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Illinois Becomes First State To Make Teaching Asian American History Mandatory

“Students from all backgrounds need to learn about the history of people from different cultures and ethnicities to help them understand the systemic inequities that exist today.”

Illinois has become the first state to require all public schools include Asian American history in their curriculum following a year in which hate crimes against Asians and Asian Americans spiked dramatically. Under the Teaching Equitable Asian American History (TEAACH) Act, which Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law last week, every public elementary and high school in Illinois must educate students on Asian American history and, specifically, the history of Asian Americans in the Midwest and Illinois.

“Today, we are reaffirming our commitment to creating more inclusive classrooms by making Illinois the first state in the nation to require Asian American history be taught in public schools,” Pritzker wrote when announcing he had signed the TEAACH Act on Twitter. “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.”

According to the law, schools must adjust their curriculum to include Asian American history before the 2022-2023 school year. Additionally, schools will be required to teach students about the contributions Asian communities have made to the United States’ economic, cultural, social, and political development. Students will also learn about the contributions individual Asian Americans made in government, the arts, humanities, sciences, and toward advancing civil rights.

State officials hope the new law will help combat prejudice and false stereotypes against Asian Americans. “The TEAACH Act helps create a more inclusive and comprehensive understanding of American history for all students in Illinois and helps fight anti-Asian racism and xenophobia,” Illinois State Rep. Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz, who introduced the bill, said in a statement released earlier this year.

The bill’s co-sponsor, State Sen. Ram Villivalam, has said he also sees the law as an opportunity to open children’s eyes to systemic inequities. “Students from all backgrounds need to learn about the history of people from different cultures and ethnicities to help them understand the systemic inequities that exist today,” he said in a statement.

Gong-Gershowitz also hopes the law will provide better representation for Illinois Asian American students. "For the 100,000 Asian American K-12 students in Illinois, it ensures they see themselves accurately represented," she said in her statement. "Asian American history is American history."

Illinois’ new law comes shortly after data analysis from the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, found that anti-Asian hate crimes jumped 169% from the first quarter of 2020 to the first quarter of 2021.