SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Illinois has become the first state in the U.S. to require a unit of Asian American history to be taught in its public schools.
Gov. JB Pritzker signed the Teaching Equitable Asian American History Act into law Friday. The legislation is meant to ensure every high school graduate in the state learns about the history, contributions, and traditions of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community.
Beginning in the 2022-2023 school year, every public elementary school and high school in the state will be required to include a unit of instruction studying the events of Asian American history, including the history of the community in Illinois and throughout the Midwest.
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, as well as the contributions of Asian American communities to the economic, cultural, social and political development of the U.S.
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.
In a statement, the governor’s office said it hopes teaching students about the rich culture and important contributions of the AAPI community will help combat false stereotypes amid the rise in acts of violence against Asian Americans.
"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," Pritzker said.
"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," said State Representative Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz (D-Glenview).
House Speaker Emanuel "Chris" Welch (D-Westchester) added that the curriculum will also give Asian American students a chance to learn about experiences and stories they may have a personal connection with.