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Pritzker signs legislation requiring Asian-American history to be taught in public schools

Illinois State Capitol in Springfield. (Photo via Good Free Photos)

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker signed HB 376, the Teaching Equitable Asian American History Act, into law last week.

The law makes Illinois the first state ito require a unit of Asian American history be taught in public schools.

“Today, we are reaffirming our commitment to creating more inclusive school environments. We’re making Illinois the first state in the nation to require that Asian American history will be taught in public schools, including a unit about the Asian American experience,” said Pritzker in a statement. “We are setting a new standard for what it means to truly reckon with our history. It’s a new standard that helps us understand one another, and, ultimately, to move ourselves closer to the nation of our ideals.”

The legislation adds a new section on Asian American history study to the Illinois School Code. Beginning with the 2022-2023 school year, every public elementary school and high school will be required to include a unit of instruction studying the events of Asian American History, including the history of Asian Americans in Illinois and the Midwest.

“Asian American history is American history. Yet we are often invisible. The TEAACH Act will ensure that the next generation of Asian American students won’t need to attend law school to learn about their heritage,” said State Rep. Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz (D-Glenview). “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.”

“This historic measure makes Illinois the first state in the nation to set a standard for culturally competent Asian American history curriculum,” said State Sen. Ram Villivalam (D-Chicago). “This milestone offers students of all backgrounds cross-cultural education, and ensures that the stories and experiences of our communities are accurately reflected in the classroom. As the son of Indian immigrants and representative of one of the most diverse districts in the state, I am proud to have sponsored this legislation.”

The bill specifies that the curriculum should include:

  • The contributions of Asian Americans toward advancing civil rights from the 19th century onward
  • The contributions made by individual Asian Americans in government, arts, humanities, and sciences
  • The contributions of Asian American communities to the economic, cultural, social, and political development of the United States.

While the legislation specifies topics that should be addressed in the curriculum, the state will not require or designate a specific curriculum for school districts. The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) is authorized to make instructional materials available to all school boards; however, each school board will determine the minimum amount of instructional time that qualifies as a unit of instruction as stated in the bill.

This bill follows the Inclusive Curriculum bill Pritzker signed into law two years ago requiring LGBTQ history to be taught in public schools. The Pritzker administration this year committed to expanding Black history education requirements.

HB 376 takes effect on January 1, 2022.