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LETTER: 'Civics test' bill will not promote patriotism

The North Dakota Legislature is considering House Bill 1087, which would require high school students to pass the U.S. citizenship exam in order to graduate.

The North Dakota Legislature is considering House Bill 1087, which would require high school students to pass the U.S. citizenship exam in order to graduate.

The measure's supporters claim that when students are forced to take this exam, they will, according to Rep. Mike Schatz, R-New England, remember "the principles of our nation."

As a history professor, I can attest to young people's ignorance of our country's past. But there is no evidence that standardized exams encourage national fealty. A mandatory trivia test will inspire as much patriotism as additional tedious paperwork would improve workplace morale.

The questions on the U.S. citizenship exam mostly concern minutia. Did you know that John Jay was one of the authors of the Federalist Papers? Now that you know, are you infused with national pride? Probably not. Rote memorization of random facts does not promote patriotism.

For teachers, HB 1807 will constitute an unfunded mandate, one that will bring about another dismal episode of having to "teach to the test." There will be no time to explore relevant material - such as John Jay's actual arguments in the Federalist Papers - because students must be drilled on the next factoid.

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Some have joked that the lawmakers themselves should have to pass the civics test. Better still, they should have to name all the teachers who will bear the burden of this misguided measure.

Ironically, research suggests that young people today crave meaningful community engagement. If lawmakers are serious about encouraging this public-spiritedness, they should reject HB 1807 and instead aim to hire more innovative Social Studies teachers and fund more community engagement programs for students.

By these means, they would cultivate rather than squander the state's most valuable resource - not oil or agriculture, but civic-minded youth.

Eric Burin

Grand Forks

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