I was moved reading about the US naturalization ceremony that took place on July 3rd in Indianapolis along with hundreds of other similar cermonies around the country. All naturalized citizens, among many other hurdles, must pass an oral exam on history, civics and geography. The toils that so many of our friends and neighbors go through to become citizens is laudable and humbling. It certainly makes me wonder how many natural born citizens could earn their citizenship and if I, as someone born in the United States, take my citizenship for granted.
Especially as Congress is currently debating immigration reform, we must all constantly ask ourselves what being a citizen means for ourselves. Robert Pondiscio’s recent Op-Ed, “Do Our Children Know How to be Citizens?” crystalizes the very question of what knowledge we need to fully participate in our communities. Pondiscio quotes Benjamin Franklin: “A woman asked [Franklin] what kind of government he and the other delegates had decided on. ‘A republic, madam — if you can keep it,’ he replied.” While our foreign-born neighbors have to prove their ability to keep the republic, we have to ask ourselves what ways we are teaching the civic knowledge the majority of us need to fulfill Franklin’s ideal.
The newly established Center for Civic Literacy at IUPUI was created to address this very fundamental question. Let’s ask what ways the next generation of Americans can discover the levers of the republic so many have toiled to join.
Matt Impink is a former US History Teacher and Education Policy Advocate. He is currently a Graduate Student at IU’s School for Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA) in Indianapolis.