SKOKIE - On July 9, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker signed HB 376, the Teaching Equitable Asian American History Act, into law, making Illinois the first state in the nation to require a unit of Asian American history be taught in public schools. The monumental measure will ensure every high school graduate in Illinois will learn about Asian American history as well as the rich contributions and traditions of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community.
The legislation builds on the progress the state has made in ensuring the content taught in Illinois classrooms reflects the diversity of the people who call Illinois home. With the recent rise in acts of violence and bigotry against the Asian American community, teaching students about rich culture and important contributions of the Asian American community throughout history will help combat false stereotypes.
"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. "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.
"This TEAACH legislation will not only better educate all of our young minds about the contributions of Asian Americans and their communities and culture, but it will give our Asian Americans students a chance to learn about the experiences and stories they have a personal connection with," said House Speaker Emanuel "Chris" Welch (D-Westchester). "Illinois is now a leader for the entire nation, and it's our children, our future, who will be better because of it."
"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 measure builds upon the administration's commitment to creating more inclusive school environments and curriculums. In Governor Pritzker's first year in office, he signed a bill requiring Illinois schools to include the positive contributions of LGBTQ+ individuals in history lessons to foster welcoming classrooms for students of all gender identities. The administration also created the Affirming and Inclusive Schools Task Force to identify strategies to ensure supportive school environments and disrupt patterns of discrimination. Earlier this year, the administration reaffirmed their commitment to lifelong education by expanding Black history education requirements.
HB 376 takes effect Jan. 1, 2022.