They are basic American history and government queries you'll find in a Civics 101 course, but few of her American friends knew the answers.
England native Philippa Reid was stunned. Here she was studying for the 100-question U.S. citizenship civics test, which must be passed to become a citizen, and her American-born friends didn't know how many amendments are in the Constitution, the three rights in the Declaration of Independence or who Susan B. Anthony was.
"I would post two or three of the citizenship questions on Facebook, and almost all of my American friends didn't know," said Reid, a Naples resident who became a citizen in May. "They all said, 'Wow, you're learning more about the United States than us.'"
Reid's experience is not unique. In honor of today's July 4th holiday, The News-Press approached random Lee County residents to see if they could pass the U.S. citizenship civics test. Of the 100 questions, immigration officials ask 10 random, oral queries and a passing score of 60 percent is required. According to the latest government statistics, about 91 percent of citizenship applicants pass the test.
In our local test, few Lee County residents hit the mark. Nationally, only 65 percent of native-born American got six of the 10 required correct answers in a recent study by the Center for the Study of the American Dream at Xavier University in Cincinnati. Michael Ford, the center's founding director, said civic illiteracy is a growing problem in an age where civics isn't stressed in schools — an unintended consequence of the renewed emphasis on science and math.
"Civic illiteracy threatens the American Dream because it threatens the freedoms we treasure," Ford said. "Civic illiteracy makes us more susceptible to manipulation and abuses of power… We certainly don't expect everyone to know all the answers. For example, does it matter if we don't know how many amendments there are? No. But almost 60 percent don't even know what an amendment is."
A panel of education experts along with the association of Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages created the citizenship civics test. A review of government authorized civics and citizenship exams, the U.S. Department of Education's National Standards for Civics and Government and a previous naturalization test also played a role.
The current civics test, which is similar to queries in an average Civics 101 class, was redesigned in 2008. The 100-question test replaced a 96-question exam that had been in use for two decades but was widely criticized as being too simplistic. The old test wasn't uniform. Some cities would ask different questions than others. The 2008 redesign created one test for the nation.
The test's questions and answers are available online for applicants to study. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services said the test is a meaningful way to encourage patriotism.
"A revised test, with an emphasis on the fundamental concepts of American democracy and the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, will help to encourage citizenship applicants to learn and identify with the basic values that we all share as Americans," the USCIS said on its website.
There are some elementary school level questions such as "What is the name of the President of the United States?" "Where is the Statue of Liberty?" "Who was the first President?" and "When do we celebrate Independence Day?"
There are also tougher questions on the U.S. Constitution and the governmental, legal and political structure of the American republic.
Taking the quiz
FGCU freshman Patrick Gratzer and FGCU junior Jay Shah were two local residents who gamely tried to answer questions on the test. Unlike immigrants trying to be citizens, Gratzer and Shah didn't have time to study.
Each had a hard time answering governmental structure and history questions. Gratzer and Shah weren't familiar with women's civil rights leader Susan B. Anthony. Shah didn't know why the U.S. flag has 13 stripes (Answer: in honor of the 13 original colonies). Other residents couldn't name the Speaker of the House of Representatives (Answer: John Boehner) or the rights in the Declaration of Independence (Answer: life, liberty, pursuit of happiness).
"The questions are pretty standard and straightforward, but I don't think most Americans know them," said Missouri native Adam Berkowicz, who correctly answered 11 of 12 questions. "I don't think it is knowledge people use on a daily basis. I love history, so I should know them."
Shah said the citizenship test is more difficult than he thought. He said it's a good way for immigrants to learn about their new country.
Naples' Dania Paco, who grew up in Cuba before fleeing to the U.S. seven years ago, said she didn't think she would pass the U.S. citizenship test. Paco has limited English skills and prefers to speak in Spanish. Nevertheless, she passed after spending months studying.
In addition to providing the questions and answers on its website, the government also gives applicants a CD about the test. Flashcards are also available on the website. Many local groups and libraries provide citizenship classes. Learning English and studying the civics test is stressed there.
"I didn't think I could do it and pass, but my boss told me to apply," Paco said. "He thought I could do it."
Reid, who grew up in England before moving to the U.S. at age 10, said she spent a month studying for the exam. She had her children ask her questions from the test each day. Reid also listened to the questions and answers on a CD in her car. When it came time for the test, she answered the first six questions correctly giving her a passing score.
"You learn civics when you're in school, but you don't hold onto it unless you're a history buff," Reid said. "Civics is important. It's important to be interested in your heritage. It makes you well-rounded and it helps you appreciate the freedoms this country is bringing to you. Maybe people need a refresher course."
1. When was the Constitution written?
2. How many justices are on the Supreme Court?
3. How many amendments does the Constitution have?
4. Who wrote the Declaration of Independence?
5. What territory did the United States buy from France in 1803?
6. Who was president during the Great Depression and World War II?
7. Name one state that borders Mexico.