The United States education system is failing in almost every aspect, but nowhere is this seen more than in the humanities. In a recent poll by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, it was found that 44% of adults failed to name all three branches of government. Of these adults surveyed, 25% could not name even one branch of government, and 26% could not recall a single right guaranteed by the First Amendment.

This isn’t an issue only affecting adults; however, as it has been found that among American eighth graders, only 13% of students are proficient in history, 22% are proficient in civics, and 40% of these students are below the standard when it comes to knowing U.S. history. This is why the passage of H.B. 96 (NC REACH Act) is so important. This bill would fight to reverse these statistics by ensuring that college students graduating from the UNC system have had at least three credit hours of instruction in U.S. history or U.S. government.

The embarrassing numbers reported above are undoubtedly a result of a society that has nearly abandoned an emphasis on the study of the humanities. For time immemorial, education, especially higher education, was dedicated to the study of history, philosophy, languages, religion, writing, and culture. However, since at the least the midway point of the 20th century, Americans and their education systems have placed an emphasis on STEM and business-related fields almost to the exclusion of all others. This has created a generation of “educated” citizens who are wholly unable to understand or think in ways that are beneficial to areas such as law, political philosophy, fine arts, and religion.

In a 2020 report from MIT, it was found that a meager 10% of all bachelors degrees awarded were for students in a humanities-related field. One caveat to this already sobering report is that this study included communications as a humanities field, and approximately 25% of the humanities degrees found were bachelors of communications. Thus, the actual number of bachelor’s degrees awarded for students in traditional humanities degrees were less than the stated 10%. Contrast this with the numbers for degrees awarded in STEM fields (23%), business (19%), and health fields (13%), and it is easy to see that the humanities have fallen by the wayside.

So why does this matter? What distinguishes the humanities from the other above-mentioned degrees is that instead of teaching an exact way in which one is to operate in a field, it teaches students how to think critically. Rather than learning how to perform a surgery, or start a business, or write code, the student of the humanities (in its proper form) is taught how to examine philosophical matters, how to examine historical events and their implications for today, how international relations and cultures operate, how to read and understand classical texts, and how to construct logically coherent and consistent arguments.

Thus, instead of teaching a very specific set of skills and operations for use in a single trade, the student of the humanities is extensively taught about a myriad of topics applicable in almost any workplace. When the majority of students are classically educated in the humanities, a population is well rounded in its understanding of its own and others history, it is able to write well, to speak eloquently, and to evaluate and think critically. None of these characteristics, as a result of an emphasis on other fields, are applicable to the youth of today by and large.

This is why the passage into law of H.B. 96 by the North Carolina legislature is so important. Should this bill be signed into law, all students at an institute of higher education in the UNC System will be required to take at least three credit hours of instruction in a U.S. history or government class. In this class, each student must read the U.S. Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the Emancipation Proclamation, five essays from the Federalist Papers, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s Letter from Birmingham Jail, the Gettysburg Address, and the North Carolina Constitution. With this instruction included as a pre-requisite, it cannot be said that the graduates of the UNC System will be uneducated or uninformed of the humanities pertaining at least to this country and state.

While H.B. 96 is a fantastic place to start, it is but one step in the right direction. Ideally, it would once again be required of students to take at least one class in Western Civilization, if not the traditional two. Many private schools in North Carolina currently have these requirements, including my Alma Matter Campbell University. With a renewed focus on the humanities, we can ensure that the students graduating from the UNC System not only are educated in the history and foundational texts of this country, but also that they are equally as educated in civics as those graduating from private universities.