Lawmakers Consider Civics Test Bill

Far more United States youths can name an “American Idol” judge than the U.S. Supreme Court chief justice (John Roberts).

Many youths cannot name one of the three branches of the federal government (executive, legislative and judicial).

Not many know what we call the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution (Bill of Rights).

Minnesota state Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, on Tuesday said those are issues he wants to correct. He told a House education committee about his bill to require students to pass the same test immigrants must pass before becoming American citizens.

If students do not pass the test between seventh and 12th grades, they could not graduate from high school.

“If students don’t understand our republic and how government works, all other learning doesn’t matter because our republic is endangered,” said Urdahl, a former civics and social studies teacher.

The committee could not vote on the Urdahl bill since the Legislature was not in session, but several members expressed support of some form of the bill.

Urdahl said he is willing to discuss changes, such as including some Minnesota-specific questions as suggested by Rep. Barb Yarusso, D-Shoreview.

The representative said civics knowledge has declined over three decades, in part because required tests in reading and mathematics force teachers to deal with those subjects, leaving civics behind.

“The question should not be, ‘Do we have too many tests?'” Urdahl said. “The real question is whether we are testing what we need to.”

Two military veteran leaders supported Urdahl.

“Few Americans do understand basic facts about the government, its creation or how it works,” said Dan Ludwig, a former national American Legion commander.

Most immigrants pass the civics test on the first try, added Peggy Moon, who was Minnesota American Legion commander last year. Native-born high school students, however, have a “far lower” passage rate, she said.

Among questions in the test is one asking for a state that borders Canada.

“Hopefully, the students in Minnesota would shine on that one,” Ludwig joked.

Urdahl showed a video made on a Texas college campus showing students who could answer few of the questions, including who won the Civil War (the North) or who the opponent was in the Revolutionary War (England). However, the students aced pop culture questions.

Several states have passed requirements similar to Urdahl’s bill. A North Dakota law, for instance, requires the test starting with the class of 2017.