TEAACH Act in effect this fall

Asian American history unit required for public school curriculum


State Rep. Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz (left) discusses political involvement with Glenbrook North and Glenbrook South students at a coffee shop, Glenview Grind, on Jan. 30. Gong-Gershowitz co-sponsored the TEAACH Act, which will alter the curriculum of Illinois schools to include Asian American history. Photo by Claire Satkiewicz

As the amount of hate crimes towards Asian Americans increased throughout the country, so did State Rep. Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz’s sense of urgency to file the Teaching Equitable Asian American Community History Act, also known as the TEAACH Act.

The act, which was passed in July 2021 with unanimous support from the Illinois Senate, amends the Illinois School Code, requiring public elementary and high schools to include “the history of Asian Americans in Illinois and the Midwest, as well as the contributions of Asian Americans toward advancing civil rights from the 19th century onward.”

“When Asian American students don’t learn about our own history, we lack context for our own experience, connection to one another and fundamentally a more complete and accurate understanding of who we are,” Gong-Gershowitz said in a video conference.

Beginning in the 2022-2023 school year, the U.S. History curriculum at Glenbrook North will be structured to include a unit of Asian American history.

Gong-Gershowitz co-sponsored the TEAACH Act with State Sen. Ram Villivalam. Until Gong-Gershowitz studied the constitutionality of the Chinese Exclusion Act at Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law, graduating in 2009, she struggled to place her own family’s past into American history, she said.

A key component of the TEAACH Act is the freedom it gives schools to determine how the act will be implemented in the classroom, Gong-Gershowitz said.

“I’m not an educator,” said Gong-Gershowitz. “I’m an advocate and a lawmaker, and so I’m actually excited to see the guidelines published from the [Illinois] State Board of Education and to see what educators have included in the unit of Asian American history and the resources that are available to students.”

According to Scott Williams, instructional supervisor of the Social Studies Department, the department is planning to fulfill the requirements of the TEAACH Act by weaving Asian American history into all U.S. history classes.

“All of our textbooks do a fair job of discussing Asian Americans,” said Williams. “The challenge is to make sure that we discuss Asian Americans as making great contributions to America and not simply as victims.”

According to sophomore Moah Son, a board member of Pan-Asian Student Society, she was relieved to hear the TEAACH Act had been passed.

Son believes being taught Asian American history in school will make a difference in her interactions with others, she said.

“People our age, or even any age, they make jokes, and they have a lot of stereotypes against Asian Americans.

“They think that it’s not a big deal, but it just kind of hits home,” Son said.

According to Gong-Gershowitz, she felt emotional seeing her father in the audience of the signing when Illinois became the first state in the nation to require Asian American history to be taught in public schools.

“I am the granddaughter of Chinese immigrants who fought deportation under the Chinese exclusion acts,” said Gong-Gershowitz. “And so, to be a member of the Illinois House of Representatives, to have the opportunity to pass a bill, that really is a watershed moment for Asian Americans in this country … it was one of the proudest moments of my life.”