The Illinois House of Representatives passed the Teaching Equitable Asian American Community History Act on Wednesday, which would require public elementary and high schools to teach Asian-American history as part of their curriculum.
The bill, HB0376, states that this action would take effect in the 2022-2023 school year, and says that “every public elementary school and high school shall include in its curriculum a unit of instruction studying the events of Asian American history…” This includes 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 bill states that this includes contributions of individual Asian-Americans in topics such as government, the arts, humanities, and sciences, but also involves contributions made by the Asian-American communities to the “economic, cultural, social, and political development of the United States.”
The bill says, “The studying of this material shall constitute an affirmation by students of their commitment to respect the dignity of all races and peoples and to forever eschew every form of discrimination in their lives and careers.”
The Illinois House of Representatives is controlled by Democrats and it passed the bill by a vote of 98 to 13, according to NBC News.
The outlet reported that only one lawmaker voiced concerns over the bill on Wednesday. Republican Avery Bourne said that she was in favor of efforts to enhance knowledge about Asian-American history, but she also believed that decisions regarding curricula should be in the hands of the school boards.
State representative Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz, a Democrat and co-sponsor of the bill, said, “Asian-Americans are a part of the American fabric but we are often invisible … Empathy comes from understanding. We cannot do better unless we know better.”
According to Chicago Sun Times reporting, state Representative Theresa Mah spoke of an instance of hate that happened to her less than two years ago. “A group of middle school students passing Mah and another Asian American yelled a slur at them,” the outlet reported.
“In that moment we were denied the full measure of our humanity by a preteen child,” she said. “One question that this bill is trying to answer is whether that child or other children would have uttered those words if they understood that Asian Americans are not perpetual foreigners to be objectified, but are part of the history that built this country.”
Gong-Gershowitz added, “We have been the victims of racialized violence and exclusion throughout American history,” saying that her grandparents faced “discrimination and deportation under racist policies codified in the Chinese Exclusion acts” but she was not taught about that in secondary or elementary school.
The bill also clarifies that the State Superintendent of Education can create and give all school boards materials that can help schools come up with ways to teach the curriculum. However, it specifies that each individual school board will decide how much time qualifies as a unit of instruction that would meet the requirements of the bill.
The bill now heads to the Senate for debate and a potential vote. Supporters of the bill say that if it is passed, it would make Illinois the first state to make schools teach a unit of Asian-American history.
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