We have become a cynical society.

We hear details of ridiculous wastes of taxpayers' money for this boondoggle or that.

Here's another one to file away.

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Jay Greeson

A state law recently passed — using time and resources provided by the state's taxpayers, mind you — known as HB10, will require graduating high school seniors in Tennessee to take a civics test before getting their diplomas.

It's a novel concept in several ways. Local state Rep. Gerald McCormick, who was a co-author of HB10, told the Knoxville News Sentinel that surveys and studies show high school students' knowledge about United States civics is "pathetic."

He's almost certainly right. How many people walking the street know who is in line to become president if an accident or scandal takes down the commander in chief and the vice president? Heck, how many Americans can even name the vice president?

OK, maybe a test will help. Some kids better buckle down and brush up on the branches of government, checks and balances and that you have to be at least 35 years old to run for president. (Although acting like an adult obviously is not as important as actually being an adult.)

With such lofty stakes — going through four years of high school only to be denied a diploma because you were less than sure the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives is second behind the VP in the succession line if needed to replace a sitting president — a clarification email has made the rounds.

From said email, which was sent to public school system directors last week: "Beginning in January 2017, all high schools must administer a United States civics test. The test should be prepared by each district and should be comprised of between 25 and 50 questions. Questions must come from the U.S. citizenship test administered by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Students must correctly answer at least 70 percent of the questions on the test to earn a passing grade. A student may participate in the test as many times as necessary to earn a passing grade."

OK, as many times as needed to pass. That seems doable.

Well, as part of the same clarifying email last week comes the revelation that now the students do not even have to pass this test to graduate. Say what?

We have a mandatory, statewide test — produced by the local systems, mind you — on a subject not directly taught in schools that students can take as many times as needed to pass.

And it doesn't even matter if they actually pass.


To be fair, the first draft of McCormick's bill made graduation depend on passing this test, which is another matter to debate entirely.

But now it's a hollow version of busy work that sadly has become the norm rather than the exception.

How can we expect kids to take seriously a civics test that has no meaning or bearing when they sometimes don't take the tests that actually matter seriously? How much time and energy will be wasted by the school systems preparing for his law, which goes into effect Jan. 1?

With all the serious issues facing our public high schools — according to the most recent finding of U.S. News and World Report, 7 percent of Tennessee high schools were ranked as gold or silver schools (27 of 358), a percentage that ranks 39th nationally — shouldn't term papers take precedent over term limits?

Well, on the bright side, if a school has 100 percent of its seniors pass a test that has no real positive or negative ramifications regardless of their scores, it gets a cool certificate that reads "United States Civics All Star Schools." (We're not sure but maybe the system's buses could get a "Our school is a civic all-star" bumper sticker, too.)

Yes, the questions about this dubious law are endless, and lead all of us back to the all-too-familiar refrain of cynicism: What's the point?

Contact Jay Greeson at and at 423-757-6343. His "Right to the Point" column runs Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.