Asian American History Requirement Starts in Illinois Public Schools

By Eunice Alpasan 

Starting this school year, every public elementary school and high school in Illinois must include a unit of instruction on Asian American history.

Illinois became the first state to implement the requirement when Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the Teaching Equitable Asian American Community History Act, or TEAACH, into law last summer.

“We need to teach students the honest history of the United States and show all the ways that Asian Americans both have been victimized and also have been champions of justice in their own communities and in solidarity with other communities,” says Grace Pai, executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice Chicago.

The organization is hosting free development workshops for Illinois educators to prepare them to teach lessons on Asian American history.

The Illinois State Board of Education will enforce the mandate by surveying all schools and including the mandate in the first three years of its annual survey, Pai said.

Because of the state board’s limited scope, she hopes students, parents, teachers and community members will ask their schools and districts about how they will implement the TEAACH Act.

Mueze Bawany, an English teacher at North-Grand High School in Chicago, said some of the ways he plans on incorporating Asian American history in his class is through a graphic novel unit and a poetry unit.

“I often thought about my experiences and not being able to understand my story and my history, and it kind of felt like looking into the mirror and not seeing anything back,” Bawany said.

“The opportunity for Asian American students in our district to be able to learn, to learn their stories and also for others from so many different backgrounds to learn the stories of Asian Americans in this country, it’s just beautiful,” Bawany added. “This is what education is about, right?”

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