I continue to receive many blessings and feel very honored to serve as your representative in Pierre. I do my best to respond to every District 4 email I receive, even those that chew me out. One of the challenges of being a public servant is that on any certain issue half the people think you’re amazing and the other half think you’re a blathering idiot.
And then on the next issue you have a whole new group of people thinking the same things!
This week I had the privilege of carrying one of the Governor’s signature bills on the House Floor. The bill requires students pass a citizenship test before graduating from high school.
For years, if not for decades, we’ve heard again and again that kids simply don’t know much about the foundations of our country. And if our children don’t understand the past, how can we expect them to understand a chaotic present and an uncertain future?
Back in the fall of 2018, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation conducted a survey of 1000 American adults. Twenty questions were provided that are offered by the US government in preparation for the citizenship exam.
The results showed that 2/3 of Americans would fail to pass the citizenship exam. Two-thirds of Americans were unable to answer basic multiple-choice questions that are required to become a citizen of this country. Two-thirds!
Following this survey, the foundation decided to dig deeper. They did a state-by-state survey of tens of thousands of Americans, including 300 from South Dakota.
So, if we hone in on just South Dakota, what does the data tell us?
It tells us that in South Dakota, 52% of adults failed to pass the citizenship exam. Passing means getting 60% of the questions correct.
For those under age 45, 76% failed. That means that only one in four South Dakotans under the age of 45 could correctly answer basic multiple-choice questions.
If you’ve not taken the test – a sample is online – the questions aren’t that tough. For example, when presented with a multiple-choice question asking who the US fought in WWII, 62% of South Dakotans answered correctly – Germany, Japan, and Italy – but 38% got it wrong.
In response to the multiple-choice question who was the President during WWI, only 41% answered correctly – Woodrow Wilson. And in response to the question who the colonists fought during the revolution, only 21%, or one in five answered correctly.
These are all startling data points and demonstrate why it’s so important that South Dakota renew its focus on civics education.
The South Dakota Department of Education currently tests student understanding of English, math, and science. By having students take a test on civics it’s a sign to them that this is also important. What gets measured, gets attention.
The test is flexible, free, and not a burden on the schools.
The bill passed through the House and now heads to the Senate for debate. The test is not a magic bullet, but it’s a starting point for a renewed focus that will hopefully promote a more engaged and informed citizenry.
Ultimately, I believe one of our goals as a state must be to help re-establish the common bonds we all share as Americans in a time of deep political, economic, and social division.
Maybe, just maybe, if we can provide the next generation a greater understanding of the lessons learned from the past, we can teach them how to better ask questions about the present and future, and how to marshal the historical data to best answer those questions.
That’s it for now. Please feel free to contact me at any time via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you make it to the Capitol, please look me up.
Life is good. Have a great week. – Fred