It’s not often that you’ll hear me approving of news out of Arizona. The state that graced us with Evan Meacham and Sheriff Joe Arpaio is not usually thought of as a birthplace for interesting ideas.  But they recently introduced a new requirement: to graduate from high school, all students will need to pass a civics test similar to the one given those seeking naturalized citizenship.

At first glance, I like the concept very much.  Americans’ general ignorance of the way their system works is legendary, and anything that encourages greater awareness is a good thing in my book.

The body of knowledge involved – 100 questions on the basic structure of the federal government, some highlights of American history, and a smattering of geographical facts – is neither extensive nor particularly controversial.  (You can obtain study materials, including a complete list of questions and answers, via

That’s all fine, as far as it goes.  But I think it overlooks a few things that are important for anyone entering into responsible adulthood, not to mention citizenhood, in the United States here in the early years of the 21st Century to know and understand.

I believe that folks should be aware of how things really work (as opposed to how they are ostensibly designed to work). They should also be familiar with some of those inconvenient little tidbits from history that may not show us in our best light, but nonetheless have had a drastic impact on the way we are today.test-clip-art-dmbtest

So, here are some of the many questions that might be included in an “Alternative Citizenship Test.”  You could probably come up with a few yourself, and I encourage you to do so. Send me yours at (I’d be very interested to see what folks more conservative than I am would include.)  If you’re able to answer 2/3 of the questions without resorting to Google, congratulate yourself…!

  1. What does a “lobbyist” do? How much money do the use to do their jobs each year? Whose money is it?
  2. Explain the significance of one of the following Supreme Court cases:
    1. Brown v. Board of Education
    2. Roe v. Wade
    3. Bush v. Gore
    4. Citizens United v. FEC
  3. Identify one of the following:
    1. Trail of Tears
    2. My Lai
    3. Japanese Internment
    4. Abu Ghraib
  4. Name at least one important labor leader of the 20th Century.
  5. What were the “Stonewall Riots”?
  6. Who was Cesar Chavez?
  7. Who was Joseph McCarthy?
  8. Why are political or other scandals frequently given names that end in “-gate”?
  9. When speaking of the relationship between government and business, what is meant by “the revolving door”? Name someone who has gone through it recently.
  10. Name three major media conglomerates – and their owners.
  11. Identify at least one of the following:
    1. Roger Ailes
    2. The Koch Brothers
    3. George Soros
  12. What is a “Superfund site”?
  13. What do Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, and Woody Guthrie have in common?
  14. Identify at least one of the following:
    1. Elizabeth Cady Stanton
    2. Gloria Steinem
    3. Phyllis Schlafly
    4. Ellen de Generes
  15. What was the “Dust Bowl”?
  16. What is “the Fed”?
  17. Name one of the “Robber Barons.”
  18. Explain the significance of one of the following:
    1. The Homestead Massacre
    2. The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire
    3. Love Canal
    4. Three Mile Island
  19. Who is Grover Norquist? Jack Abramoff? Bernie Madoff?
  20. What is the NRA? What was its original purpose?
  21. Explain the long-term effects of one of the following
    1. Hurricane Katrina
    2. Deepwater Horizon
    3. Exxon Valdese
  22. How many times is the word “God” mentioned in the Constitution?
  23. What do Eugene Debs, Bernie Sanders, and W.E.B. DuBois have in common?
  24. In political discourse, what is “framing”? Give a recent example.
  25. Identify each of the following:
    1. Karl Rove
    2. Frank Luntz
    3. George Lakoff
    4. Newt Gingrich
  26. What was the “Southern Strategy”?
  27. What is “gerrymandering”?
  28. What is the NSA?
  29. What is the “Iron Triangle”?
  30. Who was Howard Zinn?

(Note: The list of questions was updated 12/20/2016.)



  1. If you liked this, you can find a pamphletized version over at Citizens Creative:


  2. So many more things that could be included!!


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