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Illinois becomes first state in country mandating Asian American history curriculum in public schools

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Posted at 8:31 AM, Jul 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-28 11:31:23-04

Over the course of the last 16 months, hate incidents against Asian Americans rose drastically in response to the pandemic.

According to Stop AAPI Hate, more than 6,000 incidents of verbal and physical abuse have been reported to them.

To combat the issue, Illinois recently passed a bill mandating Asian American history is taught in the classroom, and other states across the country are looking to do the same.

“Education at its best is an equalizer,” said Colleen Chan, a teacher and parent in Colorado. “I don’t think social studies textbooks have changed very much since I was in school 20 years ago. In my son’s history textbook, there was one caption on Korean Americans, one page on the Japanese Amache internment camps, which were concentration camps in our own country, and there was not even a mention of the Chinese laborers who built the railroads.”

Since eight people at three day spas in Atlanta were killed by a gunman in late March, the topic of teaching Asian American history as a way of promoting understanding between cultures has become an important talking point in state legislatures.

California, Oregon, and Connecticut have also expanded teaching multiculturalism, which includes lessons on the AAPI experience.

“[Asian Americans] are missing from the classrooms and often [feel] invisible,” said Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz, a state representative from Chicago who championed the state’s bill mandating Asian American history. “That leads to a sense of exclusion, and it also means that others treat Asian Americans with a sense of xenophobia, a sense of foreignness, and yet we are Americans.”

While districts in Illinois have yet to draft what the curriculum might look like, it requires a unit of Asian American history is taught in elementary school, and then expanded upon during high school.

“We have received calls [and] emails from those who frankly want to express hate as a response to what they’re seeing in the world,” said Gong-Gershowitz. “We cannot do better unless we know better.”

Both Chan and Gong-Gershowitz say they want the new Asian American curriculum to be a springboard for teaching students about other multicultural backgrounds in public schools as well.

“I strongly feel that including multicultural perspectives in literature, in social studies curriculum is how we’re going to heal this country,” said Chan.