Alumni | General Education

A civics lesson


The state will soon require that all high school graduates pass a simple civics test, the kind that the country requires of immigrants coming to these shores. The kids may gripe, but they gripe about the math test too. And some of us think civics and history are just as important as algebra and geometry.

Some of us older superannuated types cringe when the younger crowd uses the word “history” to mean something that doesn’t matter any longer, or perhaps something is gone or soon will be. As in, “I’m history.” Or, maybe when somebody falls off a cliff in a movie: “He’s history.” As if the past is ever dead. In these latitudes, as the man said, the past is never dead; it’s not even past.

We remember the discouraging word that came out of higher education about 18 months ago: A report from some outfit called the American Council of Trustees and Alumni found that dozens of the “best” colleges, as determined by U.S. News & World Report, didn’t require history majors to take U.S. history courses.

History majors. Not required to take U.S. history. At several top American universities.

No wonder so many college students can’t say in which war the Battle of the Bulge was fought.

These things aren’t just matters that history majors should understand. Some of us think every American citizen should have a lowest common denominator when it comes to what makes them and their country. And that lowest common denominator shouldn’t be too low, either. Which is why Arkansas’ high school students need this test.

We’re not talking about difficult questions here. Nobody’s asking these kids to name the man who gave the Cross of Gold speech. And nobody has to get a perfect score, or even close to perfect. As a result of Act 478 of 2017, the Arkansas General Assembly decided that a 60 percent (a low D) is good enough.

For examples of the questions, and the correct answers, visit the Citizenship and Immigration Services website:

• What are the two major parties in the United States?

• Who is the current president of the United States?

• Who lived in America before the Europeans arrived?

• On what date was the Declaration of Independence adopted?

• Who is the “father of our country”?

• Name one problem that led to the American Civil War.

• Who did the United States fight during World War II?

• What ocean is on the West Coast of the United States?

A few of the questions are slightly more difficult, but only slightly:

• Name one U.S. territory.

• Who is the current Speaker of the U.S. House?

• How many amendments does the Constitution now have?

These are things that a newspaper subscriber, such as yourself, Valued Reader, would know in a blink. But civics has been pushed out of too many core curricula. For examples, see top American colleges and their history requirements.

So high schools are taking up the slack. More specifically, Arkansas high schools, which are leading the way. With a little help, and a push, from the Legislature. Onward!


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