By Brianna Lim, AsAmNews Intern
Illinois Governor J. B. Pritzker signed the Teaching Equitable Asian American Community History (TEAACH) Act on Friday, the first law of its kind.
The TEAACH Act would require Illinois public schools to include a unit of Asian American history starting in the 2022-2023 school year.
The unit should include, “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 lessons will require more than glossing over to landmark events in Asian American history; they will dive deeper into events like the Japanese incarceration camps and Chinese Exclusion Act.
AsAmNews spoke to Norman Chen, a co-founder of Leading Asian Americans to Unite for Change (LAAUNCH) about the new law. He believes a well-rounded history is necessary in order to learn about different cultures, avoid repeating past mistakes, and appreciate greater diversity. “Fight bias at a young age,” he says.
“As the fastest growing race/ethnic group in the U.S., it is important that people understand the contributions and challenges faced by our community over the past 250+ years since we first began to come to this country,” he notes. “Only then can people understand that the anti-AAPI hate incidents are part of repeated cycles in American history of stereotyping, scapegoating and racism/violence.”
In March of 2021, LAAUNCH performed a landmark study of 2766 American attitudes towards Asian Americans. The Social Tracking of Asian Americans in the US (STAATUS) index revealed eye-opening data surrounding the prevalence of prejudice against Asian Americans.
According to the data, nearly 80% of Asian Americans feel discriminated against in the U.S. This data point perhaps reflects the statistic that 24% of White Americans say anti-Asian racism isn’t a problem that should be addressed. In addition:
- 20% of Americans say Asian Americans are more loyal to their country of origin than to the US
- 26% of Republicans still believe China Virus, Wuhan Virus or Kung Flu is an appropriate term
- Nearly 50% of non-Asian Americans believe Asian Americans are fairly or over-represented in leadership positions, despite data showing AAPIs severely underrepresented
- Perhaps most startling: When asked to name a prominent Asian American, 42% of Americans were unable to do so, and top answers were Jackie Chan (11%) and Bruce Lee (9%)
These statistics are indicative of just how tragically misinformed the American public is about Asian Americans, and they call for education reform.
Chen identifies next steps to combatting the “othering” of Asian Americans as requiring Asian American history to be taught in schools across the nation.
The passage of this bill is a clear move towards a more inclusive education, and a direct response to the rise in hate-crimes against Asian Americans since the onset of the pandemic.
The goal of this new law is to have students commit themselves to respecting “the dignity of all races and peoples and to forever eschew every form of discrimination in their lives and careers.”
These lessons will recognize “the contributions made by individual Asian Americans in government and the arts, humanities, and sciences, as well as the contributions of Asian American communities to the economic, cultural, social, and political development of the United States.”
During the TEAACH Act signing ceremony, Governor Pritzker cited injustices such as these as the “call to action” to make real progress. He hopes the law will “elevate Asian American voices” and teach “history to include those who have been historically silenced.”
In an emotional statement, State Representative Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz (D) described the importance of representation in history class: “Empathy comes from understanding. We cannot do better unless we know better. A lack of knowledge is the root cause of discrimination and the best weapon against ignorance is education.”
Illinois is a national leader when it comes to advanced history education in its public schools. In 1990, Illinois became the first state requiring lessons on the holocaust in its elementary/high schools. Subsequently, the state has also required the teaching of the positive contributions of LGBTQ individuals, as well as an expanded Black history curriculum that includes the history of Black Americans before slavery and the socioeconomic effects that resulted. With the signing of this new act, Illinois has become the first state to require Asian American history to be taught in its public schools.
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