Grace Hauck, USA Today, July 9, 2021
Amid a dramatic rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic, the governor of Illinois signed a law Friday requiring public schools to teach a unit of Asian American history – a move education experts said is the first of its kind nationwide.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the Teaching Equitable Asian American Community History (TEAACH) Act, which mandates “a unit of instruction studying the events of Asian American history, including the history of Asian Americans in Illinois and the Midwest, as well as the contributions of Asian Americans toward advancing civil rights from the 19th century onward.”
The units are required by the start of the 2022-2023 school year.
“No state has ever done this,” said Sohyun An, a professor of elementary and early childhood education at Kennesaw State University in Georgia. “It is a watershed moment in history in terms of teaching Asian American history in K-12 schools.”
Illinois State Rep. Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz, a third-generation Chinese American who co-sponsored the bill, said it “helps create a more inclusive and comprehensive understanding of American history for all students in Illinois and helps fight anti-Asian racism and xenophobia.”
“For the 100,000 Asian American K-12 students in Illinois, it ensures they see themselves accurately represented,” she said in a statement this year. “Asian American history is American history.”
Gong-Gershowitz became emotional at the signing ceremony. She said her grandparents came to the USA in the 1920s, but it wasn’t until law school that she first learned about the Chinese Exclusion Act signed in 1882 that restricted immigration for decades and the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.
“The TEAACH Act will ensure that the next generation of Asian American students won’t need to travel across the county or attend law school to learn something about their heritage,” Gong-Gershowitz said.
Stewart Kwoh, co-founder of the Asian American Education Project, called the Illinois bill a “pace-setting legislative measure.” About 10 states are considering something similar, he said.
“There’s a national movement to pass some kind of ethnic studies. There’s a struggle in terms of how the ethnic studies will be presented,” Kwoh said. “The schools are being forced to catch up to the interest.”
Some states consider mandating “traditional ethnic studies programs,” such as a semester-long course on Asian American and Pacific Islander history, Kwoh said. Others are focused on integrating Asian American history into American history courses or offering shorter survey courses on various groups.
Oregon mandates an ethnic studies component in all grades, which incorporates Asian American and Pacific Islander content, according to Ting-Yi Oei, director of the Asian American Education Project. In California, an ethnic studies model curriculum was approved by the Board of Education in March, but no implementation plan for the state as a whole exists – it’s to be determined by local educational authorities, Oei said.