How will ethnic studies and Asian American studies affect my child?
By Frances Kai-Hwa Wang
When my son, who we all call Little Brother, was in fifth or sixth grade, he was having trouble getting his homework done. So in order to get him to sit at a desk where I could keep an eye on him, I started taking him with me to the evening class that I was team teaching at the University of Michigan. I thought that I could just park him at the back of the classroom with his math book and papers, and he could quietly work on his homework without disturbing anybody. It never occurred to me that he would find an upper division university course on Asian American and Pacific Islander civil rights interesting.
But he was fascinated.
He was raising his hand and asking questions.
He did not get a lot of math done that semester, but we always had the best conversations on the drive home.
Governor Gavin Newsom recently signed a bill that makes California the first state in the nation to require ethnic studies as a high school graduation requirement. After years of debate and curriculum development, California students will be able to learn about African Americans, Chicanos and other Latinos, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, Native Americans, Jews, Arab Americans, Sikh Americans, and Armenian Americans in high school.
“It’s been a long wait,” said Assemblyman Jose Medina who authored the legislation. “I think schools are ready now to make curriculum that is more equitable and more reflective of social justice.”
With so many COVID-19 inspired anti-Asian American hate crimes, Illinois passed the TEAACH Act this summer to require the teaching of Asian American history throughout K-12 curriculum. Michigan and Ohio are now working on similar legislation.
These moves are in stark contrast to what some other parents around the country are doing to disrupt this more inclusive approach to American history, afraid of what they mistake for critical race theory, which is not actually taught in K-12 schools anywhere. Critical race theory is the study of how race systemically impacts the execution of the law, and is generally only taught in law school.
Instead, some people try to ban books about social justice, uninvite authors of books with protagonists of color, and insist teachers teach “both sides” of the Holocaust.
Children are naturally drawn to issues of fairness and justice. Perhaps that is why some parents are so afraid.