New Jersey requires schools teach Asian American history: 'Education is the best antidote for hate'

Mary Chao

New Jersey is now the second state to require Asian American studies in its public schools after Gov. Phil Murphy on Tuesday signed the measure into law.

The bills, which state Senate and Assembly voted overwhelmingly for, allow local boards of education to pick instructional materials, but a proposed Commission on Asian Heritage in the state Education Department may also assist in the process.

The combined legislation will ensure the contributions, history and heritage of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are included in the New Jersey Student Learning Standards for Social Studies. It will also establish the Commission for Asian American Heritage within the Department of Education. 

“The members of our Asian American Pacific Islander community have contributed so much to our state and nation,” Murphy said in a statement. “By teaching students about the history and heritage of our AAPI community, we can ensure that the diversity of our state is reflected in our curriculum and create a more tolerant and knowledgeable future for New Jersey.”

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New Jersey follows Illinois in requiring public schools to teach Asian American history after Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the Teaching Equitable Asian American Community History (TEAACH) Act in July 2021.

Expanding education is important amid a dramatic rise in hate crimes against the Asian American and Pacific Islander community, which has been scapegoated for the COVID pandemic, said Kani Ilangovan from Make Us Visible New Jersey, which advocates for including AAPI studies in K-12 curriculums.

"All children deserve to know they belong. All children deserve to feel safe," Ilangovan said. "This law will help ensure Asian Americans are represented in our great American story."

According to the latest nonprofit Stop AAPI Hate report, one in three Asian Pacific parents said their child experienced a hate incident in school in this past year.

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"With the rise of anti-Asian violence, education is the best antidote to hate," Ilangovan said.

Incorporating instruction on the history and contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders means that New Jersey schools can provide a curriculum that reflects the diversity of the state, said Angelica Allen-McMillan, acting state commissioner of education.