The Fight to Teach Asian American History
Amid national debates over critical race theory, some states are pushing for more diverse curriculums.
This is the Education Briefing, a weekly update on the most important news in American education. Sign up here to get this newsletter in your inbox.
Today, we’re covering the fight for Asian American history classes and previewing two education cases at the Supreme Court.
Ribbons with messages of peace, love and hope at a public elementary school in New York’s Chinatown last month.Credit…Michael Loccisano/Getty Images
Asian American history lessons
After a series of violent attacks against Asian Americans across the country, some state lawmakers are focused on making sure schools teach students about the contributions of Asian Americans to the economy, the government and the culture of the United States.
It’s a movement that in some ways runs counter to efforts by Republicans across the country to block curriculums that emphasize systemic racism. As our colleagues Trip Gabriel and Dana Goldstein reported this week, these efforts are part of a broad strategy by Republican politicians to run on culture-war issues in the 2022 midterm elections.
The movement to teach about Asian American history took its largest step forward this week in Illinois, where a bill known as the Teaching Equitable Asian-American History Act was sent to Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s desk. The legislation would require that the state’s public elementary schools and high schools teach units about Asian American history.
A spokesman for Pritzker, a Democrat, did not respond to an inquiry about whether the governor planned to sign the bill. But if enacted, the bill would be “a watershed moment in Asian American history education,” said Sohyun An, a professor of social studies education at Kennesaw State University in Georgia, who has studied the extent to which Asian American history is taught in U.S. schools.
She said that, to the extent that state standards require history curriculums to include the experiences of Asian Americans at all, they generally only require teaching about two things: the experience of early Chinese immigrants to the United States and the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Little attention is paid to the role of Asian Americans in the civil rights movement or labor movements, she said.
Legislators in New York have introduced a bill similar to the one in Illinois. And in Wisconsin, a bipartisan group of legislators is pushing a bill that would require school districts to teach students about Hmong Americans and Asian Pacific Islander Desi Americans (a term that includes people of East Asian, South Asian, Southeast Asian and Pacific Islander descent), in addition to teaching them about Native Americans, Black Americans and Hispanic Americans, as required under current law.
Two big Supreme Court cases
The Supreme Court usually saves its most consequential decisions for June, the final month of the annual term. This year, the justices will most likely rule on one major education-related case and decide whether to hear another in the fall. We wanted to give you a preview.
Brandi Levy.Credit…Danna Singer/A.C.L.U., via Reuters
Case 1: School speech, on and offline
Background: In 2017, a 14-year-old filmed an expletive-filled video off-campus and posted it to Snapchat, frustrated that she hadn’t made varsity as a cheerleader. A coach saw a screenshot and suspended the student, Brandi Levy, from the squad for a year. (Listen to last month’s episode of the Daily about the case.)
Stakes: The ultimate question here is whether a public school can discipline off-campus speech, especially online behavior and social media use, without infringing on the First Amendment.
Background: In 1969, the court allowed students to wear black armbands to protest the Vietnam War. But it said disruptive speech, at least on school grounds, could be punished.
Argument 1: The suspension violated Levy’s right to off-campus free speech. “Her message may seem trivial,” Levy’s lawyer said, “but for young people, the ability to voice their emotions to friends without fear of school censorship may be the most important freedom of all.”
Argument 2: Times have changed, and schools can discipline online speech. “The internet’s ubiquity, instantaneous and mass dissemination, and potential permanence make the speaker’s location irrelevant,” a lawyer for the school board said.
Things to consider: The justices may send the case back to a lower court instead of issuing a sweeping ruling about student speech and social media.
Harvard University.Credit…Elise Amendola/Associated Press
Case 2: Race-conscious college admissions
Background: A group of Asian American applicants to Harvard says the school intentionally discriminated against them. In November, a federal judge ruled that the college’s admissions process, although “not perfect,” does not violate civil rights law.
Stakes: If the Supreme Court takes the case for the fall term — a reasonably safe bet — affirmative action in higher education will again be in peril. The conservative strategist behind the case told our colleague Anemona Hartocollis that he hoped a court decision in favor of the Asian American plaintiffs would “end all considerations of race in college admissions.”
Methodology: The court has said that the proposition that diversity enhances education is the sole permissible rationale for taking race into account in admissions decisions.
New research: Our colleague Adam Liptak reported on a recent study that found that articles published by prestigious law reviews were cited more often after the journals adopted diversity policies for choosing student editors. That “lends credibility” to the idea that diverse groups perform better, researchers concluded.
Things to consider: In 2016, the court upheld the constitutionality of a similar admissions program at the University of Texas. But justices in the court’s conservative bloc have also indicated a willingness to reconsider more than four decades of affirmative action.
Around the country
The Virginia Theological Seminary is giving cash to descendants of Black Americans who were forced to work there. The program is among the first of its kind.
A new state-sanctioned report found that the Virginia Military Institute must be held accountable for failing to address institutional racism and sexism, The Associated Press reports.
Howard University will rename its newly re-established College of Fine Arts in honor of the actor Chadwick Boseman, an alumnus.
A judge temporarily blocked a law that would allow people to carry firearms at Montana‘s public universities, The A.P. reports.
Check out inspiring excerpts from 14 commencement speeches that don’t include the word C*vid.
A good read from Slate: After a year of virtual interviews, some medical schools may do away with on-campus interviews, which can be prohibitively expensive for applicants.
Children mostly don’t need masks outdoors, the C.D.C. said, which could have big implications for summer camps.
Teachers in Tulsa are committed to teaching students about the 1921 race massacre, The 74 reports, despite recent legislation in Oklahoma banning conversations about certain aspects of race in the classroom.
About 60 percent of students in the Washington, D.C., area have not learned in a school building since March 2020, The Washington Post reports.
Officials at West Scranton High School in Pennsylvania sent students home on Tuesday amid fears that a bobcat was loose in the building, WNEP reports. They were wrong, but a very happy family got their house cat back after it went missing three months ago.
Illinois may soon prevent schools from banning traditionally Black hairstyles, Chalkbeat reports.
A good read from The Times: Dalee Sullivan, 18, thinks her school erred in tabulating grade-point averages. She couldn’t afford a lawyer, so she represented herself in a Texas court.
A good read from The Boston Globe: For 15 years, an independent contractor hired by the Boston Public Schools pressured students to participate in unorthodox group therapy sessions that some students described as emotional abuse.
Teens need a break this summer
“In the more than two decades I’ve spent as a psychologist working with adolescents, I have never seen teenagers so worn down at the end of an academic year as they are right now,” Lisa Damour writes in The Times.
After a dark and lonely year, teenagers are now eligible for Covid-19 vaccinations, and this summer is wide open. But Damour urges families to keep pressure low, and not try to get teens to use the time to “recover lost ground” or even “put the past year behind them.”
Instead, she frames this past year as “the psychological workout of their lives,” and urges parents to give them time for recovery to prepare for the next.