Decoding Citizenship in USCIS Naturalization Test Materials
A Critical Social Semiotic Analysis
The US naturalization test and its accompanying multimodal study cards are intended to help potential citizens learn about US history and government as they prepare for the (2007 revised) naturalization test. While the test claims to be a test of civic and cultural literacy (USCIS 2007a, 2007b), the official US Citizenship and Immigration Services’ Civics Flash Cards for the Naturalization Test, and the naturalization test itself, rely on multiple literacies (content schemata, test literacy, multimodal literacies) which not all test-takers possess. Through an analysis of the semiotic design of the cards, I consider the efficacy of these study materials for fostering a civic disposition in adult refugee-background English language learners with emerging English literacy who have had little-to-no formal schooling and who have had limited exposure to literacy in the contexts in which they previously lived. I argue that although the test aims to be a test of civic and cultural literacy, it is in actuality a test of (multi)literacy that relies foremost on English literacy, including culturally-specific visual designs and test schemata. Drawing attention to the implicit, dominant ideologies expressed in the naturalization test documents, I question the universality of Western content knowledge and referential knowledge, bring to light the implied and institutionally imagined community of immigrant test-takers for whom these multimodal flash cards were created, and investigate phenomena of (dis)citizenship (Pothier & Devlin 2006; Ramanathan 2013) that may arise within refugee-background populations striving to secure US naturalization.
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