Illinois imposes Asian American history on public schools: TEAACH Act

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CHICAGO – Illinois public schools will be required to teach an Asian American history unit as part of a new legal training, experts say, the first of its kind nationwide.

Illinois Governor JB Pritzker on Friday signed the Teaching Equitable Asian American Community History (TEAACH) Act, which mandates “a teaching unit studying events in Asian history, including history. Asian Americans in Illinois and the Midwest, the contributions of Asian Americans to the advancement of civil rights from the 19th century. “

“No state has ever done this,” said Sohyun An, professor of elementary and early childhood education at Kennesaw State University in Georgia. “This is a watershed moment in history in terms of the teaching of Asian American history in K-12 schools.”

The units are required by the start of the 2022-2023 school year.

Illinois State Representative Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz, a third-generation Chinese-American who co-sponsored the bill, said it “helps create a more inclusive and comprehensive understanding of the American history for all Illinois students and helped fight anti-Asian racism and xenophobia. “

“For the 100,000 Asian-American students of Kindergarten to Grade 12 in Illinois, this ensures that they see themselves properly represented,” she said in a statement earlier this year. “Asian American history is American history.”

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Gong-Gershowitz became moved during the signing ceremony. She said her grandparents came to the United States in the 1920s and settled in Portland, but it wasn’t until law school that she first learned about the Law on the exclusion of the Chinese and the internment of Americans of Japanese origin.

“The TEAACH Act will ensure that the next generation of Asian American students will not need to travel across the county or go to law school to learn something about their heritage,” Gong said. Gershowitz.

Stewart Kwoh, co-founder of the Asian American Education Project, called the Illinois bill “legislation that sets the tone.” About ten states are considering something similar, he said.

“There is a national movement to do some sort of ethnic studies. There is a struggle in terms of how ethnic studies will be presented,” Kwoh said. “Schools are forced to catch up.”

Some states are considering mandating “traditional ethnic studies programs,” such as a one-semester course in the history of Asian Americans and the Pacific Islands, Kwoh said. Others focus on integrating Asian American history into existing American history classes or offering shorter investigative classes on various groups.

According to Ting-Yi Oei, director of the Asian American Education Project, Oregon, for example, imposes an ethnic studies component in all grades, which incorporates content from Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. In California, a model ethnic studies curriculum was approved by the Board of Education in March, but there is no implementation plan for the state as a whole – it must be determined by local education authorities, Oei said.

Lawmakers and activists have long called for public education dedicated to the history of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, but the push has attracted increased attention amid rising hate crimes against these communities. during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The Stop AAPI Hate group collected reports on more than 6,600 hate incidents – which include both hate crimes and incidents of violence or discrimination – between March 2020 and March 2021. That month, a gunman reported opened fire on Atlanta-area spas, killing eight people, including six women of Asian descent.

In the first quarter of 2021, there was a more than 164% increase in reports of anti-Asian hate crimes to police in 16 major cities and jurisdictions compared to last year, according to a report from the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.

In the spring of 2020, the nonprofit Asian Americans Advancing Justice Chicago responded to the rise in anti-Asian violence by launching a campaign to include the history of Asian Americans in schools, according to Grace Pai, executive director of the group.

“We’ve seen examples in the Chicago area of ​​people being harassed or attacked because of their perceived identity, and I think everyone feels the need for something like that to get to the root of the violence,” Pai said.

Kwoh’s nonprofit, the Asian American Education Project, emerged from the Asian Americans Advancing Justice group last year. The project offers more than 50 lesson plans for teachers and has also started to organize free trainings for teachers.

During the signing ceremony on Friday, Illinois public school students spoke about their experiences growing up without the type of curriculum the TEAACH is intended to provide.

Kiana Yoshiko Kenmotsu, a Japanese American and fourth-generation high school student, said her PA American history class has previously held a mock trial over the internment of Japanese Americans.

“I was in disbelief when my classmates firmly believed that my Korean War veteran grandfather, my 442nd Regiment great-uncle, and thousands of innocent Americans were rightfully incarcerated,” Kenmotsu said.

Laura Houcque Prabhakar, a former student and now a teacher at Illinois public schools, said she was unable to learn more about her family history at home “due to the trauma of the refugees.” With little sense of history to help ground her identity, Houcque Prabhakar said at a young age that she struggled with what it meant to be Asian American.

“I don’t remember ever hearing of Asian American historical figures or Southeast Asian refugees like my own family, who survived the Khmer Rouge genocide. What I remember is that is to have felt a lack of pride in my heritage, ”said Houcque Prabhakar, a community leader with the Cambodian Association of Illinois.

Illinois bill comes after President Joe Biden signed the COVID-19 hate crime law in May, which aims to speed up the review of pandemic-related hate crimes and provide grants States to improve reporting of hate crimes. Representative Grace Meng, DN.Y., drafted the legislation.

Follow Breaking News reporter Grace Hauck on Twitter at @grace_hauck.

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