Monday, October 3, 2011

Study guide for the naturalization test

The INS gives a booklet for people to study when they prepare the test taken to become a US citizen. There are one hundred questions whose answers must be memorized, of which about 30 pertain to history. On first look, the questions and answers seemed pretty well-written, simple but important.

Only upon reflection does one realize that what matters is not what is there but what is not there. It is those omissions that best reveal bias.

The choices are guided by the following considerations: "By learning our shared history, you will be able to understand our nation's traditions, milestones, and common civic values. Our country is independent because of the strength, unity, and determination of our forefathers. It is important for future Americans to know this story. We are people working towards great ideals and principles guided by equality and fairness. This is important to keep our country free."

There are exactly 3 Q&A about the history before the war of Independence. Here they are:
- Q: What is one reason colonists came to America?
- A: Freedom, political liberty, religious freedom, economic opportunity, to practice their religion, or to escape persecution.
- Q: Who lived in American before the Europeans arrived?
- A: American Indians, or Native Americans.
- Q: What group of people was taken to American and sold as slaves?
- A: Africans, or people from Africa.

Christopher Columbus has disappeared from the list of basic facts of American history, as though his legacy did not matter.
There are 57 questions about the US federal and state governments, but not a single mention of the United Nations.
There is a question about who the US fought during WWII, but no mention of who the Allies were.


  1. Conjecture:
    They leave out Columbus because he is now seen as
    an exploiter of the Native Americans and a bad guy, and we CARE about the Native Americans.

    They leave out the Native Americans because they don't really care about them- they left out
    Columbus as a token gesture.

    Also- with only a limited number of questions it is hard to know what to include and exclude.
    A bias towards recent things is okay, like the UN.
    OH, they left that out too? NeverMind.

  2. The UN isn't part of the United States. The test could also ask questions about South American geography, but that doesn't seem very relevant. Less flippantly, most questions about the UN that an American could be expected to answer could be answered equally well by anyone around the world. It is, after all, a global organization. So asking about it does not really test anything specific to the US.

  3. Anonymous: isn't the UN the venue within which to deal with other nations and international law -- the interface between a country and the rest of the world, the place where agreements are signed and multi-nation politics and diplomacy take place? In a global world, where decisions have impact beyond one's frontiers, it is really important to have a body with that role. The US have a privileged place within it, as permanent members of the security council. With 100 questions available, wouldn't that be worth mentioning?

  4. The UK equivalent test has questions like "you are in the pub and you spill someone's beer. What happens next?"

    A: You would offer to buy the person another pint
    B: You would offer to dry their wet shirt with your own
    C: You may need to prepare for a fight in the car park