One legislator thinks so. State Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, proposed testing students on basic civics as a prerequisite for graduation.
There is no possible argument that can be made against this. Perhaps you’ve seen late-night TV segments interviewing people on the street about current affairs. Can you name one Supreme Court Justice? Uh — Diana Ross? Hold on, no, it’s … when you say Supreme do you mean like Taco Bell Supreme, where that means there’s sour cream? And then the audience laughs, some of whom are imagining Ruth Bader Ginsburg with lettuce and tomatoes on her head. But it’s depressing.
You might worry that the test would be dumbed down, with questions like this:
If the president cannot serve, who takes his place?
B) Simon Cowell
C) The person who takes over when the president cannot serve
That would ensure high test scores. You hope. It’s possible some kids would figure it out by process of elimination: Oh, man, this is a hard one. I thought it was the Secretary of the President who took over, but that’s not an option. OK, think. Spider-Man is a teen, so he fails the requirement that presidents must be at least 35. Simon Cowell is foreign-born. Gah! I guess it’s gotta be C.
Or: Can you name one of your senators?
C) Can I use Google?
It’s not as if the questions will come screaming out of the blue at unprepared students.
If you go to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services page, you’ll find the list of 100 questions and answers that Rep. Urdahl wants kids to answer. I have to admit, this one had me utterly stumped:
What is an amendment?
— A change (to the Constitution)
— An addition (to the Constitution)
I stared at that one for a minute before I realized that either one was acceptable. Indeed, the page has all the possible answers you might need, provided there are multiple responses. When asked to name the number of members in the House of Representatives, you have to say 425. You can’t say “lots.” Maybe you’re thinking “does that really matter?”
Or maybe you’ve already started writing a letter to the editor because the correct number is 435.
If so, congrats; you have basic civic literacy. You know that “Separation of Powers” does not mean “the Avengers split up.”
But perhaps we should ask even more. Civics is a good start. Let’s also require:
• Shop class. In my day we went into a room that smelled of burnt electricity, where a man with a buzz cut said, “Here’s some machinery that will take your fingers off. Put on these glasses so flying shards of metal don’t put your eyes out. Now let’s make ashtrays for Dad.” Of course, these days “Ashtrays for Dad” would be mentioned in the newspaper only if they were playing at the 7th Street Entry, opening for Blender Ferrets.
• Minnesota History. Today’s youth needs to understand the culture and events that shaped who we are today, and why things are the way they are, and even though it may seem boring and incredibly irrelevant to their own world, they must be provided with the tools to help them connect with bygone eras. So make them all watch “Purple Rain.”
• Cooking. As a Life Skill, it beats Physics. Don’t get me wrong: A grasp of scientific principles is crucial, and kids should probably know what a Weak Interacting Massive Particle is, but in real life that’s going to be a description of the guy in the next cubicle with gas issues. Likewise algebra: At a certain point, a kid reads the questions like this: if x = 426, and y = blue tetrahedrons, then explain how x divided by y to the power of 2 affects your parents’ worries about getting into a good college.
If they only do the civics test, that’ll be fine. As proposed, the students could space out the test over four years, do it in segments, and pass if they get 60 percent of the answers correct. This is not quite akin to making them recite the Declaration of Independence from memory while standing in a bucket of cold water.
But wouldn’t the stigma of failing to demonstrate an elemental grasp of the basic ideas of our government keep some from voting? you ask. Hmmm. Something about your tone says you think that would be a bad thing.