The REACH Act Reminds Us Why We Teach American History

The REACH Act Reminds Us Why We Teach American History

The time is perfect for setting a new standard and for revising the Carolina Core to teach the essentials of the United States and remind all students of the original vision and heritage of America.

It wasn’t too long ago that I was an undergrad student at the University of South Carolina. I remember the anxiety of picking classes and planning future semesters all too well. To ensure that each student is receiving a well rounded (i.e. liberal arts) education, the university established the “Carolina Core:” a mandated curriculum consisting of a certain amount of credit hours in ten different foundational components. Students are offered a variety of classes to choose from within these components, but the hours must be met before he or she can graduate. If I was going to graduate on time, I had to first confirm that the courses I was taking fulfilled the Carolina Core before moving on to the requirements of my major.

One of the components required in the Carolina Core is “Global Citizenship and Multicultural Understanding: Historical Thinking.” As the name suggests, this component requires three credit hours (one class) of a history – regardless of the kind. The available sixteen classes range from two sections of United States History to “Film and Media History” and “Science and Technology in World History.”

While students may elect to take the “United States History to 1865” course and thereby learn about the founding of America and study the Declaration, the Constitution and other foundational documents, they are not required to. The REACH (Reinforcing College Education on America’s Constitutional Heritage) Act aims to rectify this.

Reinforcing A Current Law

Currently, Section 59-29-120 of the South Carolina Code, requires that all state supported high schools and universities “give instruction in the essentials of the United States Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Federalist Papers, including the study of and devotion to American institutions and ideals” culminating in a final exam. As noted in an article published by Palmetto Family, the REACH Act isn’t actually attempting to create a new law, but simply updating (and “reinforcing”) this law that has been in place for 95 years. However, just because a law exists doesn’t mean it is always being followed.

As is well documented, Harris Pastides, current president of the University of South Carolina, called the law “archaic” in 2014 and said that the University would not abide by it.

It appears as if the main issue that Pastides had with the original law is the portion that states that a student must prove the “power of his loyalty” before graduating.

An examination of loyalty certainly sounds like a McCarthy-era scare tactic, especially when used as a prerequisite for graduating, but the overall intention of the bill is admirable. When Pastides first made this declaration in 2014, Jameson Broggi wisely noted in The Daily Signal that,

“If the university believes a loyalty provision is constitutionally suspect, as it no doubt is, all it has to do is require classes on the Constitution but not examine a student’s ‘loyalty.’ In standard legal practice, if a court believes part of a law is unconstitutional, it will sever the problematic portion if the remaining parts of the law remain operable.”

Instead, the Carolina Core remained unchanged and a course on US History remained optional.

The Importance of History

History classes have always been marginalized in both secondary schools and higher education. There are an enormous amount of young people who know little to nothing about the founding of the country they live in. In 2014, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) found that only eighteen percent of eighth graders were “proficient” in US History – a small increase since 2001, but no meaningful change since the test was administered previously in 2010. If students are illiterate in American History entering high school, it is unlikely that they will truly learn any more in college, especially since it is an optional course.

To be fair, it should be noted that a public outcry over a lack of historical knowledge is not new. In 2011, NPR published an article recording the numerous headlines regarding the fact that students have never been “proficient” in history. In the article, education historian Diane Ravitch says, “we’ve been lamenting the state of history since 1943 and maybe even longer.” Of course, this does not mean that there is no cause for concern. Even if there never was a time when students exemplified great knowledge of history, we shouldn’t stop emphasizing it. History, specifically the founding and evolution of our country, is important after all.

“The process of historical inquiry – and what it teaches students along the way – is history’s greatest reward.” Jason Seinhauer writes for TIME. “Studying history teaches that society is not stagnant. Studying history teaches us to question how and why things change, who drives those changes, whose interests are served by them and who gets left out of the equation. History teaches that human actions have consequences.”

Likewise, Ravitch argues that the learning of historical facts is not necessarily the purpose of teaching history. If American teens have never been very knowledgeable about history, we can’t let the teaching of this context go. It is the context and knowledge of historical precedent that is important. “That’s why we can’t just laugh it off and say, ‘We’ve never known anything about history, so let’s forget about it,’” Ravitch says, “We can’t forget about it.”

Time for a Change

As a student teacher obtaining a Master of Teaching, I can vouch for most educators when I say that we do not generally like being told what to do in our classrooms. Interference from those with no experience in the school system is frustrating; however, high schools have always followed this law, so there shouldn’t be much change here.

As a recent undergraduate, I can say with certainty that we like choice. Still, I believe a US History course that “does not add to the total number of credit hours for any degree” is immensely important and could be implemented without sacrificing choice for a second history course.

The REACH Act removes the problematic question of loyalty that a student must demonstrate, and simplifies the length of instruction from “one year” to a manageable “three credit hours” and a final exam for universities. Additionally, it will be possible to exempt from the credits if a student passes an AP or dual-credit course that satisfies the requirement.

With these provisions, there is hardly reason to be upset. US History will finally be given a place of importance in higher education. With Pastides leaving his role as president in late July, the time is perfect for setting a new standard and for revising the Carolina Core to teach the essentials of the United States and remind all students of the original vision and heritage of America.

William Outlaw



The Death of Thanksgiving

The Death of Thanksgiving

As Thanksgiving arrives, let us set our eyes on all the items, opportunities and people we have already been blessed with.

Where did Thanksgiving go?  It’s no surprise to say that Christmas keeps coming earlier and earlier every year. It’s certainly not abnormal to see Christmas decorations up in stores and around town a week after Halloween! Christmas represents a lot of things to a lot of people, but for corporations and businesses, it means dollar signs.

It makes sense that businesses want to market Christmas so early, but the two-month long celebration has begun to usurp the more thoughtful and appreciative Thanksgiving. As Matt Walsh sarcastically writes, “Why give thanks for what you have when there’s so much you don’t have? That’s the new meaning of Thanksgiving: count your blessings, and then buy some more blessings and count them again.”

For decades, the day after Thanksgiving has been the most profitable shopping day in the world, but over the past several years Black Friday has become an even bigger consumerist phenomenon. Black Friday ceremoniously kicks off the Holiday season (between Thanksgiving and Christmas), which makes up almost a third of all annual retail sales. In 2011, when America was still climbing out of the Great Recession, many retail stores announced that they would be opening at midnight instead of the traditional 4 or 5 a.m. In subsequent years, Thursday evening openings has become the new norm, and pre-Black Friday deals are often introduced in early November.

While statistics point out that Black Friday sales have actually fallen, the introduction of Thanksgiving day sales are easily found culpable. Many lament this arguably exploitative move, but people keep coming year after year to land the best new deals. In 2016, over 101 million people went shopping on Black Friday, an increase of 27 million from the year before. Although the number slightly dipped last year, online sales more than made up for that, increasing by eighteen percent. In  2013, Wal-Mart’s U.S. CEO Bill Simon said, “If the traffic is any indication, [people] clearly want to shop on Thursday evening. We’ll provide that for them.”

According to Robert Moss, when South Carolina first started celebrating Thanksgiving (five years before it was made a federal holiday by President Lincoln in 1863), the Charleston Courier reported, “Our city presented a Sunday appearance. Business rested. The stones answered only to the wheels of light vehicles. The church-bells discoursed sweet music, and crowds flocked to the houses of worship.” What a sharp contrast to how we celebrate today. Everyone may be eager for the Christmas season for one reason or another, however; there’s no denying that, as a result, we are minimizing another great American (and worldwide) holidays. As Walsh again writes, “Thanksgiving let out a desperate cry as Black Friday devoured its soul, but we barely noticed. It’s hard to hear anything when you’re wrestling 4,000 other people for buy one get one free cargo shorts at Old Navy.”

Americans have a spending problem. Statistically, most actually spend more than what they earn. So, it’s not bad to want to get the best deals possible, and in fact, it may be simply good stewardship. However, when our lust for the “new” overshadows a day dedicated to giving thanks for all that we already have, it may be time to reevaluate. As the Christmas advertising ramps up, let us set our eyes on all the items, opportunities and people we have already been blessed with.

William Outlaw



The Troubling Statistics of Suicide and How the Faith Community Can Help

The Troubling Statistics of Suicide and How the Faith Community Can Help

There is still a long way to go in destigmatizing mental illness and opening the door for people to talk more freely about their darkest struggles in churches.

In his August 12 sermon, Andrew Stoecklein of Island Hills Church in California delivered a sincerely personal testimony regarding his recent struggles with both his mental and physical health that resulted in a forced four-month sabbatical from the pulpit. In the sermon, he used Elijah as an example of the type of honest vulnerability Christians should have with one another, especially when it comes to something as important as mental health.

“[Elijah] acknowledges that he is filled with anxiety and depression and suicidal thoughts. And you see mental illness on display. Now that is something that we don’t like to talk about much, do we? Especially not the church. And what’s odd to me about that is from cover to cover in Scripture, it’s filled with men and women who’ve struggled with their emotions and feelings and have been honest and we have these Scriptures that have been preserved to read and relate to these feelings and emotions,” Stoecklein said.

Only two short weeks later, the Christian community of Island Hills Church was met with news that Stoecklein had died in the hospital following a suicide attempt two nights before. Depression and suicide are not merely secular issues. The tragedy that unfolded at Island Hills Church emphasizes the troubling statistics of suicide and depression among both the general public and the Christian community.

In the U.S., the suicide rate has increased 25% from 1999-2016, and it is currently the tenth leading cause of death in the nation (and the second among college students). In South Carolina alone, the number of suicides per year has nearly doubled in the same time period. Despite what some may believe, Christians and pastors are not exempt from similar figures. According to a 2015 survey by the Schaeffer Institute, about 35% of pastors battle depression.

Although the figures continue to rise, the stigma surrounding mental health and suicide in particular has not shifted much in the past decade, especially within the church. 44% of pastors talk with their congregation about mental illness once or less per year. Maybe what people need is a place that accepts them for who they are and is willing to help them every step of the way.

Sammy Rhodes, the RUF campus minister at The University of South Carolina, has one all-encompassing question regarding the Christian community: “Is our ministry, is our church a safe place to be human and to be a sinner?” Church is undoubtedly a place we go to worship and fellowship with one another, but we often forget how a community of believers are also called to “spur one another on” (Heb. 10:24) and “bear one another’s burdens.” (Gal. 6:2)

“I think sometimes both people and pastors have…an unrealistic level of maturity or holiness that is not unimportant, but is maybe not realistic in terms of what it means to be sinful and what it means to need Jesus in that way,” Rhodes said. “If you’re in a toxic environment that has high expectations and low vulnerability then you…feel like the last thing you’d want to do is expose yourself in your struggles.”

Jamie Tworkowski, founder of the non-profit organization To Write Love on Her Arms, agrees that empathy is sadly missing from many conversations within the church. “What if Christians were known for meeting people in their questions, for being willing to meet people in their pain, willing to show up and sit in silence, willing to cry with someone?”  he asks in an interview with Relevant Magazine.

When vulnerability and openness are prioritized in a church body, it not only opens the door for others to speak about their struggles, but it also provides a social bond that all humans desire. An unrelenting sense of isolation is a common emotion felt by those gripped by suicidal thoughts, but churches can offer a sense of belonging unlike any other — one centered upon hope, love and forgiveness.

“I believe many struggle today because they are trying to solve their brokenness solely on their own strength and that is not God’s plan, because he wants us to be fully known, wholly loved, living abundant life with a living family, and on His mission,” the Discipleship Director at Clayton King Ministries, Josh Gardner says.

While a church body that prioritizes openness is an incredibly important step, there are other aspects that need to be considered. The Bible tells us that all humans are made of three distinct but interconnected components: the spirit, the mind and the body. Rhodes believes that, although it is undoubtedly with good intentions, many focus solely on the spiritual side and minimize or even neglect the mind and body.

“Ideally to me, when we are talking about giving people hope we are talking about the gospel, we are talking about what Jesus has done to radically change things for us forever, but I do think that means that we are also looking for help.” Rhodes said. “I think the church especially should be leading and saying ‘hey, we want to be helpful but also, here’s a great counselor that we trust and here’s a great doctor that you should go see’…one of the most loving things you can do is help people get the help they need.”

Likewise, Gardner adds that in addition prayer, “we allow God to heal through providing doctors in our area.  Media might portray Christians as people ‘of faith’ and not medicine and common sense but in reality, a great majority of Christians are not intimidated by either.”

There is still a long way to go in destigmatizing mental illness and opening the door for people to talk more freely about their darkest struggles, but the conversation has begun. “We need to keep teaching and training parents and teens alike. We need to keep praying. We need to get counseling if we have thoughts like this. We need to keep learning the cause and root of these problems in our midst. We must strike the root,” Gardner concluded. As always, there is hope.

For more, Palmetto Family Council recently ran another story regarding the positive relationship between faith, a community and mental health. If you or someone you know is in need of help, there are options available. You can start at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

William Outlaw



The Surprising Benefits of Video Games and the Unsurprising Consequences of Violent Video Games

The Surprising Benefits of Video Games and the Unsurprising Consequences of Violent Video Games

It’s clear that video games are already a primary source of entertainment for many young people and millions of adults…for better or worse.

More than ever before, video games are a centerpiece of American culture for all ages. In 2015, the Entertainment Software Association (ESRB) found that almost half of the American population played video games in some capacity. Of those 150 million players, about 26% were 18 years old or under and about 97% of Americans ages 12-17 are gamers. However, as the industry continues to grow, all parents, teachers and public officials should be aware of both the potential benefits and pitfalls video games have to offer.

Benefits of Playing Video Games

Video games have been questioned in recent years in a way that closely mirrors the condemnation of comic books in the 1950s, but, as a medium alone, video games are not inherently harmful. In fact, they can provide several surprising cognitive and mental health benefits. As an interactive medium, games prioritize abilities such as decision making, hand-eye coordination and multi-tasking. All of these skills can be improved upon by playing just about any genre of video game, but action games in particular can be more beneficial because of the speed required. As Peter Gray of Psychology Today says, “video games appear to build [the basic building blocks] of intelligence faster and more efficiently than any other intervention anyone has devised.”

While the power of improving cognitive and physical skills is impressive, perhaps an even greater advantage of playing games is the effectiveness in combating depression. For years, video games and depression have been negatively linked, but new research finds that people are actually playing games to fight their illness. In an article written for Slate, Jane McGonigal provides an in-depth overview of how gaming is a type of self-medication for many people suffering from depression. According to a study at Stanford University, video games hyperstimulate the regions associated with motivation and learning or memory. McGonigal notes that “these two regions of the brain..are the same two regions that get chronically understimulated, and that even shrink over time, when we’re clinically depressed.”

This self-medication can certainly be dangerous, as an escapist attitude can lead to an inability to deal with the real world. However, a purposeful and regulated amount of playing can be incredibly beneficial. Games can be used as a way to express creativity, practice team work, socialize with friends, think about moral issues or even learn about a specific historical moment. Playing with a purpose can alleviate symptoms of depression and provide a better sense of self efficacy.

The Negative Consequences of Violent Video Games

Unfortunately, many video games also come with a negative side. On March 8, in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, President Trump invited several prominent executives of the video game development and publication community to talk about the potential effects of video game violence on juveniles. President Trump showed a “violent video game sizzle reel” that exhibited distasteful and controversial scenes from seven relatively recent games. While the reel that President Trump displayed could be criticized for picking and choosing the most violent content available without context, there is still much to be said concerning the problematic material shown.

Two of the most cited groups that promote the correlation between virtual and actual violence are the American Psychological Association and American Academy of Pediatrics. In their studies, both groups found strong links between violent video games and increases in aggressive behavior. In more recent studies, the correlation (or lack thereof) has been questioned (over 200 scholars are even asking that the APA rethink their “outdated and problematic statements on video game violence”), but that doesn’t mean that this type of violent media is acceptable, especially for the under-age teenagers who often get a hold of such games.

Many popular gaming franchises are built around shooting mechanics or swordplay, but like any other form of entertainment, games come in all sorts of genres that can range from military shooters to farming simulators. Likewise, these genres can vary wildly in their content. The ESRB uses five categories for game ratings: Everyone, Everyone 10+, Teen, Mature and Adults Only (which has only been used five times in the past twelve years). All of the games shown in President Trump’s reel were rated Mature.

In addition to “Violence,” Mature rated games almost always have further objectionable descriptors such as “Strong Sexual Content,” “Use of Drugs” or “Strong Language.” So, while it is contextually important to note that these violent games are not marketed towards young people, there are many additional reasons as to why parents should be cautious of letting their children select games without supervision. In an NPR interview with Ari Shapiro, Iowa State University psychology professor Douglas Gentile asserts “that the more children consume media violence…they do become more willing to behave aggressively when provoked.” However, Gentile does take extra caution to not put video games in a different category than music, film or tv. “We used to think that video games would have a much larger effect than passive media like TV or movies,” he says, “But the research has not seemed to bear that out.”

A complete dialogue on the role of pop culture in a Christian’s life is far beyond the scope of this piece, but we must consider where mature video games belong for any believer. First, it is critical that we do not engage in entertainment that may hinder us in our walk with Christ or our witness to others. Philippians 4:8 (NIV) commands us: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” The complication is that much digital entertainment has “noble” features that certainly glorifies God to some extent, while others grieve Him. Romans 14:13-23 further encourages us to think about our freedom in Christ to judge for ourselves what is admissible as long as we do not cause others to stumble.

While the video game industry is much younger than film and television, it’s clear that this medium is already a primary source of entertainment for many young people and millions of adults as well. There are more genres of games than many people realize and it is essential to note the myriad of ways that games can be a positive entertainment source. Still, there is much to be said for the troubling violence and amount of corrupt content in a wide variety of games as well. Certain video games can greatly benefit the development of the brain and combat depression, but parents also have a responsibility to ensure that the video games children and teens are playing do not contain morally inappropriate content and are suitable for their age and maturity level.

William Outlaw