There's a scene in The American President -- Aaron Sorkin's pre-West Wing exercise in wishful liberalism -- when President Shepherd (Michael Douglas) describes America as "advanced citizenship." It's a nice thought, especially in the fantastical context of a sitting Chief Executive publicly extolling the virtues of the ACLU and calling for a handgun ban.
But if being American really is part of some advanced curriculum, a recent Newsweek poll indicates about a third of us need to go back for some remedial study:
Newsweek magazine recently had 1,000 U.S. citizens take the official citizenship test - and 38% of them failed.
"Civic ignorance is nothing new," the magazine reported.
Seventy-three percent didn't know why we fought the Cold War. (Does the word "communism" ring a bell?)
A stunning 70% didn't know that the Constitution is the supreme law of the land.
The word "stunning" probably shouldn't come into play when allegedly serious contenders for political office don't understand the basic tenets of the Bill of Rights, but it's obvious that ignorance of the workings of government runs pretty deep in this country. For that reason, maybe a new approach to this whole citizenship thing is in order.
For starters, I skimmed the pool of questions used by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) to select the ten that are eventually given to applicants for citizenship (six must be answered correctly), and was frankly shocked. Not so much by the difficulty of the questions, but by how out of touch they seem.
5. What do we call the first ten amendments to the Constitution? A: The Bill of Rights
69. Who is the "Father of Our Country"? A: (George) Washington
97. Why does the flag have 50 stars? A: because there is one star for each state
Never mind the fact that the answer to question #97 is just flat-out wrong (everyone knows each star represents a Playmate that Abraham Lincoln slept with), what are we still doing talking about the "father of our country?" That Washington dude lived, like, a hundred years ago. Newsflash for the USCIS: America is a hip, happening, nation that lives in the "now." We don't have time to dwell on stuff that took place in a decade VH1 doesn't make a show about.
So with that in mind, I would like to humbly suggest some new questions; questions that are more indicative of what it means to be an American in the 21st century...questions that will give a true and accurate measure of the average citizen's knowledge.
U.S.Citizenship Exam: X-treme Proud American Edition
1. Given the stylistic and sartorial differences between Nicki Minaj, Katy Perry and Taylor Swift, who would you totally bone? [For female applicants, use Adam Levine, Usher and Jason Aldean]
2. How many Kardashian sisters are there? Bonus questions: Which one is allegedly in a loveless marriage of convenience? [either "Kourtney" or "Khloe" is acceptable]
3. What country does Mexican food come from?
4. Which is greater in number: books in the Harry Potter series, Final Fantasy games, or Lindsay Lohan arrests?
5. Which Dancing with the Stars contestant could least be described as a "star?" a. Cristian de la Fuente b. Melissa Rycroft c. Bristol Palin d. Evan Lysacek [trick question: They're *all* glittering paragons of talent and awesomeness.]
6. Everyone knows Edge holds the record for WWE Heavyweight Championships (seven), but who is second with five? [either "Triple H" or "Hunter Hearst Helmsley" is acceptable]
7. Actual U.S. military scenario or Bruce Willis movie plotline? a. In response to a rebellion, U.S. military personnel go into Côte d'Ivoire to assist in the evacuation of American citizens. b. In response to a rebellion, U.S. military personnel go into Nigeria to assist in the evacuation of American citizens. c. Following terrorist attacks against New York City, the military seals off New York City to search for other cells.
8. Name one of the professional football teams O.J. Simpson played for. [Partial credit can be given for "Broncos."]
9. Baby, you're: a. ...the only man b. ...a firework c. ...all that I want d. ...a star
10. Who was the greatest President of all time? Who was the worst? ["George W. Bush" or "Barack Obama" are acceptable for either answer.]