By Robert Holland and Don Soifer
Because of the rapid decline of Americans’ knowledge of their history, there is reason to worry that by 2026 – the 250th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence – few citizens will know or care why the Fourth of July is a star-spangled national holiday.
Refusing to accept viral ignorance as inevitable, the Citizenship First project at Harlem-based Democracy Prep has resolved that by the time no more than 13 more Independence Days have gone by, there will be a resurgence of civic knowledge in America.
Toward that end, Citizenship First has issued a Challenge 2026 – namely, that by the 250th anniversary every high school graduate be able to pass the U.S. citizenship exam. That is the same test that 97 percent of naturalized citizens currently take and pass – but which most U.S. high school students have flunked in research samplings.
Most test items are not especially challenging – for instance, naming one right or freedom from the First Amendment or correctly identifying the first 10 amendments to the Constitution as the Bill of Rights. As part of a family observance of this Independence Day, why not have each member of the family take a 20-item version of the U.S. Citizenship Exam? Find it at www.citizenshipfirst.us/exam.
If the exam’s content proves to be foreign to resident children, families will know it is time to turn off the TV and have American history readings in the living room – and also high time to visit the school board to work for the restoration of history in the core curriculum.
Our current focus on math and English in public schools has real value, but has often come at the expense of teaching American history and civics. After all, preparing the young for self-government is a founding mission of American public education.
Late-night comedian Jay Leno has used his “Jaywalking” adventures to allow folks to chuckle occasionally at civic ineptitude, or plain stupidity. Unfortunately, comic relief cannot endure at morning’s light, given the stark reality that barely one in 10 American high school students scored proficient in U.S. history on the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress, published in 2011.
Robert Holland and Don Soifer are policy analysts with the Lexington Institute in Arlington, Va.