TEAACH Act will address comprehensive Asian American, Pacific Islander history in Illinois public schools



Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., center, is joined by U.S. Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., third from left, at a news conference to discuss an Asian-American hate crime bill, Monday, April 19, 2021, in New York. Schumer is pushing for passage of the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act in the Senate. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

The Illinois House passed on April 14 the Teaching Equitable Asian American Community History (TEAACH) Act that will mandate comprehensive Asian American history in all Illinois public schools. 

After several racist attacks towards the Asian American and Pacific Islander community, both in Chicago and nationally, Illinois State Sen. Ram Villivalam and Rep. Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz proposed the act. 

Several organizations, including Asian American Advancing Justice Chicago (AAAJ Chicago), have sponsored the act in an effort for Asian American representation in public school curriculum. 

“I didn’t get exposed to comprehensive Asian American history until college,” said Ellen Zhou, a community volunteer at AAAJ Chicago. “For the first time in my whole educational career, I had felt seen.”

Asian Americans are a fast-growing population in Illinois, according to AAAJ Chicago’s website. However, historical events like the forced internment of Japanese Americans in the 1940s and The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 are not elevated in world and U.S. history curricula. 

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“The TEAACH Act is written broadly enough teachers can find ways to add more ideas instead of trends, instead of just transmitting knowledge,” said Tim Sermak, a history teacher at Grayslake North High School. “It’s incumbent upon teachers to allow kids to explore and with different ideas, even those ones that are uncomfortable.”

Other educational mandates, such as for Black and Latino history, have been passed and presented before the House. 

However, teaching racial and ethnic communities will require training for teachers, said DePaul adjunct faculty Ryan Yokota. 

“Once the mandate is put into motion, then there’s the question of training of the professional staff who will be delivering this content, all across the state,” Yokota said. “And so that becomes the second sort of challenge in this, is to ensure that educators across the state have the kinds of resources and training to be able to teach this subject matter effectively to their students.”

As hate crimes and xenophobic ideologies have increased in the last year, Zhou said she believes the lack in comprehensive education has contributed to these hateful ideas. 

“I think if we don’t understand our history, we might think ‘Whoa, where is this coming from?’” Zhou said. “But anti-Asian sentiment has been around. It’s not new, it’s just not as widely known as other forms of racism, because again, it’s been tied to that [historical] erasure.”

Yokota said learning in-depth Asian American history can teach the mistakes of the nation’s past. 

“These are important parts of U.S. history that serve as cautionary tales,”he said. “We’re learning about that is important in terms of showing the role that we have to play in making America as open and embracing and it’s just as equitable as possible.”

Comprehensive education could contribute to seeing how all racial and ethnic groups have contributed to the United States’ historical and cultural development. 

“If kids aren’t exposed to diverse perspectives in their institutions of socialization, and they’re not exposed to them in history class, then they’re never going to learn that it took, you know, it took all of these different groups to build America, to build the country that we see,” Sermak said. 

Some congressmen, such as Reps. Doug Lamborn (R-STATE) and Jeff Duncan (R-STATE), oppose teaching subjects related to critical race theory and critical ethnic studies with taxpayer money to students across the nation. 

However, Zhou said that learning her history empowered her as a Chinese American. 

“I just remember feeling really lost and unsure of [whether] my voice [matters] here,” she said. “It’s not even just simply like representation. I need to be honest to this identity that I hold near and dear to my heart.”

“How do I fully bring myself as an American to the table? Having history helps me,” Zhou added. 

The act will go into effect in all Illinois schools starting in the 2022-2023 school year.