A Lesson in Citizenship at the National Museum of American History
- By Stacey Mann
- June 6, 2012
Each time a project we’ve helped to create launches, there is a certain sense of pride and accomplishment that comes with it. On rare occasions, we are honored to be part of a project and a launch that reminds us how the work we do can affect a wide community and provide a platform for learning and growth that wasn’t there before. Such was the case at the recent launch of Preparing for the Oath: U.S. History and Civics for Citizenship at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History (NMAH), which Dan Kuetemeyer and I were privileged to attend.
Developed in collaboration with NMAH and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the online learning environment makes use of the Smithsonian archives to help teach prospective citizens about the history of the United States and the structural foundations of our government. Using the 100 questions that make up the civics portion of the U.S. Naturalization Test as a foundation, Preparing for the Oath features a series of short narrated videos, interactive activities, and practice tests that provide historical context for the questions and a forum for immigrants to study and practice for their oral exam.
Thursday’s project launch was paired with an oath ceremony in NMAH’s Flag Hall just in front of the entrance to the Star Spangled Banner exhibit. Featuring comments from Marc Pachter, Interim Director of NMAH; G. Wayne Clough, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution; Alejandro Mayorkas, Director of USCIS; and Madeline Albright, former U.S. Secretary of State, the ceremony called attention to the importance of immigrants to the fiber of our nation, and the commitment displayed by those who choose to renounce their foreign allegiances and become U.S citizens. This point was underlined by Secretary Albright, whose brother and sister sat just in front of us, recounting her family’s immigration experience: fleeing first Nazi aggression and later Communism in her native Czechoslovakia, sailing into New York Harbor past the Statue of Liberty, and finally, taking the oath of citizenship after having experienced the generosity, acceptance, and opportunity afforded by their new home. When the twelve candidates for citizenship, representing nations from around the world, took their oath, Secretary Albright stood with them, re-pledging her fidelity to the United States, its laws, and founding principles. It was difficult for even the most cynical to not feel a wave of national pride and emotional outpouring for these newest members of this great American experiment.
Try Preparing for the Oath yourself and see if you know as much about our country as these naturalized citizens— remember there is no multiple choice during their actual exam.