Social Studies

Illinois Becomes First State to Require Teaching Asian American History in Public Schools

By Dan Petrella, Chicago Tribune — July 09, 2021 3 min read
070921 AAPI Bill Illinois AP BS
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

In the wake of increased anti-Asian violence during the coronavirus pandemic, Illinois on Friday became the first state to require Asian American history to be taught in public schools.

Under the measure Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law Friday, every public elementary and high school in the state will be required to include a unit on the history of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, including their history in Illinois and the Midwest. The requirement begins during the 2022-23 school year.

State Rep. Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz, a Glenview Democrat and one of five Asian Americans in the Illinois legislature, said during a bill-signing ceremony at Niles West High School that she didn’t learn about the Chinese Exclusion Act and her grandparents’ struggles with discrimination and the fear of deportation until she was in law school.

“My family’s story, or at least what I knew of it until law school, was the fairy tale version of the quintessential American immigrant story, one that paints a picture of success, achievement and belonging,” said Gong-Gershowitz, who sponsored the legislation in the House. “It’s all true, except that it’s not the whole story.”

Teaching about that history, along with the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II and the contributions people of Asian descent have made to American history and culture, will lead to greater understanding, both for fellow Asian Americans and for others, Gong-Gershowitz said.

This is particularly important in the face of anti-Asian sentiments and violence, she said, tying the recent rise in such incidents to the pandemic and its origins in China.

“Empathy comes from understanding, and we cannot do better unless we know better,” Gong-Gershowitz said.

The measure was approved on a 108-10 vote in the House, where some Republicans argued that curriculum decisions should be left up to local school districts. It passed without opposition in the Senate, where it was sponsored by Democratic Sen. Ram Villivalam of Chicago, the first Indian and Asian American to serve in the chamber.

While the Illinois State Board of Education will provide guidance, it will be up to local school districts to determine the specifics of what is taught and how much instructional time should be devoted to the subject.

See Also

The crowd at Hing Hay Park responds to speakers calls to "fight hate"and against the attacks, physical and verbal on Asian Americans during a rally to speak out against anti-Asian hate and violence on March 13, 2021 in Seattle.
A crowd at Hing Hay Park in Seattle protests physical and verbal attacks against Asian Americans during a rally earlier this month.
Alan Berner/The Seattle Times via AP

The law is the latest in a series of new requirements Pritzker has signed that aim to make the teaching of history in Illinois schools more inclusive.

Earlier this year, the governor signed a measure backed by the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus that expands requirements for teaching Black history in public schools, including instruction on the centuries before enslaved people were brought to America.

Pritzker signed a measure into law in 2019 that required schools this year to begin teaching about the contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people as part of the history curriculum.

The governor, who helped found the Illinois Holocaust Museum and whose great-grandfather was a Ukrainian Jewish refugee, said Illinois has a long track record of making its history curriculum more inclusive, including in 1990 becoming the first state to require public school students to learn about the Holocaust.

“We are setting a new standard for what it means to truly reckon with our history,” Pritzker said. “It’s a new standard that helps us understand one another and ultimately move ourselves closer to the nation of our ideals.”

Still awaiting action from Pritzker is a more controversial proposal that would require schools that choose to teach sex education to adhere to new state guidelines that align with national standards. The measure, also sponsored by Villivalam, would require “age-appropriate” teaching of topics including consent, gender identity and sexual orientation.

Copyright (c) 2021, Chicago Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.


Jobs Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
English-Language Learners Webinar English Learners and the Science of Reading: What Works in the Classroom
ELs & emergent bilinguals deserve the best reading instruction! The Reading League & NCEL join forces on best practices. Learn more in our webinar with both organizations.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
Challenging the Stigma: Emotions and STEM
STEM isn't just equations and logic. Join this webinar and discover how emotions fuel innovation, creativity, & problem-solving in STEM!
Content provided by Project Lead The Way

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Social Studies Opinion What Black Parents Think About How Black History Is Taught
The preferences of Black parents are rarely the focus in debates over Black history instruction. Here’s what these survey respondents had to say.
LaGarrett J. King
3 min read
A group of parents look at a book, another parent blocks a child's access to the book
Camilla Sucre for Education Week
Social Studies Opinion What I Wish I Knew About Teaching Black History Before I Left the Classroom
Bettina L. Love explains how she struggled to portray Black icons as real people in the early days of her teaching career.
4 min read
Photo illustration of colorful 60's geometric design patterns mimicking screen-printing over historic photograph. - Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., center, addresses a gathering in the riot-torn area of Los Angeles, Aug. 18, 1965. Bayard Rustin, King's aide, is at left.
Vanessa Solis/Education Week + AP Photo/Don Brinn, File + Getty Images
Social Studies Opinion Who’s Improving Black History Education for Everyone? Three Stand-Outs
Recent highlights in Black history education, from the Center for K-12 Black History and Racial Literacy Education’s LaGarrett J. King.
LaGarrett J. King
2 min read
Overhead view of people interacting with colorful books on a table.
Camilla Sucre for Education Week
Social Studies Opinion I Train Teachers to Teach Black History. Here’s What I’ve Learned
Here’s how I’ve tried to reclaim Black history from the margins—and how you can do the same.
Abigail Henry
4 min read
A group of teachers gather around a textbook excited about the content.
Camilla Sucre for Education Week