A member of Asian Americans Advancing Justice at a protest against cash bail in September 2020. Credit: Facebook

CHICAGO — Chicago teachers can now attend free seminars to learn how to better teach Asian American history.

All public elementary and high schools in Illinois are required to teach Asian Americans’ historical contributions under a law passed in April 2021, the Teaching Equitable Asian American Community History Act.

But many teachers don’t know about the law or weren’t prepared for the change this school year, said Esther Hurh, an education professional development consultant with Asian Americans Advancing Justice Chicago.

Now, Asian Americans Advancing Justice is hosting the free seminars to introduce educators to Asian American-centered themes and teaching tools.

“You tend to teach things you are familiar with,” Hurh said. “Many instructors had very little exposure to Asian American history because it was very invisible when they went to school. It creates a barrier for them to teach it to their students.”

Asian Americans Advancing Justice intends to fill the gap by providing accessible instructional materials and seminars, Hurh said. The workshops focus on two major themes: the model minority stereotype and the perpetual foreigner myth, which often discounts Asian Americans as Americans, she said.

The group prepared free teaching materials that highlight the contributions of Asian Americans toward advancing civil rights from the 19th century onward, Hurh said. More than 240 teaching units are now available in its database.

More than 350 teachers have attended the workshops so far, which will be offered throughout the school year, Hurh said.

The next workshop is 10 am.-noon Nov. 5, with additional seminars planned for Nov. 14 and 30. Educators can learn more and register online.

Courtesy: Asian Americans Advancing Justice Chicago

Because the legislation has no funding to support it, it is challenging to get the resources needed to teach Asian American history into the hands of the students and instructors, said Anne Saw, associate professor at DePaul University. Saw volunteered with Asian Americans Advancing Justice last year to create the workshops.

With the help of dedicated community members, Asian Americans Advancing Justice took a grassroots approach to develop accessible teaching materials, Saw said. But it requires further efforts to raise awareness of the law and begin applying it in schools, she said.

Saw, a psychology professor and mother of two children, said she has already witnessed the law’s impact on her own children.

“I understand from my research how children’s identities are formed at a young age,” Saw said. “It is very meaningful to make sure kids can see their own experiences being reflected in the classroom.”

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