The American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) was founded in 1995 to promote academic freedom, academic excellence, and accountability at America’s colleges and universities. The REACH Act would, in our estimation, be a significant step in a positive direction. This act, were it to be passed into law, would set a reasonable floor for civic education at North Carolina’s public colleges and universities, ensuring that all students receive at least introductory instruction in the principles of American democracy and the history of our republic.
Nationally, fewer than 20% of colleges and universities require a course in American government or U.S. history. Out of the 15 public higher education institutions in North Carolina reviewed by ACTA’s What Will They Learn?® project, none require the study of U.S. government or history. Especially given the current state of American discourse, this is unacceptable. American higher education can, should, and must do more to educate students to be active, informed, and well-reasoned participants in public life. In a country like the United States, founded on principles of liberty, equality, and the rule of law, it is essential for citizens to understand the ideas that animate our civic life. Students should not be able to leave an American public university and be ignorant of concepts such as representative democracy, bicameralism, separation of powers, federalism, and constitutionalism.
The REACH Act would require the study of certain works from the history of American political literature, such as the Declaration of Independence and the Federalist Papers, as well as writings by Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., and others. Such coursework is particularly well-suited for college-level education, in which one is expected to read and analyze primary documents. Indeed, it is especially important today for it shows students the meaning of active citizenship—Alexander Hamilton, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King, Jr., were ordinary citizens of humble backgrounds whose love and faith in their country inspired them to action in its name, to redeem its promise and to brighten its future. Learning directly from such minds is excellent preparation for any American citizen.
We find the proposed bill to be a narrowly tailored piece of nonpartisan legislation that would insist upon quite minimal, but nonetheless very important, standards for civic education in the State of North Carolina. South Carolina has already passed a similar bill, and compliance among state institutions has been very high. The North Carolina legislature has an opportunity to provide the next generation of leaders with knowledge and tools for fruitful participation in American civic life. We believe this legislation, were it to be passed, would help substantially to do this.