Chapter 9: citizens of today and tomorrow: an exploration of preservice social studies teachers' knowledge and their professors' experiences with citizenship.
Research reveals, however, that teachers are often ill-prepared to effectively deliver citizenship education. Two studies in the 1980s found that preservice elementary teachers were unprepared to explain to children how the American government works (Gilmore, McKinney, Larkins, Ford, & McKinney, 1988; Larkins, 1984). In a more recent study involving an elementary education methods course, which focused on the intersection between patriotism and citizenship, Nash (2005) found that participating teachers faced factual as well as conceptual challenges. Such challenges included the inability to consider perspectives beyond a two-sided polemic mode (Bohan & Davis, 1998) and equating patriotism with feelings of love, respect, and loyalty--all of which are demonstrated by saluting the American flag. The teachers had a limited understanding of tolerance, diversity, and multiculturalism. In addition, they failed to suggest that questioning governmental policies or actions could ever be considered as an act of good citizenship.
Whether our nation's teachers have gained sufficient preparation and education to teach civics, however, has been relatively unexplored. The primary purpose of this study was to analyze preservice teachers' citizenship knowledge through their performance on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Naturalization Test. More importantly, participants reviewed the test items, suggested revisions, and offered insights into their beliefs about citizenship. An additional purpose of this analysis was to explore four of the researchers' own understandings of citizenship based on their professional experiences as social studies educators and their personal experiences as foreign-born residents or as the parent of a foreign-born American. Finally, the researchers explored the relevance and meaning of citizenship for the twenty-first century as the world becomes more globally interconnected (Bohan, 2001).
CIVIC EDUCATION AND CITIZENSHIP
Living in a "marketized civil society" (Torres, 1998), teachers should be competent civic educators. Teachers and students need to be knowledgeable and aware that they have political as well as economic choices to make. The IEA Civic Education Study, a comprehensive study of civic knowledge, attitudes, and experiences of 14-year-olds, found that U.S. students scored significantly above the international mean (Hahn, 2001). Twenty-eight countries participated in this large-scale study (Torney-Purta, Lehmann, Oswald, & Shultz, 2001). The researchers found that American students scored significantly above the international mean on civic knowledge and also scored above average on measures of civic engagement. More recently, however, the Civic and Political Health of the Nation report found that civic engagement of young people is low, they have lost confidence in the government, and their political knowledge is generally poor (Lopez, Levine, Both, Kirby, & Marcelo, 2006). Many factors contribute to this level of disengagement, such as teachers' fear of criticism when discussing controversial issues, the movement for high-stakes testing, and the impact of budget cutbacks on civic education (CIRCLE, 2003, p. 15; Miller, 2007). Whether or not American students gain appropriate levels of civic knowledge is clearly subject to debate. At the same time, the notion of citizenship itself must be examined beyond the simplistic notion of a group of people enjoying limited rights within the context of a given country (Torres, 1998).
A variety of conceptions of good citizenship have been identified throughout the citizenship literature. Many educational researchers agree that there is a spectrum of ideas or conceptions about good citizens (e.g., Allen, 1996; Clark & Case, 1997; Westheimer & Kahne, 2004). For example, Westheimer and Kahne (2004) contrast and detail three broad conceptions for citizenship education (including personal responsibility, participatory, and justice-oriented) that were drawn from various program strategies and approaches to democratic education. Westheimer and Kahne caution that "obedience and patriotism" are not necessarily democratic goals and would instead be desirable in a totalitarian regime. Indeed, some of the current citizenship education conceptions are "narrow and often ideologically conservative" and reflect "political choices that have political consequences" (p. 237). Thus, good intentions of educators to facilitate citizenship education are not always realized and may not promote democratic principles.
While most social studies teachers might not agree with Count's (1932) call to build a new social order, they might agree with his wish for a "more noble and beautiful" America (p. 55). According to Barr, Barth, and Shermis (1977), however, most social studies teachers see citizenship transmission as their central role. They seek to instill patriotism, cultural heritage, and traditional political values. Banks (1997) has argued that social studies teachers should also promote cultural democracy conjointly with citizenship education to help their students develop an identity as members of their own "cultural communities, the nation-state, and the global world society" (p. 124). Unfortunately, citizenship education often promotes mainstream national narratives and lacks a global orientation, while highlighting the nation's strengths and other countries' weaknesses (Banks, 1997; Camicia, 2007; Myers, 2006). Yet, promoting conformity to mainstream notions of citizenship is not just an American phenomenon (Astiz & Mendez, 2006; Doppen, 2007a).
In order for teachers to have nuanced understandings of citizenship, they need to be given opportunities to examine their beliefs and knowledge base. Thornton (2001, 2003) has argued that liberal arts professors, who often teach the bulk of teacher preparation coursework, seldom think of themselves as teacher educators, whereas education school professors tend to define their task as limited to pedagogy. Thornton (2003) suggests that, rather than "piling up" content courses by themselves (p. 2), the lines between subject matter and professional education should be blurred (p. 6) and preservice teachers should be required to take courses that are based on what they will be expected to teach (Thorton, 2001, p. 7). Such an approach will allow teacher preparation programs to better prepare their candidates to teach about citizenship. Consonant with this notion of blurring the lines between content and pedagogy, researchers in this study not only sought to find out how the preservice teachers would fare on the USCIS naturalization test, but also grounded discussions about immigration, citizenship, and assessment in the act of taking the test and providing responses.
The participants in this study attended universities in Georgia, Ohio, Indiana, South Carolina, and Michigan. During the spring and fall of 2006, the seven researchers administered a test in eight different social studies methods courses. The test consisted of 50 written questions from the 100 that might be asked by officers of the USCIS (2007). Approximately half of the 100 USCIS citizenship study questions were considered very similar or identical to answers for other questions. For example, "How many states are there in the Union?" and "How many stars are there in our flag?" were considered leading questions. In addition, four questions focused on the specific aspects of the flag, such as colors, numbers, and meaning. Thus, the researchers reduced the questions to the most salient and non-redundant 50 questions.
Typically, USCIS officers randomly select ten questions of the 100 to orally examine an applicant's citizenship knowledge. However, given the number of participants in this study, oral examinations were impractical. Instead, each preservice teacher was asked to write an answer for each question. Researchers at each site independently graded their students' tests. After discussing their scores and responses, participants were asked to respond to the following four items:
* Explain whether you think the questions on the citizenship test represent what every immigrant applying for citizenship should know.
* Explain whether you think the citizenship test represents what every American citizen born in this country should know.
* The USCIS is currently revising the citizenship test. Explain, if you were revising this version of the citizenship test, which questions, if any, would you delete and/or change.
* The USCIS is currently revising the citizenship test. Explain, if you were revising this version of the citizenship test, which questions, if any, would you add.
The researchers then reviewed the qualitative written data from the preceding items and participant responses were coded as supporting, disagreeing, or containing elements of both support and disagreement through qualified answers.
The 206 participants in this study comprised a total of 114 elementary preservice teachers (55%) and 92 middle and high school social studies preservice teachers (45%). Of these, 170 participants (83%) were undergraduate students. While, males made up 26% of all participants, only 11% of whom were in the elementary methods courses versus 45% who were in the middle and/or high school methods courses. The majority (73%) of the participants in this study were traditional students aged 19-24 years, whereas 13% were aged 25-29 years. The ethnic background of the participants was overwhelmingly homogeneous, as 95.6% were Caucasian.
About one-third of the participants (31%) indicated that they had graduated from a rural high school. Another 56% indicated that they attended a suburban high school, and only 13% attended an urban high school. Approximately one-fourth of the participants attended high schools with fewer than 500 students, one-third had 500-1,000 students, almost one-fifth (19%) had 1,000-1,500 students, and one-quarter attended a high school with more than 1,500 students.
Nearly 9 out of every 10 participants (88%) attended a public high school, and only 12% attended a private school. When asked to characterize the level of ethnic diversity in their high school, 69% indicated that their school had "almost none" or "little" diversity. About one-fifth (19%) of the participants indicated that their high school had "a fair amount" of diversity, whereas 11% suggested it had "very much" diversity.
In this exploratory study, an early childhood methodology researcher was not part of the research team. Therefore, a distinction between elementary preservice teachers and early childhood preservice teachers was not delineated. Future studies should include early childhood methodology courses in order to provide a more comprehensive understanding of all preservice teachers.
Sources of Civic Knowledge
Using a Likert-scale (from not important to very important: 1 -4), all participants were asked to assess the importance of sources of information that contributed to their knowledge of citizenship. There were no significant differences between the undergraduate and graduate participants. They ranked extracurricular activities [3.3] as their most important source of information, followed by their college courses, their family and friends and the print media [3.2], civic organizations [3.0], the Internet [2.9], and television [2.8].
Not surprisingly, undergraduate preservice teachers preparing to teach social sciences in high school scored the highest on the test (M = 91% correct) followed by middle school (M = 77% correct). Future elementary school teachers scored the lowest (M = 62% correct). Graduate preservice teachers who took a methods course that included middle and high school social science majors predictably scored between middle and high school preservice teachers (M = 83% correct). An analysis of the scores showed that out of 50 questions, more than 40% of the middle and high school preservice teachers missed 4-12 items; and more than 40% of the students in the elementary methods courses missed between 17 and 23 items.
In all eight methods courses in this study, nearly every participant answered correctly questions about the American flag, presidential term limits and succession, and voting age. In contrast, more than 40% of the participants could not name the two senators from their state or the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, nor did they know the number of members in the House of Representatives. In seven of the eight courses, more than 40% of the participants did not know the length of the term of office for a U.S. Senator or the year the U.S. Constitution was adopted. In six courses, more than 40% did not know how many times a U.S. Senator could be reelected. In five of the eight courses, more that 40% of the students were unable to articulate the purposes of the U.S. Constitution, the executive branch, and judicial branch. Finally, in half of the eight courses, more than 40% of the participants did not know how often a U.S. Representative could be reelected, how many justices sit on the U.S. Supreme Court, the name of the building in which the U.S. Congress meets, and that popular sovereignty is the underlying concept of the U.S. Declaration of Independence.
It is apparent that while the participants generally answered correctly those questions related to the American flag and key figures in American history, they struggled with questions related to the broad principles that underlie the U.S. Constitution. Participants also lacked factual knowledge about the composition of the U.S. Supreme Court and U.S. Congress, and were not familiar with contemporary leaders in the legislative and judicial branches.
Beliefs About the Test as an Assessment of Civic Knowledge
Preservice teachers in a number of social studies methods classes across the nation were unable to answer correctly many sample questions taken from the current United States naturalization test. Given the far from laudatory demonstration of citizenship knowledge1 that these nascent teachers demonstrated, one might expect them to be indignant about the nature of the questions asked of prospective countrymen and women. One might reasonably expect them to suggest that questions on such a test should disclose evidence of the attributes possessed by individuals who contribute to society in a positive way. Yet, when asked if they thought the questions on this test represented what every immigrant applying for citizenship should know, they generally agreed (59% yes, 39% no, 2% no response). However, these results are not as simple as the numbers may suggest. When asked about changing questions for the revised naturalization test, only 34% of respondents agreed unconditionally with the statement that the questions represent what every immigrant applying for US citizenship should know. Conditional responses tended to focus on issues of fairness with teachers contending that most Americans by birth could not answer many of the questions.
Many of the preservice teachers who rejected the test as an effective assessment of what immigrants should know when applying for citizenship (i.e., the "no" responses) also claimed that it was unfair to expect immigrants to know more than native citizens. Individuals suggested that it was more important to know the laws, be able to speak English, or be patriotic and loyal to the United States. One future teacher, Lauren, made the following conclusion:
Why does a new citizen need to know all this stuff? [Is the USCIS] testing for ambition? Ambitious people will study, practice, do well; lazy people will not study, not do well? Literacy? Ability to follow societal norms--follow directions etc? They [the administrators of the naturalization test] are testing for something besides people's knowledge of these ideas.
When the preservice teachers were asked if the naturalization test was a good assessment of what citizens born in the United States should know, an overwhelming 81% of the preservice teachers agreed (49% unconditionally). Conditional "yes" responses were frequently colored by individuals' performance on the citizenship test they had taken, with a number of apologetic comments and explanations of how one learns facts in school and then forgets them, or how the majority of Americans do not know these facts. Others said it is more important to know political structures rather than the exact dates of historical events. A number of students, who disagreed with the content of the test, were dismayed about how poorly the test questions assessed one's potential for being a "good" citizen.
When asked what questions they would eliminate from the current test and what questions they would add, the preservice teachers had surprisingly few suggestions. However, the questionnaire was given during a class session, so there was limited class time for highly reflective written responses. In each of the methods courses, a minority of individuals determined that the test was effective as it was--there was no need to change or delete any of the questions. There were also students who were concerned about the phrasing of particular questions (e.g., as written, there could be a number of ostensibly correct responses).
When students reflected on the questions that were most commonly missed, there were individuals who suggested eliminating questions about the number of senators or representatives and the nature of terms and term limits. In most groups, individuals suggested eliminating questions that they perceived as too specific or trivial, such as those pertaining to details about the flag, holidays, and history. These individuals suggested, for instance, that it is more important for citizens to understand the purpose of the Declaration of Independence than to know who wrote it. Others suggested that the questions were culturally biased. One participant stated that it "[seems] like history should not be limited to Jefferson's writing the Declaration or Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. Very White, Anglo-Saxon exam." Other preservice teachers challenged the need for any questions about U.S. history. They proposed that it is more important for citizens to know how the government works than requiring them to know when documents were signed and what holidays the colonists celebrated.
When asked how they would revise the naturalization test, 71 of the 206 preservice teachers had no suggestions. The other 135 students suggested that immigrants should know about their rights, state-level issues, and current events in the country. A number of them stated that there should be more of a focus on exploring why applicants wish to become citizens. They would like to add questions that would assess if an applicant is "cognitively able" (including being able to speak English) and intent on becoming a good, patriotic citizen (Chebium, 2000). One preservice teacher wrote, "I would add some questions that make you tell how you really feel about the U.S. to me and how you would be loyal." Some suggested adding questions that spoke to an immigrant's ability to assimilate. They would ask questions that would measure the applicant's grasp of American ideals, beliefs, and culture; for instance, "I might ask some questions about cultural dynamics of the melting pot theory that is supposed to be America." Another suggested adding questions that would assess "a person's ability to thrive in the U.S., e.g., laws, the tax system, etc."
Perhaps because of the nature of the questions, few individuals commented on the validity of the test in assessing a person's potential value as a citizen of the United States of America. Only two individuals spoke to this issue, suggesting that instead of taking a test, applicants undertake a service project that demonstrates a desire to become a citizen.
The preservice teachers' responses to these questions are very interesting because, apart from being unable to recall so-called citizenship knowledge (particularly among the respondents preparing to be elementary school teachers), these future teachers regard themselves and each other as "good citizens." According to Sadker and Sadker (2003), people who are teachers tend to want to work with others, they love the classroom environment, they want the respect that being a teacher evokes, they love learning, they want to be creative, they want to make a difference in the lives of others, and they want decent salaries and long summer vacations. In addition, individuals cannot enter the profession if they have a criminal record or if they have other moral blemishes on their official records. Despite the poor performance of some of these students on the naturalization test, they may well be the kinds of citizens we would want living in our communities.
However, what is missing in many of the preservice teachers' responses is acknowledgement of the rights and responsibilities entailed in being an active member in a democratic society. As described, they could be respectable members of any society, including a totalitarian one. What is missing from the majority of the responses and suggestions for changes is the notion that immigrants are requesting to become participants in the world's oldest democracy. In doing so, surely new immigrants should be expected to demonstrate to what extent they are capable and willing to participate in public decision-making (Allen, 1996; Clark & Case, 1997; Westheimer & Kahne, 2004). This is, perhaps, too much to ask of people who may be arriving in a nation with very few belongings, or who are arriving with limited language skills or educational backgrounds. Nevertheless, it seems important that the students--people who will soon be entrusted with educating children on how to participate in a democratic system--be aware that informed participation and willing participants are essential in maintaining a healthy democracy.
I DID IT MY WAY: TO BE A CITIZEN OR NOT TO BE
Interest in studying preservice social studies teachers' conceptions and knowledge of American citizenship by means of the naturalization test was a personally relevant activity for several of the authors. Indeed, three of the researchers were born in foreign countries. A fourth author adopted a foreign-born child. Therefore, four of the researchers2 had personal and first-hand dealings with USCIS. Strikingly, each has followed a different path with respect to making the decision "to be or not to be" a United States citizen. Despite noticeable differences in experiences, all four demonstrated common themes in their experiences. At the heart of these varied pathways has been the notion of wrestling with what it means to be a citizen of a nation.
Each of the foreign-born researchers hails from a different country around the globe. Frans was born in the Netherlands, Carolyn was born in New Zealand, and Masato was born in Japan (Doppen, 2007b; Ogawa, 2007; O'Mahony, 2007). Chloe, the foreign-born adopted daughter of Chara, came from China. These four individuals share interesting narratives of their journeys to the United States and their encounters with U.S. immigration services. Not surprisingly, the three researchers arrived in the United States as adults in order to further their education. The adopted child, Chloe, came to the U.S. at 13 months of age and had no ability to control her entry into America. Nonetheless, the Chinese government permits abandoned children to be adopted by foreigners (e.g., Americans and other Westerners), because as her orphanage director stated, "They would have better educational opportunities in the United States."
America's renowned educational system attracts people from around the globe to the United States. Yet, a "silent crisis in American education" exists (Friedman, 2007). According to Friedman, the challenges imposed by U.S. immigration policy lead the majority of these scholars to return home. The crisis is particularly pronounced in science because few doctoral students in scientific studies are American citizens, thus the knowledge and scholarship gained in the United States does not remain within American borders. Friedman advocated that foreign-born students be granted automatic citizenship upon earning doctoral degrees as a means to attract these scholars to reside and work in the United States.
Various reasons have led each of the foreign-born researchers in this study to remain in the United States. Two found relationships with American citizens a compelling reason to remain, and all three found opportunities to work in higher education. Each of the three foreign-born adults has grappled directly with the concept of American citizenship. Not only does each of the three think about citizenship in a theoretical manner as a social studies educator, but also each has faced the practical reality of immigration and citizenship processes in the United States.
Frans has consciously chosen to remain a citizen of the Netherlands. After immigrating in 1984, he elected to maintain Dutch citizenship because Dutch law did not allow him to have dual citizenship and he did not want to lose allegiance to the country of his birth. Although Frans understands that since 2003 the Dutch law allows dual citizenship for persons married to a U.S. citizen, he has not elected to become an American citizen. Frans has lived in the United States for more than 20 years, is married to an American citizen, and has two American-born children. Yet, he writes, "Although there are many things I like about the U.S. in comparison to the Netherlands, I am, in essence, still Dutch, even after all these years" (Doppen, 2007b).
On the other hand, Carolyn, who was born and raised in New Zealand, recently became an American citizen when she took the naturalization oath on September 10, 2007 (O'Mahony, 2007). According to Carolyn, four prosaic factors contributed to her decision to become a U.S. citizen. First, she gave birth to a son and does not want her immigration status to raise legal issues for her continued residency if anything should happen to her husband. Second, she wants the ability to be fully involved in American society, including having a voice in the political system. Third, she does not want to be in a vulnerable position as a social studies methods professor. Her former status as a resident alien subjected her to criticism from students. Indeed, shortly after September 11, a student accused her of being "un-American" when she tried to explain why people in the larger world might not agree with American values. Finally, she believes that if she encourages students to be involved in the social, political, and economic aspects of society, she must be similarly engaged (O'Mahony, 2007).
The third researcher, Masato, has also wrestled with the concept of American citizenship (Ogawa, 2007). Like many individuals who come to the United States, he enjoys many aspects of American life and work. Yet, he maintains ties to Japan, his country of birth. Importantly, he does not want to sever his connections to Japan. He and his wife are in the process of applying for lawful permanent residence (commonly known as "green cards"), and would only be able to apply for American citizenship after having resided in the United States for a certain number of years. Masato recognizes several benefits to be gained from American citizenship, such as freedom from worrying about U.S. immigration laws, the ability to vote in elections, and ease of traveling to and from the United States. However, he faces barriers with respect to gaining American citizenship. Although the United States acknowledges the legality of dual citizenship, the Japanese government does not (U.S. Department of State, 2007). Understandably, Masato does not want to lose his identity as a Japanese citizen, the place he was born and had lived for 32 years.
All four foreign-born individuals contended with considerable immigration paperwork because of citizenship and residency issues. For Carolyn, the road to becoming an American citizen was a 7-year journey.
Because she initially came to the United States to pursue a graduate degree, Carolyn began with a student visa. Later, she gained an "Optional Practical Training" visa, followed by a Permanent Resident Card (O'Mahony, 2007), and finally she sought citizenship. Carolyn began citizenship paperwork in 2000, and had an attorney assist in the process. Despite her apparent advantages as a highly educated woman, a native English speaker, an American husband, and the assistance of a woman in her church community, she found that there was little flexibility in the system (O'Mahony, 2007). Because of the cumbersome nature of the immigration process, Carolyn is not at all surprised by the large number of illegal immigrants in the United States.
Frans and Masato have had to pursue the paperwork that enables them to work in the United States while they maintain citizenship in their native countries. Frans had to marry in order to remain in the United States, so he was granted a fiance visa, which required that he marry within 30 days of arrival. He also experienced considerable paperwork. In addition to completing many forms, he had to take a medical exam, prove he did not have tuberculosis and prove he had not engaged in any act of prostitution, and gain clearance for his political sympathies (Doppen, 2007b). Frans had to explain to the immigration official that the Labor Party was a mainstream political organization in Holland. Within a week of his arrival, Frans married and began the process of applying for a permanent alien registration card (which he reports is not green). He encountered further paperwork challenges when applying for a teaching certificate in the state of Florida, as the green card application was held up by the INS (currently USCIS) bureaucracy. His sister-in-law had to sign a form stating that Frans would not become a burden to the state for the first five years of his residence in the United States. If he did become unemployed, his sister-in-law had to agree to financially provide for Frans. After contacting his wife's legislative representatives, Senator Bob Graham (Governor at the time) and Congressman Buddy MacKay, Frans was finally able to procure his green card and teaching certificate. Masato has only begun the process of applying for a green card. Masato, on the other hand, does not have the advantage of an American wife, and faces the dilemma of not wanting to renounce his Japanese citizenship.
With respect to adopting foreign-born children, immigration rules are different. Prior to a change in the law enacted by the Clinton administration, all foreign-born children of American citizens had to follow a similar immigration paperwork path as foreign-born adults, in order to gain American citizenship status. The required paperwork included records of medical examinations, INS documents, police reports, birth and marriage certificates, passports, IRS tax returns, social worker reports, and the certification, authentication, and translation of these documents. The Clinton era legislation, known as the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, and its enactment as law (PL 106-395) allowed for the foreign-born adopted children of American citizens to automatically gain citizenship status (Bohan, 2001), thus bypassing a cumbersome second round of immigration paperwork once the child was adopted. So, Chloe's arrival in the United State meant that she automatically gained U.S. citizenship.
For each of these foreign-born individuals, citizenship has a special and unique meaning. Because of their cross-cultural experiences, they think of citizenship in a broader sense than simply voting or having content-level knowledge typically asked on the naturalization test. For each, citizenship means multicultural competency, global awareness, open-mindedness, but even more importantly, contributing to make the Earth a better place, now, and for the future.
Naturalization applicants will begin taking the new revised test on October 1, 2008. The test includes completely new questions that focus on the concepts of democracy and the rights and responsibilities of citizenship (USCIS, 2006a, 2006b). In redesigning the exam, at a cost of $6.5 million, USCIS received assistance from and worked with test development contractors, U.S. history and government scholars, and English as a Second Language experts (Preston, 2007; USCIS, 2006b). USCIS also sought input from a variety of stakeholders, including immigrant advocacy groups, citizenship instructors, and District Adjudications Officers.
According to USCIS, the intention of the new test is to move away from trivia type questions to ones that are more concept-oriented, where applicants must consider concepts such as democracy and the rights and responsibilities of citizens. The new test appears more consistent with the central purpose of National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS), "to help young people develop the ability to make informed and reasoned decisions" (NCSS, 1994, p. 3). Even highly educated applicants may need to prepare more for the concept-oriented questions on the new test. For example, on the old test, applicants were asked, "Who was President during the Civil War?" The question on the new test, however, is, "What was one important thing that Abraham Lincoln did?" Despite these types of changes, there are several questions on the new test, such as, "Who was President during World War I?," that seem to fall short of the concept-oriented goal.
Additionally, some language changes are more inclusive and culturally sensitive, which fits with the NCSS central purpose to prepare citizens for "a culturally diverse, democratic society in an interdependent world" (NCSS, 1994, p. 3). Not only have "colonists" replaced "Pilgrims," but they are also given less attention. Furthermore, there are more questions about slavery and the Civil Rights Movement (Preston, 2007). Yet, according to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), some immigrant rights groups have called the new test an "anti-immigrant measure" and reject the test (BBC, 2006). The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) released a statement calling the test "the final brick in the second wall" (ICIRR, 2007). The group said that the test included "more abstract and irrelevant questions that tended to stump hard-working immigrants who had little time to study" (Preston, 2007). Fred Tsao, policy director for the Coalition, described several new questions--such as, "What is the rule of law?"--as too abstract, arguing that political scientists and philosophers struggle with questions about the rule of law (Brulliard, 2007). As a representative to USCIS, Aguilar stresses that the new test is not meant to be a punitive measure nor is it meant to fail anyone (Preston, 2007). On the other hand, the test is not meant to be easy. Gary Gerstle, a professor of American history at Vanderbilt University, attests that--with studying--most applicants will pass, stating, "Indeed, their knowledge of American history may even exceed the knowledge of millions of American-born citizens" (Preston, 2007). Clearly, the new test is controversial and further investigation by researchers and educators would be timely and relevant.
Building preservice teachers' awareness of the inequities and inherently delicate health of any democracy is important because they will soon be in the position of being able to teach in ways that promote democratic thinking. Social studies instruction is being eliminated in many elementary classrooms so that students can spend more time studying mathematics and language arts. By examining the questions on the naturalization test in social studies methods classes, teacher educators can introduce new ways of thinking about citizenship knowledge to their preservice teachers and, in so doing, affirm the validity and importance of teaching social studies and citizenship education. Westheimer and Kahne (2004) suggest that citizenship education should develop "commitments for civic participation and social justice as well as foster ... the capacities to fulfill those commitments [that] will support the development of a more democratic society" (p. 245). Merely memorizing or identifying facts from history and governmental structure neither foster nor guarantee commitments for civic participation and social justice.
This study created a space for the participants and researchers to discuss what it means to live in a democracy and to examine the conceptions of a good citizen. These conversations move beyond simple answers on a test to a broader discussion of both democracy and assessment. How can beliefs be evaluated? Does holding particular beliefs and values necessarily lead to an individual having behaviors that would support a vibrant democracy? What would a vibrant democracy look like? How would a classroom that promoted democratic practices operate? Is it possible to have a democratic classroom when schools are inherently undemocratic? By having participants take the citizenship examination, and by having four researchers examine their own personal experiences with the citizenship process, both groups delved deeply into the core issue of what it means to be an "American." These are exciting conversations that get to the heart of social studies instruction--and young teachers need to have them.
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(1.) As defined by U.S. Department of Homeland Security: Citizenship and Immigration Services
(2.) Although seven researchers are situated in the larger study, their immigration experiences are not salient to this section because they cannot offer first-hand narratives or experiences regarding immigration. In other words, the other three of the seven researchers do not have personal or direct experiences with immigration.
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|Title Annotation:||PART I|
|Author:||Bohan, Chara Haeussler; Doppen, Frans; Feinberg, Joseph; OMahony, Carolyn|
|Publication:||Curriculum and Teaching Dialogue|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2008|
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