Illinois becomes first U.S. state to require Asian-American history in schools

By Nathan Layne

(Reuters) – Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker signed a bill on Friday requiring public schools to teach Asian-American history, the first such step by a U.S. state amid rising concerns about violence against people of Asian descent.

The bill mandates the teaching of a unit of Asian-American history in public elementary and high schools starting in the 2022-2023 school year.

“We are setting a new standard for what it means to truly reckon with our history,” said Pritzker, who signed the legislation into law at a high school in Skokie, a suburb of Chicago.

Educating children about the contributions of Asian Americans in U.S. history would help curb the proliferation of false stereotypes and discrimination, the Democrat governor said.

Led by advocacy group Asian Americans Advancing Justice in Chicago, supporters had been promoting the bill since early 2020. But it gained traction in the state legislature following the deadly attacks on Asian women in the Atlanta area in March.

Many Asian communities have been on edge amid a wave of violent incidents targeting them following lockdowns to cope with the coronavirus pandemic, which emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.

The Teaching Equitable Asian American History Act says the curriculum should include teaching of the efforts made by Asian Americans to advance civil rights, as well as their contributions to the arts and sciences and to the economic and cultural development of the country.

Grace Pai, Executive Director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice in Chicago, said the bill would benefit the more than 100,000 Asian American students from kindergarten through high school in Illinois.

“So many students don’t get a chance to learn about the contributions of their communities or the migration stories of their families, contributing to feelings of being ‘othered’,” Pai said in a statement.

(reporting by Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut; Editing by Andrew Heavens)