Illinois becomes first state to require teaching of Asian-American history in schools

Illinois became the first state to require that Asian American history be part of its public school curriculum.

Governor JB Pritzker on Friday signed a bill that requires elementary and secondary schools to teach an Asian American history unit from the 2022-2023 school year. The landmark legislation, which was passed after an aggressive campaign led in part by the nonprofit Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Chicago, is expected to come into force on January 1.

Sociology professor Natasha Warikoo, an expert on racial and ethnic inequalities in education at Tufts University, said the legislation is undoubtedly a victory, but that it will likely be up to educators and the community to determine in how much emphasis schools will place on teaching. .

Illinois Governor JB Pritzker signed the Asian American History Fair Teaching Act on Friday. Illinois is the first state to require the teaching of an Asian American history unit in public schools.Office of Governor JB Pritzker

“Much of the legislation regarding these kinds of program decisions is often symbolic. They are signals from lawmakers about priorities and where they stand and what is important to the state,” Warikoo said. “What actually happens on the ground is going to vary wildly,” depending on “local politics, staff and feelings of capacity over who the student body is.”

The law requires schools to teach “the contributions of Asian-American communities to the economic, cultural, social, and political development of the United States” in addition to the advancements in the civil rights of Asian Americans, among other aspects of history. Although it indicates that the state’s superintendent of education can provide material that can be used as guidelines for the curriculum, the law allows each school board to determine the minimum time required to be considered a a teaching unit.

Warikoo said schools often aim to ensure that material is taught to a specific standard by including questions about the topics in standardized tests, but the tactics don’t necessarily take into account the depth of instruction.

“Some teachers may take it upon themselves to do all of this reading in the summer, put together material, write new curriculum content, but for the most part, we can’t really expect that. And that doesn’t really do. part of the job, ”Warikoo says. “If there is training and resources provided, I think that’s the best way to make sure it really has an impact.”

Warikoo said including Asian American history on the agenda is critical to changing discriminatory perceptions.

“There is research on Asian Americans, and it shows that a majority of people are more likely to view Asians as foreigners. You see an Asian face, you assume they’re foreigners. And I think it’s partly because we don’t know the history of Asians in the United States, “she said.” I think it can alleviate that kind of prejudice against Asian Americans by making them part of the history of the United States. “

The debate over Critical Race Theory, the academic study of the impact of racism, has sparked an uproar among educators, lawmakers and other groups. Warikoo said it is difficult to determine whether the law, which inevitably affects race, could move the conversation forward, especially because many who oppose such an academic study have not been clear on the element they oppose. However, she said, she suspects the bill may have generated support with little opposition due to the way it was portrayed.

“The legislation on the history of Asian America is acceptable because it can be presented as a matter of diversity, not as ‘we are talking about racism’,” Warikoo said. “Whites feel extremely hurt by this accusation – whether they are racist or have benefited from racism. … The phrase” white supremacy “is also triggered in a way that” the history of Asian America “is not.”

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