How to pass the United States citizenship test? Give wrong answers

February 27th, 2013

ProPublica has a sobering account of how flawed the questions on the U.S. Citizenship test are:

But then we began noticing errors in a number of the questions and answers.

Take Question 36. It asks applicants to name two members of the president’s Cabinet. Among the correct answers is “Vice President.” The vice president is a cabinet-level officer but he’s not a Cabinet member. Cabinet members are unelected heads ofexecutive departments, such as the Defense Department, or the State Department.

The official naturalization test booklet even hints as much: “The president may appoint other government officials to the cabinet but no elected official may serve on the cabinet while in office.” Note to Homeland Security: The vice president is elected.

Still, a wonderful press officer in the New York immigration office noted that the White House’s own website lists the vice president as a member of the Cabinet. It’s still wrong, I explained. I told her that my partner wrote an entire book about the vice president and won a Pulitzer Prize for the stories. I was pretty sure about this one. A parade of constitutional scholars backed me up.

In fact, the Constitution aligns the vice president more closely with the legislative branch as president of the Senate. Not until well into the 20th century did the vice president even attend Cabinet meetings.

Then there is Question 12: What is the “rule of law”?

I showed it to lawyers and law professors. They were stumped.

There are four acceptable answers: “Everyone must follow the law”; “Leaders must obey the law”; “Government must obey the law”; “No one is above the law.”

Judge Richard Posner, the constitutional scholar who serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago, was unhappy. “These are all incorrect,” he wrote me. “The rule of law means that judges decide cases ‘without respect of persons,’ that is, without considering the social status, attractiveness, etc. of the parties or their lawyers.”

I am reminded of when Homer Simpson is tutoring Apu for the citizenship test.

Homer teaches Apu facts about American history, like that the 13 stripes on the American flag are for good luck, and the electrical college, while Chief Wiggum and boys prepare to deport the immigrants. The day before the exam, Homer asks Apu to study his 9th-grade history notes. Apu tries to study, but falls asleep after reading two words.

In the morning, Apu wakes up.

Apu: Ohh, I fell asleep! I have forgotten everything that Mr. Homer taught me!

Lisa: Perfect. Let’s roll.

And when Apu gave this answer:

Examiner: All right, here’s your last question. What was the cause of the Civil War?
Apu: Actually, there were numerous causes. Aside from the obvious schism between the abolitionists and the anti-abolitionists, there were economic factors, both domestic and inter…
Examiner: Wait, wait… just say slavery.
Apu: Slavery it is, sir.