Illinois becomes the first state in America to require Asian American history to be part of the public school curriculum.
Last Friday, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed House Bill 376 or the Teaching Equitable Asian American Community History (TEAACH) Act which mandates Asian American history be taught in public schools in the state. This act is seen as a step in cementing the undeniable contribution of Asian Americans to the nation.
Starting in 2022-2023 school year, public elementary and high schools are required to “include in its curriculum 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.” This also involves the impact of Asian Americans in the government, science, humanities, and arts as well as the economic, social, cultural, and political influences in the development of the country.
Aside from the bright contributions and positive side of Asian American history, the law also states that it includes “the study of the wrongful incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II and the heroic service of the 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team of the United States Army during World War II.”
The bill was proposed last year by Illinois State Rep. Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz and Senator Ram Villivalam. However, it was only given much attention recently with the spike of racial violence against the AAPI community. In a release earlier this year, Rep. Gong-Gershowitz said that this bill is for the Asian American K-12 students in the state, “it ensures they see themselves accurately represented. Asian American history is American history.”
Meanwhile, Sen. Villivalam shared the same view, adding that “students from all backgrounds need to learn about the history of people from different cultures and ethnicities to help them understand the systemic inequities that exist today.”
Now that one state has taken the lead, this move creates an expectation for other states to follow the trail. According to Stewart Kwoh, co-founder of Asian American Education Project, the bill is a “pace-setting legislative measure” and about 10 states are considering doing the same. "Because of violence against Asians and the George Floyd murder, there's a big push around the country for ethnic studies. States are at different stages of passing something," he said.
There is much to look forward to with how this law will be implemented. It’s heartening to see that the administration’s response in renouncing racial biases and discrimination is education. Still, there are much more to be done—collaborative, consistent actions from both the government and the people.