The Corner

Testing, Testing

Tomorrow, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service will announce a plan to overhaul the civics and history test that virtually all immigrants must pass before becoming citizens. From what I’ve heard, it sounds like a dramatic improvement. The Heritage Foundation’s Matthew Spalding, who was one of the advisors on the new test, tells me: “The intention is to move from a test that encourages rote memorization to one that encourages immigrants to learn important concepts about history and government.”

I’ve written on this subject extensively, in my first book, The Unmaking of Americans, and on the pages of NR–and this is a much-needed and long-overdue reform. Right now, naturalization applicants can pass the test by memorizing 100 specific questions and answers; in the future, assuming this pilot program flourishes the way it should, they will spend more time studying basic ideas about American principles. Two possible questions on the existing test, for example, are:

Who was the main writer of the Declaration of Independence?

When was the Declaration of Independence adopted?

These are indeed facts that all Americans should know, but on a certain level they are trivia. The revised test, however, will ask:

Name one important idea found in the Declaration of Independence.

See the difference? The updated test now promises to become a much-improved tool of immigrant assimilation. What’s more, it’s an immigration reform that all conservatives can support, no matter whether they believe in high levels of immigration or want a total moratorium on admissions. Actually, it should be something upon which all Americans can agree–but the new test, sadly, is almost certain to be attacked by left-wing groups that don’t believe there should be any naturalization standards at all. They’ll say the revised test is too hard, unfair, etc. But they’re wrong. It’s just better.

John J. Miller is the national correspondent for National Review and the director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College. His new book is Reading Around: Journalism on Authors, Artists, and Ideas.

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