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Opinion >  Column

Rob Curley: What happens when an entire community decides to be study buddies? Let’s find out

UPDATED: Sun., Feb. 7, 2021

It’s an idea that’s been floating around for a while, but never to the point where it felt like it should be a priority.

It does now. And many of you agree.

In a world that now feels brimming with disinformation, half-truths and full-on fibs, maybe it’s time for us to brush up on our civics. You know, the stuff that explains how our government is supposed to work and why? Seems like lots of other people think we should do this, as well.

Schools are trying to add more emphasis on basic civics, and if you haven’t heard, the new U.S. citizenship test that immigrants have to pass just got a lot longer and a whole lot tougher – to the point where one begins to wonder if those of us who were actually born here could pass it.

Here’s an anecdotal take on why it might be time for us to talk about this: At least a couple of times a month, a caller reaches out to talk about concerns about the Second Amendment. These callers also typically identify themselves as “constitutionalists.” This makes me happy because I love the Constitution, too. A copy of the Bill of Rights has hung in every office I’ve had. I used to even keep a copy of the first 10 amendments in my wallet.

Before there can be a sensible discussion with any caller about the Second Amendment, one question has to be answered: What is the Fourth Amendment? Or the Ninth? Or really any one of them other than the first and second? Doesn’t even have to be one of the first 10. In almost a decade of similar phone calls, no one has answered.

The thing is, we don’t get to pick the parts of the Constitution or the Bill of Rights that we like. Ya gotta like them all, or at least ya gotta know them all if you want to have a deeper discussion with me about just one of them. And it’s always the same one that people call me about. Why does no one want to talk about the Seventh Amendment? And doesn’t $20 feel like an oddly specific number?

I digress …

Last month, I wrote a column explaining what the First Amendment did and – more important – didn’t do. I suggested that maybe we all could talk more about civics and even prepare to take the new citizenship test together. I got more phone calls and emails than when we write about some new proposed gun regulation.

Everyone was for it. Many even volunteered to help.

We heard from universities, law schools, civics organizations, former elected officials, current elected officials and possibly every retired high school American history teacher in Eastern Washington, as well as a few current high school American history teachers.

So let’s do it. Every Sunday.

Sometimes we’ll cover one specific question on the citizenship test, while talking about much more than just the answer, but why it matters. Maybe even how it came about. Or if it’s been challenged. And if Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote a song about it in Hamilton.

To kick things off, let’s start with one of the easier questions that’s been on the citizenship test for a long time.

As noted American poet Puff Daddy once said, “It’s all about the Benjamins.” Well, kinda. It’s about one Benjamin.

Benjamin Franklin is famous for many things. Name one.

We’re going to start with the accepted answers from the older citizenship tests:

  • U.S. diplomat
  • Oldest member of the Constitutional Convention
  • First Postmaster General of the United States
  • Writer of “Poor Richard’s Almanac”
  • Started the first free libraries

Then there are the accepted answers on the new test:

  • Founded the first free public libraries
  • First Postmaster General of the United States
  • Helped write the Declaration of Independence
  • Inventor
  • U.S. diplomat

But that’s just one example.

Other times, we’ll look at a topic specifically related to something happening in the news at that moment, like that First Amendment column from a few weeks ago.

It also won’t just be folks from our newsroom writing these. This is going to be a community project.

In the coming weeks, let’s hope this group effort will not only educate, but help ease a little of that division we all could do without (and maybe even a few of those Second Amendment calls).

Oh, and I sure hope all of those who reached out to say they wanted help were serious because I’m sending out assignments on Monday.

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