AAPI History Required in Illinois Schools

Posted by on Oct 27, 2021 in Education

The Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) population represents less than six percent of the total U.S. population. But there is more effort being made to better teach this group’s importance in the history of the United States. The state of Illinois has taken steps to require more study of Asian American history as part of its public-school curriculum. But what exactly does that mean? Here, btw takes a closer look.


black and white photo of young Americanized Chinese women in New York's Chinatown
Women of Chinese descent in New York’s Chinatown neighborhood.

In July, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker signed a bill that will require each elementary and high school to teach a unit of Asian American history. The new law will take effect January 1, 2022. ISchools will have to teach about the many political, economic, and social contributions of the Asian American community to the United States, as well as the history of Asian American civil rights. The law does not specify the amount of time the schools should be spent on the unit. The state superintendent can provide guidelines and materials, but it will likely be up to individual districts, school boards, and teachers to determine what content will be taught. This means that the content taught will vary in different school districts.

Illinois is the first state to pass such a law. A group called Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Chicago worked to convince the state’s politicians and the governor that this change was needed. Dr. Natasha Warikoo, a Tufts University Sociology professor, said that the aim of this legislation is a good one. Sociological research shows that non-AAPI Americans tend to view Asian Americans as foreign and outside of the mainstream culture. Improving education on the important history of the AAPI community in the United States will help to combat that misunderstanding.


An Ohio legislator is trying to get a similar law passed in her state. In mid-October, Senator Tina Maharath and Senator Kenny Yuko co-sponsored a new bill to make Ohio the second state to incorporate Asian American history into the public school curriculum. This requirement would also add a regional focus on the role of the AAPI community in Ohio and the Midwest specifically.

In 2018, Maharath became the first Asian American woman ever elected to the Ohio Senate. The daughter of Laotian refugees, Maharath has faced racism in her personal life and career. She feels that learning AAPI history would help people like her have a better understanding of, and pride in, their own past. Currently, Maharath’s bill is waiting in the Senate Education Committee.

New York and Wisconsin

In April 2021, there was a rise in anti-AAPI violence in New York because of misplaced blame on Asian Americans for the COVID-19 pandemic. This motivated several New York state legislators to co-sponsor a bill with a similar aim to the one passed in Illinois. However, the New York version brings with it some stricter guidelines. The state Board of Regents would create a common course of study, with the assistance of the State Commissioner. In Wisconsin, a bipartisan group of legislators introduced a similar bill in May 2021 that would require the addition of AAPI history and culture to curriculum for all grade levels.

Dig Deeper Use Internet resources to learn more about the term Asian American and Pacific Islander, specifically what national origins are categorized under the term. Then find the five U.S. states with the highest AAPI populations. Create a graph to illustrate your findings.