Laura Zhang Choi, a Greenwich Township Board of Education member, Sima Kumar, a board member with Make Us Visible New Jersey and Dr. Ying Lu, associate professor at the NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development, share an array of insights on how to incorporate the contributions, history and heritage of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders into the K-12 curriculum in the latest episode of “Education Matters.”
Ray Pinney, director of county activities and member engagement at the New Jersey School Boards Association, spoke with the three women about why incorporating this content into teaching is so important in the latest episode of his popular video series.
It’s a timely topic as in January, Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation (S4021/A6100 and S3764/A3369) that will ensure that the contributions, history and heritage of the AAPI community are included in the New Jersey Student Learning Standards for Social Studies for students in kindergarten through grade 12. The legislation created an AAPI curriculum requirement for schools and established the Commission for Asian American Heritage within the New Jersey Department of Education.
Curriculum should act as “mirrors and windows,” Choi said. The mirrors allow you to see yourself reflected in what you learn about, and the windows allow you to learn about other people.
“While we cultivate and nurture that culture, it creates a sense of belonging for all children,” she said.
Kumar spoke about how the push to pass legislation came as a result of anti-Asian feelings in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Education is the antidote to hate,” she said. “I see in the classroom our students are part of the most racially and ethnically diverse generation our country has ever had. It’s about time that the curriculum they are teaching in the classroom reflects these demographic changes.”
The increase in anti-Asian sentiment after the pandemic erupted has been “very concerning,” Yu said. “We felt we needed to do something,” she said. She added that over the past 10 years, the Asian American population in New Jersey has surged by 10% and yet there continues to be an underrepresentation of Asian American educators.
Choi applauded the work that Make Us Visible New Jersey is doing, stating, “We need to continue to have these movements, but movements are reactionary, and I hope when there is enough prevention, we won’t need to have as many movements in the future because we won’t have as many anti-Asian incidents in schools and across the country.”
Kumar addressed the inclusion of AAPI content into the curriculum, noting that the approach should not be about cramming one more thing into teaching. “I think the better way to think about how to implement the AAPI bill is the bill allows teachers to integrate and infuse AAPI units and literature into units that already exist in the teacher’s curriculum,” she said.
While opinions vary, she urged educators to avoid segregating the experiences of various American groups by aligning teaching with certain heritage months. “From my vantage point, teaching literature by Latin Americans in October, Black Americans in February and Asian Americans in May is just another way of segregating Americans,” she said. “The history of America is a multicultural story from its inception” – and the history of various groups needs to be infused throughout the curriculum, she said.
The three women also shared resources for educators on how to incorporate AAPI content into the curriculum as well as examples of it in action.