In about a year or so, if all my papers are correct, I will sit down at a cold desk inside a homeland security government building. With a pen in hand, I will try to answer — to the best of my knowledge — 100 questions that will prove whether or not I can call myself a proud American citizen. If I pass, I will swear loyalty to this country’s flag, government and constitution. Only 100 questions and a simple test of the proficiency of my English will say whether or not I can live here forever.
The purpose of this column, all along, has been to prove that is not enough.
Newsweek tried, in its latest issue, to say 48 percent of Americans were not worthy of the title simply because they would fail the citizenship test.
The magazine polled 1,000 Americans and made them answer the test. The results, according to the article, were daunting.
Twenty nine percent couldn’t name the vice president, 73 percent couldn’t correctly say why we fought the Cold War, 44 percent were unable to define the Bill of Rights and six percent couldn’t even circle Independence Day on a calendar.
This lack of basic “American” knowledge, according to the article, was a sign of a broken education system and an ignorant youth, which lacked the concept of civic duty.
“…the world has changed,” said Andrew Romano, author of the article. “And unfortunately, it’s becoming more and more inhospitable to incurious know-nothings—like us.”
This self-deprecating generalization couldn’t be further from the truth.
Every country has its six percent of totally ignorant, and every country has its share of people whose expertise is not the politics of their own country. Perhaps American history is a little bit boring, and perhaps we have become so disillusioned about our government that we have decided to stop paying attention to it. Perhaps, to some of us, to make ends meet is more important than knowing why we fought the Cold War. Perhaps the media and T.V. have filled our heads with entertaining garbage. Who are we to blame the viewer?
It is not that I don’t think having a strong knowledge of American history and politics is useless. But perhaps is not for everybody, and perhaps, it shouldn’t be a decisive factor on whether or not we are Americans.
Perhaps this is why the new American Right is fed up with the Left. Blue-collar Americans are fed up of being treated as ignorant or unworthy of being American just because the Bible and their families are more important to them than the goings on of the capitol building.
I am not religious, by the way. I supported Obama and I loathe characters like Glenn Beck. He is nothing but a by-product of that frustration.
Being an American is a term that can never be defined, and it is in this uncertainty that we are united as a country. We have the best in variety. Millions of first, second, third, fifth and many generations of immigrants that at some point have changed the meaning of being a U.S. citizen.
We have those who can pass the bar exam, and those who can milk a cow.
We have those who can pass a test, and those who will take a bullet for this country.
None of them should be called ignorant simply because they cannot pass those 100 questions.
Wish me luck.