Betsy Dalrymple: Americans are failing at 'Civics' and must do better

BISMARCK - John Adams once said that "Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people, who have a right and a desire to know."...

BISMARCK - John Adams once said that "Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people, who have a right and a desire to know."

Our founders knew that informing and engaging the next generation of Americans on basic civics was vital to the survival of our republic. Unfortunately, 228 years after the signing of the Constitution, too few American students understand basic facts about our government, its creation or how it works.

North Dakota students can do better.

A recent study of high school students in Oklahoma and Arizona showed that only one in four could correctly identify George Washington as our first president while fewer than 5 percent could pass the same basic civics test that all immigrants must pass before becoming U.S. citizens. More than 91 percent of immigrants pass on the first try.

Only by understanding our rights and duties as citizens can we continue to progress as a society - which is why we fully support a North Dakota effort to improve our students' knowledge of our great country.


House Bill 1087 would require high school students, as a condition of graduation, to pass a test on 100 basic facts of U.S. history and civics, from the U.S. Citizenship Civics Test - the very same test all new U.S. citizens must pass.

It is not a difficult test. The 100 questions are simple facts that every American should know, such as:

Who is the current president? How many U.S. senators are there? Name one state that borders Canada (here's hoping North Dakota students can answer that one!).

In the first year of requirement, students need to answer only 60 percent of the questions correctly to pass. Subsequent years will require a 70 percent grade to pass.

In order to pass, students can continue to study and may take the test as many times as necessary.

The people who favor this effort have widely differing political views. But one thing we all share is the belief that it is important for all Americans to know about the first principles of our constitutional government.

We believe our children should be expected not only to have a basic understanding of the principles our nation was founded on, but also to be armed with that information in their adult lives as they vote for representatives who'll make critical decisions about the future of our nation, state and local communities.

The Civics Assessment bill is an important first step for North Dakota to make sure every student in our state is equipped with that knowledge. Please join us in supporting it.

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