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Reclaiming Education on America’s Constitutional Heritage

According a recent ACTA poll, nearly 10% of recent college grads think that Judge Judy is a member of the U.S. Supreme Court. This is just one example of how the education system has failed to educate college students on America’s history and heritage.

This week on Family Policy Matters, host Traci DeVette Griggs welcomes Jameson Broggi, one of the primary supporters of the North Carolina REACH Act (Reclaiming Education on America’s Constitutional Heritage Act). This legislation would require three credit hours of instruction in American history and our nation’s founding documents as a prerequisite for graduation from North Carolina’s public universities and community colleges. 

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Family Policy Matters
Transcript: Reclaiming Education on America’s Constitutional Heritage

TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS:  Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. How important is it for all of us, and especially our young people, to have a full understanding of the history of our country and especially our Constitution?  We can all agree there are some problematic things in our nation’s past without discounting the courage of those who founded our nation and the brilliance of our founding documents, especially when you understand all of that in a historical context.

It was an astounding achievement at that time, and it continues as a great experiment in self-governance. Well, lawmakers in North Carolina are hoping to require that our colleges and universities in the state teach these concepts to North Carolina’s college students through the passage of HB 96. It’s called the North Carolina Reclaiming College Education on America’s Constitutional Heritage. If you can’t remember that, just remember the NC REACH Act. Well, we’re joined today by Jameson Broggi, a U.S. Marine and attorney, who authored the South Carolina version of the REACH Act, and has been working with North Carolina lawmakers to, hopefully, pass similar legislation here in our state

Jameson Broggi, welcome to Family Policy Matters.

JAMESON BROGGI:  Hey, thanks a lot. This is gonna be fun.

TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS:  All right. Well, what would the North Carolina REACH Act do?  Give us some details.

JAMESON BROGGI:  The REACH Act would require that all college students in North Carolina at the public colleges will have to take a three-credit-hour class on the U.S. Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, Federalist Papers, Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail and Emancipation Proclamation. So it’s a required class in American government, and it requires at a minimum that students read those documents in their entirety for themselves as part of that three-credit-hour class. And the goal there being as in this country we have a free republic where everyone participates in how our government is run. And as Benjamin Franklin said, “We have a republic, if you can keep it.”  People need to know about how the country is formed and how it operates for us to continue as a free society.

TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS:  So why is this necessary? Are these topics not already taught in our high school classes?

JAMESON BROGGI:  So this bill addresses the college-level requirement. So, thankfully, in North Carolina, the legislature has already passed a law requiring this in the high school, but there’s no law requiring this at the college level, unfortunately. And one thing that made me very interested in this is I saw from a lot of the surveys how little college graduates knew about our country and how our government works.  For example, in a recent ACTA survey, we saw that 10 percent of college graduates think Judge Judy is on the Supreme Court, and a third of Americans can’t even name a single right protected by the First Amendment, which includes freedom of religion, freedom of speech. And so that’s what we saw — the deficit at the college level.

So this would require it if you go to a public college in North Carolina, and the law is needed because on their own not a single public college in the UNC system requires students to take a class on American government.

TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS:  So does this apply to the community colleges as well?

JAMESON BROGGI:  Yes, it does. Yes, so it will require all students at the four-year colleges to take a three-credit-hour class and those at the two-year colleges. And I’ll note it only applies at the two-year colleges if you’re getting an Associate’s Degree, which all of the Associate Degree programs require students to take a certain number of general education requirements. For example, if you go get an applied degree in engineering at a technical college in North Carolina, you still have to take three credit hours in fine arts among your 15 credit hours of general education requirements. So there’s certainly room in the core, again, for those two-year degrees.

And we see nationally — this is not new here in North Carolina.  There’s at least eight states in the country that require college students to take a class on America’s founding documents, including at the community college-level.  And we see the minimum requirement of all these states is at least a three-credit-hour class. Some states require a lot more.  For example, Texas requires students to take 12 credit hours in American history, Texas history, American government and Texas government. So this North Carolina proposal is really kind of a reasonable, moderate proposal that students take a class in American government.

TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS:  Okay. So this is not a step out of the norm, though, there are other classes that the University Board of Governors requires?

JAMESON BROGGI:  The whole purpose of when you get a degree from a college is by virtue of getting a degree you’re meeting certain requirements, and that includes certain general education requirements that are applicable to all students, regardless of what you’re studying. And, again, one of the reasons this is needed is because what we see — the unbalance that the UNC system is currently doing.  For example, the UNC Chapel Hill requires all students to take three credit hours in global understanding. That’s a requirement. Some of the classes that students can choose to pick from to fulfill that global understanding requirement is some classes that are very unimportant. For example, students can take Geography 435, Global Environmental Justice, or Music 248, Gender on the Musical Stage, Women and Gender Studies 410, Comparative Queer Politics. And without you and I even commenting on the individual merits of these courses, I think we can point out that understanding our American government and our founding documents is more important than a class on global understanding. And Chapel Hill requires global understanding, but does not require a class on American government. That’s why it’s important for the legislature to require this.  The UNC system was created by state laws, and they’re here to serve the citizens, so I think it’s certainly appropriate for the citizens to have input and say, you know what, you’re not doing this. Here’s the gap we see. We need students to learn about our founding documents.

TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS:  So I know you mentioned some of the examples of people not knowing certain facts, which, of course, is important, but, I mean, what is it that we’re trying to accomplish through a bill like this? How do you hope that it might change, say, public discourse, or just anything else that might be a goal there?

JAMESON BROGGI:  Well, the founding principles of our countries is what allowed us to be free today.  I mean the very birth certificate of our country, the Declaration of Independence, states that, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights.  Among these are the life and liberty and pursuit of happiness.” This is really a wonderful principle that we can all unite behind as Americans.  But today so many people know so little about that, they think the government is there to provide you this benefit or that benefit. And government benefits can be a great thing, but the core function of government is to secure the rights of life and liberty. That’s what the Declaration of Independence states, that, “To secure these rights, governments are instituted among men deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

And so that’s why people need to know this.  These things must be taught and learned. That’s why — a lot of people know the quote from Ronald Reagan, where he said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream that must be fought for protected and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States when men were free.”  I love our country, and I want our country to continue to be great. And people have to know the freedom that we have and why it all works for us to continue as a free society.

TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS:  One section in the bill states, “The Board of Governors in its discretion may remove the chancellor of a constituent institution for failure to comply with a section over more than one academic year.” Do you expect or do they expect opposition from chancellors up to that point?

JAMESON BROGGI:  Yeah, that’s a good question. So a couple things, first of all, that’s not unusual for a state law to have a provision like that.  As we spoke about earlier, eight states have similar laws requiring a college class on the founding documents, and a couple of them have removal provisions in their laws themselves, including Arkansas and South Carolina, provide that if the colleges that follow the law, well, the board is empowered to remove the president. That’s all that’s here. And it’s like that with any job. People think, oh, man, that’s really intense. Well, if your boss hires, you and says, “Hey, I need you to do X, Y and Z.”  And you say, “Hey, I don’t want to do those things.” That’s okay. You don’t have to do those things, but you’re no longer going to work there because he’s going to hire someone else is going to do the job. It’s the same principle here in state government. And I’ll note it’s not mandatory in the bill.  It just says that if they do not follow the law for over a year, the board in its discretion has the that as an option.  It’s just one of the tools in their toolbelt to ensure that the law is complied with. And you may say, well, do we think that it’s needed? Well, we’ve seen from some examples in other states that sometimes that power is needed.

TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS:  Are you receiving opposition to this? And do you expect to have some opposition?

JAMESON BROGGI:  We have bipartisan support, but there is opposition from the UNC system and it’s covert.  Right now the UNC system has not publicly stated, hey, we oppose this. And they can’t do that. How can you oppose students reading MLK’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail, the Emancipation Proclamation, the Constitution?  They can’t do it overtly. So they’re doing it covertly, and they have a team of government relations specialists who are working against it, which is really unfortunate.  And their government relations team, the universities hire Republicans because that’s what they need to hire to be effective. And so they’re working covertly against it, and that’s why we knew, hey, this is obviously very needed in the bills that some of the opposition we are facing is from the UNC system itself.

TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS:  What are they saying is the reason for their opposition?

JAMESON BROGGI:  We may have our own ideas of why they’re really against it. I have my own ideas of why I think the administrators don’t want students to learn this. They don’t think it’s important, but some of their stated opposition — well, they’ll say, “Well, this isn’t appropriate for the legislature to determine this. This is only for the colleges. We get to determine this ourselves, what students take and don’t take.” Well, the problem with that is the colleges were created by the state. That’s how UNC exists in the first place, so it seems kind of absurd that citizens don’t get input on the government entities that they created. And the amount of control — this is extremely small here, 120-credit hour degree, we’re talking about three credit hours.  The General Assembly has delegated an incredible amount of authority to the colleges to run themselves, and with this bill, the General Assembly is reserving three of those credit hours saying, you know what, we want to dictate just three of these.  And that’s two and a half percent of an entire degree.  That is so low, but yet the colleges are upset about only having control of 97.5 percent of the degree. So that’s really how absurd some of their arguments are.

TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS:  And I would imagine they’re concerned about opening that door. So this would be the first time that the Legislature had required state universities to teach something specific?

JAMESON BROGGI:  Yeah, exactly. This is the only requirement that the General Assembly is asking of the colleges, the only one. We have said, hey, you can do whatever you want, but we created you and we just want to have one requirement of you. And of the one requirement, they don’t even want that.  It’s all about control for the universities that we want to go off and do our own thing. And the North Carolina General Assembly is saying, you know what, we want to join these eight other states who have for many years — some of these laws go back 100 years — have said, you know what, we want to delegate you an incredible amount of authority provided, however, you do at least one class on American government.

TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS:  Let’s talk about the REACH Act in South Carolina, which has already been enacted. How is this different? Have we learned anything from what South Carolina did, and will we do anything differently?

JAMESON BROGGI:  So if you look at the South Carolina REACH Act and the North Carolina REACH Act, the draft, that is, they are very similar. And if you look at the substance of the two bills, the law and the bill I should say, they’re almost identical, and most of the changes are just conforming changes to fit it into the North Carolina Code and the chapters in the North Carolina Code where this section would belong. Really the only really key difference, the South Carolina law says, hey, there needs to be a three-credit-hour class on America’s founding documents. And that kind of ended it at that, and these are the documents.  The North Carolina one says, hey, there’s gonna be a class on America’s founding documents.  Hey, by the way, you need to make sure you have an exam on those documents that weighs at least 20 percent of the total grade of the class. And the reason we put that in the North Carolina one is we saw in South Carolina almost universal compliance, but we did see a couple of colleges that had some creative things where they did where they took University 101, which is one of those freshmen kind of get acquainted with college classes and they just threw the founding documents in University 101 and had a little quiz on it and said, all right, that’s compliance. And the rest of the course wasn’t even about American government at all. And so this is simply saying, hey, make sure you have an exam and kind of really ensure this is fully and wholly about American government.

And I’ll note even in South Carolina, when that university did that, we had some other tool in the tool belt of the Commission on Higher Education and we actually ended that practice, but this is kind of a preventative measure, so we don’t even have to go in and fix the university. We can fix it right off the bat. 

TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS:  Okay.  So the North Carolina REACH Act, which is HB 96, where is that currently in the legislative process?

JAMESON BROGGI:  So we just got some exciting news yesterday.  This just passed the North Carolina House of Representatives, 69 to 47. And so the bill is now in the Senate, and there was already a Senate bill introduced that had 28 sponsors across both chambers. We have all four co-chairs:  the Higher Education Committees in both the House and Senate.  Senator Lee, Senator Gailey, Representative Pickett, Representative Hardister signed on as sponsors, which is really wonderful. So it’s past the House.  We did have bipartisan support in the House. I was hoping for a lot more. I was surprised we had 47 people vote against it, but right now we did have a big win yesterday.  It passed the House. We’re in the Senate now.  Looking forward to keep moving along.

TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS:  All right.  Well, tell us what we can do, then, if we want to follow along and see the progress of the North Carolina REACH Act.

JAMESON BROGGI:  Well, you can follow me on Twitter at Jameson Broggi. I’m just a guy. I don’t represent an organization. I’m a citizen in Morehead City. I’m a Marine, but this is just something I’ve been doing on my private time. I’ve taken four days off from the Marine Corps to be able to work on this.  So I don’t have a website, but if you want to see, hey, what’s the bill doing? What’s he doing? Yeah, you follow me on Twitter @Jameson Broggi.

TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS:  Okay.  And, of course, you can always go to and read it for yourself because it’s a fairly short bill, four pages or so. And Broggi, if you’re looking him up on Twitter is B-R-O-G-G-I. So Jameson Broggi on Twitter. All right. Well, thank you so much for joining us on Family Policy Matters.

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