Could This be the Key to Fighting Anti-Asian Hate?

After a resurgence in attacks against Asian Americans in the wake of the pandemic, what students learn in the classroom could help extinguish the hate.

Could one of the answers to fighting anti-Asian violence come in the classroom? That’s one of the ideas behind a new bill in the New York State legislature that would require public schools to teach Asian American Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander history. After a resurgence in attacks against Asian Americans in the wake of the pandemic, what students learn in the classroom could help extinguish the hate. And there would be other benefits as well.

Studies show that inclusive curriculum and culturally responsive teaching builds self-esteem, resilience, and academic engagement among students who finally get to see themselves in the lessons they learn. And it reduces bullying and harassment fueled by ignorance, helping young people grow into adults who embrace diversity.


[00:00:00] Simon: Welcome to Rights This Way, a podcast from the New York Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of New York State. I’m Simon McCormack, Senior Staff Writer at the NYCLU, and your host for this podcast, which is focused on the civil rights and liberties issues that impact New Yorkers most.

Could one of the answers to fighting anti-Asian violence come in the classroom? That’s one of the ideas behind a new bill in the New York State legislature that would require public schools to teach Asian American Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander history after a big spike in attacks against Asian Americans in the wake of the pandemic.

What students learn in the classroom could help extinguish the hate. And there would be other benefits as well. Studies show that inclusive curriculum and culturally responsive teaching builds self-esteem, resilience, and academic engagement among students who finally get to see themselves in the lessons they learn.

And it reduces bullying and harassment fueled by ignorance, helping young people grow into adults who embrace diversity.

[00:01:11] Jonathan: Hi, my name is Jonathan, I’m from Queens, New York, and I just recently graduated from Benjamin and Cardoza High School. So, the first time I ever learned about AAPI history, or something related to AAPI history was the Chinese Exclusion Act in my social studies class. But it was very surface level.

And from there, like we didn’t really touch anything else that included the Asian American diaspora here in the United States. And as I’ve gotten older, like I took a AP US history, and I started learning about the Vietnam War. When you learn about the Vietnam War in high school or middle school, often we learned that the United States tried to take down communism.

They failed and so the United States came back home and then that’s it. And then Vietnam became one country. But in many ways that history that we’re learning in the classroom completely fails to recognize like our family’s trauma and the trauma that still exists to this day. For me, like it’s so important that we’re teaching AANHPI history in the classroom. And I think that when you present history that reflects who we are in the classroom, we’re also able to acknowledge the ways that we can build solidarity with other communities of color.

And we will be able to finally have those important discussions in the classroom and allow future generations to finally feel like they’re reflected.

[00:02:28] Simon: Now I’m joined by two guests. Kenny Nguyen is the Director of Youth Programs at the NYCLU’s Education Policy Center. And Kulsoom Tapal is the Education Policy Coordinator at the Coalition for Asian American Children and Families. Kenny, Kulsoom, welcome to Rights This Way.

[00:02:49] Kenny: Hello.

[00:02:50] Kulsoom: Hi. Thanks for having us.

[00:02:52] Simon: So, I guess just to kick this conversation off, Kenny you actually wrote a blog for us fairly recently talking about the bill we’re gonna be discussing here today, and it, it starts off with your own experience of learning Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander history, which we’ll refer to here as AANHPI history.

So, I just wanted to ask you both, what your own personal experience was with that education.

[00:03:22] Kenny: Yeah. I honestly can like barely remember any lessons on AANHPI history growing up. And like, to be fair, I wasn’t like, history was never my best subject. But the lack of like representation in the classroom for me, I think had a long-lasting impact, kind of, like growing up. And, you know, we talked a little bit about the Vietnam War specifically, is what I can remember in like my history class.

You know, my parents are refugees from Vietnam, and we never really talked about the war too much when I was at home with them, you know, they would bring it up a little bit. And so, I was excited to, like, learn about it in our history class, but it just felt very like isolating having kind of everyone like turn around and like look at me.

And instead of feeling like proud that we were talking about it, I was almost felt a little bit like embarrassed. And I don’t remember exactly what grade that is. That might’ve been like 10th or 11th grade. But that is like the one specific memory I have of learning AANHPI history, like anything regarding AANHPI history.

So, it wasn’t like the best experience. And it wasn’t until like later on in life where I was like, let me read more about it to learn more about different perspectives of the Vietnam War that I definitely didn’t learn about, you know, in my education experience.

[00:04:35] Kulsoom: Yeah, I have to echo that. I think any, like, AANHPI history I remember learning, it was like an add-on, like paragraph two sentence at the end of an entire unit. So, and even like very large significant moments in US history that directly impacted AANHPI existence was still distilled in like a paragraph or a few sentences, right?

Like I’m thinking the Chinese Exclusion Act, Japanese internment camps, these global wars that resulted in a massive refugee crisis, and things like that. All of these instances, I don’t remember it getting a lot of attention in the classroom. And I certainly, like from a personal experience, don’t remember really feeling seen even in units where now I’m realizing that, you know, AANHPI folks were there. They were leading, they were a part of those movements and thinking like the civil rights movement, large labor movements in this country. Significant moments that we learn about. Myself, I didn’t see my community present in those movements because I wasn’t taught that we existed.

[00:05:48] Simon: And that Makes me think. What are some things, and Kulsoom you kind of touched on some of them, but I, I’d love to go into a little bit more depth on what are some of the things that a fully fleshed out AANHPI curriculum would touch on? Again, I know you didn’t bring like a, a syllabus or anything, but like, you know, just uh, just to give some idea, some context of the sorts of things that students probably aren’t learning now that they could be.

[00:06:14] Kulsoom: Yeah. I think for me it’s more so important to conceptually understand certain concepts than it is to like memorize dates or specific facts. And so, like conceptually, I would love for, and, and I, our bill, you know, mentions this, but the curriculum to convey like a student leaving the classroom at the end of the year, that they have understood that there is historic examples of solidarity between marginalized communities. That they take away that AANHPI folks existed in, you know, the Industrial Revolution or during World War II or any of these large units of history that we’re taught.

In terms of like specific content, I think just making sure that the delivery of said topics is comprehensive. And so, we’re not just focusing on contributions of AANHPI folks without acknowledging structural harms or policies or things that happened in the past that have prevented accomplishments or prevented AANHPI folks to be in certain spaces.

I think an ideal curriculum kind of grapples with all of those things simultaneously.

[00:07:32] Kenny: I think Kulsoom, like said it really well. I think our community is just so big and diverse and our experiences are so vast and to be able to talk about, not just like what brought us here to the United States, but also our accomplishments and there’s just so much nuance to really delve into and I just hope that any kind of AANHPI curriculum would really delve into that and not just, again, be like, this is the date when this war started and ended.

And not talk about like what led to that war, who was involved, who was impacted. I think all of that has to kind of be discussed in any history curriculum. And so, I think that’s what I would really push for when it comes to kind of creating AANHPI history curriculum.

[00:08:13] Simon: And to further flesh out, why do you think, from an academic standpoint, is AANHPI history important and, and here i’m not so much thinking the certain subject areas or the benefits you’ve already outlined. I know there’s some research, Kenny, that you mentioned in the blog that shows that it is helpful for students to have this kind of history, but just to talk a bit about some of the academic benefits.

[00:08:39] Kenny: Yeah, so some of the studies, you know, show that when students are taking classes that really, frankly, discuss like racism and bigotry, students tend to be more engaged. And that makes a lot of sense, right? Like, first of all, when you see yourself represented in the classroom, you think, oh, I wanna learn more about this person or this event.

I want my classmates to learn more about it so they can see that like, I might not be the only AANHPI person here in this classroom, but there’s many more of us doing things out there as well. But also, when you’re able to connect racism and bigotry throughout history with what’s happening in current events,

it shows that racism is not just this thing that happens one time, it’s something ongoing. And it helps students to kind of connect the dots a little bit and really realize there are systems out there putting communities kind of against each other or marginalizing communities and to realize that everything is interconnected in this way so that history doesn’t repeat itself.

And I think that really helps students to feel more engaged when they’re learning about these topics and feeling like, okay, what I’m learning about in this history class matters so that we can’t let this happen again. Like we need to make sure that any racism or discrimination can end here.

And so, I think, from an academic standpoint, having students learn about all kind of communities history is important so that they can really understand where we’ve come, how far we’ve come, and also how much further we have to go.

[00:10:00] Kulsoom: Yeah. I mean definitely like, I think Kenny covered it, a lot of it. One thing I’ll add is just, for me, it’s, you know, yes, representation is really important, and seeing yourself in the textbook and seeing your communities or your ancestors there like represented is important. But also, just acknowledging that there is like a hostile environment that’s created when there’s misunderstandings between people, right?

And so, if we aren’t learning each other’s history, if we aren’t learning about each other’s identity, then there is room for misunderstandings. There’s room for stereotypes to be perpetuated. A big problem in the AANHPI community is that we’re often subject to the model minority myth and having history that really breaks that down and demonstrates through facts that, you know, we’re not a model minority, nor are we a monolith.

That can help prevent stereotypes that can lead to race-based bullying, that can lead to harassment. And of course, you know, this is in some ways common sense, but like harassment and bullying, these sorts of things, of course impact a student’s mental health and mental wellbeing. And this is not just for students who are on the receiving end of said bullying, but also students who may be causing that harm may not even fully understand like the harm that they’re causing. Right?

And so, a lot of the, the teaching and the history that we’re advocating for here is for the collective mental wellbeing of students. And of course addressing, you know, the, you know, at the root level, root cause level, some of the harm that leads to violence and things like that.

Additionally, like once you feel safe in your classroom environment, like Kenny mentioned, not only are you more engaged, but you’re paying attention, which inevitably will lead to a more fruitful classroom environment where students are, are retaining the information that are, that is being taught and educators are having less trouble maintaining, you know, student’s attention span and things.

So, it permeates a lot of different issue areas that we’re currently discussing in the education space.

[00:12:04] Simon: And Kulsoom, just before we move on, I just wanted to quickly ask you to define the model minority myth, just in case folks are unaware of what, what that is.

[00:12:15] Kulsoom: Yeah. So, the model minority myth is essentially this concept where it is really often, I would say, like used to pit AANHPI communities against other communities of color. And it’s this concept that this specific demographic is a monolith that works hard, that keeps their head down, that follows the rules, doesn’t really ruffle any feathers, and just does as they’re told.

And as a consequence, it kind of erases a real history of AANHPI folks standing up for justice, standing against injustice, fighting things that are incorrect, not keeping their head down when there are real issues and problems presented. Not only to themselves, but to their community members, their peers, right?

And when this myth goes unchecked, it perpetuates this idea that other folks who are potentially causing, issue, right? Raising their voice, speaking out against injustices they aren’t the model citizen like, they are, they are causing issue with no rationale. So, that wasn’t super concise, but I don’t know, Kenny, if you have a better way of explaining the definition.

[00:13:36] Kenny: No, I think that’s exactly it. And I think, like you said, it’s a myth, right? It’s this myth that we are all uniform, we are a monolith, we all have the same experiences, both positive and negative. When we look at the AANHPI community, we are so diverse, a vast community, that it’s not fair to really lump us all together and say like, you all experience these things so positively and everyone else should strive to be the way that you are.

When, you know, we really have a lot that we’re kind of going through too. And so, I just wanna underscore the fact that it is a myth. And it is something that this legislation could really help to dispel by learning more about our community and our history in the classroom.

[00:14:20] Simon: Great. Thank you both for that. I think both explanations were really helpful, I think. And, speaking of things that this bill could hopefully accomplish, I wanna kind of specifically zero in on something that we’ve touched on that is about, you know, that there was a rash of anti-Asian violence that really cropped up during the heat of the covid pandemic.

But, you know, has, has never gone away. And there are ebbs and flows, but it certainly is a constant presence. And I’m curious because I think that many people, when they hear about AANHP I history they may think it sounds like a good idea on its own merits, but they may not see the connection between the bill and the curriculum and its ability to potentially help reduce or eliminate some of these both physical and verbal attacks. So, I’m curious if either one of you could expand on how this legislation would, would fight that.

[00:15:23] Kulsoom: Yeah, so I think, ultimately, people are afraid of what they don’t know. And this legislation is acknowledging and addressing that gap, right? it is asking for AANHPI history to be taught in schools, which means that now folks are, are expected to learn about an entire community of people and at least grapple with perhaps like misconceptions that they’re coming across through media and other sources.

And there is an opportunity to basically fact check, right, and stop misconceptions from growing when misconceptions grow and stereotypes stack on one another. Coupled with the fact that maybe you’ve never met someone that identifies as part of the AANHPI community, or you’ve never really engaged with that community.

Then there leaves really very few avenues for you to check yourself and for you to address the misconceptions that might be, and that’s just, I think that’s just human nature, like, that’s true for anyone, right? Like if I, if I’ve never been exposed to something, then how will I know what’s right and wrong about that subject area, right? Or that topic. And there’s a lot of, I think like research and academics who have really thought this through, but the ultimate understanding is that when students learn about AANHPI history because it addresses and hopefully mitigates the stereotypes and misunderstandings that prevents hate from growing.

And if hate is unchecked, that can grow into violence. Both in the form of microaggressions and bullying in schools, but later on in the form of actual violence that we’ve seen everywhere really and in different forms.

[00:17:12] Kenny: Yeah, I think, you know, adding onto a little bit of like the correlation between like this legislation and like the curriculum, it’ll also help to reduce this notion that AANHPI folks are perpetual foreigners, that we don’t belong in this country. I think a lot of commentary, especially like the verbal violence, is like, go back to where you came from, you don’t belong here,

speak our language, all of that. It is very harmful to hear that especially when members of the AANHPI community have been here for a very long time. We are continuing to grow as a population here in the United States, here in New York. And so, when students are able to learn about the AANHPI community in the classroom, it’ll show that, you know, we belong here,

we’ve been here. And I think the importance of really having a full curriculum of our history is important because I think a lot of the topics that students learn about these days when it comes to AANHPI history are often tragedies or really like negative experiences, which paint us as, oh, like we feel so bad for them,

it’s really traumatic, but there’s also a lot that we’ve done that can be celebrated and accomplishments that deserve to be acknowledged. And that will help to really reduce this idea that we don’t belong here and when in fact we do belong here, we’ve always belonged here. Having that understanding is definitely one way to, as Kulsoom said, to kind of get to know each other better.

And the more we know each other, the more we’re familiar with each other, um, you know, we’re hopeful that there’s going to be less hate, less violence, and just more community building and more solidarity.

[00:18:46] Simon: Yes, absolutely. And I’m so glad that you mentioned that fulsome piece of this, like getting a full picture, right? So, that it’s not a caricature one way or another. I think that is an excellent point. And I also, just, I’m curious if, If you could just kind of like lay out some of the specifics of the bill and what it would do in particular,

[00:19:09] Kenny: Sure. So, the bill would mandate the creation of a curriculum for AANHPI, and it would include five different things. It would include the history of the diaspora of the AANHPI community in New York and the northeast. It will also touch upon the different movements and policies that brought AANHPI people to the United States.

We’ve talked about this a little bit, but it would highlight and mention the contributions made by the AANHPI communities, specifically when it comes to the government, the arts, humanities, science, and the economic, cultural, social and political development of the United States. It would also touch upon and really expands on the structures and historical events that have limited or harmed the AANHPI community.

And Kulsoom mentioned this earlier, but it would really delve into the solidarity between AANHPI community and other historically marginalized communities, especially as it pertains to the Civil Rights movement. We found that piece to be extremely important to show that, again, we’ve been here through all the different fights and struggles for our rights, and to have these moments of solidarity shown and highlighted means that this is a curriculum for all of us, for all marginalized communities to see themselves in their curriculum as well. And so those are kind of like the five different pillars of the curriculum that we’re advocating for at the state level.

[00:20:23] Kulsoom: The only thing I’ll add is, so the bill language specifically also calls for mandating that this curriculum is adopted and taught by all public school districts in New York. And so, as such, like the development of the curriculum is one piece, and then the implementation of said curriculum across public schools, across the state is another piece.

And we are saying that it should not be an elective or a separate course or like an add-on chapter, but really it should be integrated throughout the social studies curriculum, the social studies coursework, that is already being taught in schools, which means, as I mentioned earlier, like when educators teach about World War ii or they teach about the industrial Revolution or these large concepts that are taught, making sure that the five pillars that Kenny outlined, like those pillars are integrated in those concepts that are already being delivered.

[00:21:23] Simon: I appreciate you bringing up the aspect of the bill that it would require AANHPI history to be taught it, it wouldn’t be an elective. Because I know that this legislative session, which, which just wrapped up we’re recording it like a week or so after it ended. The session ended, but before that the amended version passed the Senate and the amended version of the bill got rid of the requirement to teach AANHPI history and made teaching the course simply an option that districts could consider but didn’t have to implement.

What are both of your thoughts on the amended version of the bill?

[00:22:08] Kenny: It is definitely not exactly what we wanted, as Kulsoom mentioned, we really were wanting and pushing for school districts to kind of be mandated to teach this curriculum. I think the development of the curriculum is a great first step. But ultimately, we want the curriculum and the history to really be taught in schools all throughout New York state. And so, the amended version of the bill, while it is still a great kind of accomplishment, falls short, kind of, of where we are hoping to go. And so, we know that this is going to be a long battle to ensure that AANHPI history is taught in schools, but ultimately all communities histories are taught in schools.

And so, we’ve known, I think from the minute we started advocating for this bill that this would be something long term. And so, we’re definitely hopeful that in the future sessions to come, that we will get a mandate passed to ensure that school districts would be required to teach this history in the classrooms.

[00:23:03] Kulsoom: I think Kenny covered it. The only thing is I would be remiss if I didn’t give a shout out to the REACH coalition, which Kenny and I are both part of. I think when we mentioned throughout this conversation, like we as the REACH coalition, and this coalition came together really centered around this curriculum fight with a value alignment that we are fighting for a history curriculum that not only uplifts our contributions but also a lot of the other pillars that we’ve talked about, solidarity between historically marginalized communities and making sure that we are committed to fighting this curriculum battle intersectionally and across communities in a way that doesn’t harm other communities, in a way that doesn’t pit communities against one another.

Right? And that was kind of the grounding values that led to in some ways the creation of this coalition. But, like the bill language, I would say a lot of it came from feedback from the coalition and even as we embark on this advocacy journey moving forward and kind of grapple with the amended language, we really want to engage conversations with the New York State Education Department, with superintendents, with school districts, with educators, so we understand what are the real hurdles behind implementing such a curriculum.

And we can work together to troubleshoot those things in a, in a real workable kind of way.

[00:24:26] Simon: And, on that note, first, what does REACH stand for and who is a part of the coalition?

[00:24:35] Kenny: Reach stands for representing and empowering AANHPI community history. And I definitely don’t know all the groups that are in the coalition, but there are a lot of different amazing organizations, students, parents, teachers. Some of the organizations that we work closely with in the coalition would be us, the NYCLU, Coalition for Asian American Children Families, the Sikh Coalition, OCA New York, Immigrant Social Services,

CASE, just to name a few. And we meet weekly throughout the legislative session to kind of talk through like strategy, where’s the bill at? What do we need to do? How can we engage more people, do more outreach? And it’s honestly been a really great experience being a part of the coalition and working alongside other educators, parents, teachers, advocates, to ensure that, you know, we can keep the momentum up.

We only formed, I think in January, February of 2023, so it hasn’t been too, too long. But to see all the progress we’ve made over these past few months has been just really like heartwarming. You know, while of course we didn’t get the bill passed in both chambers it’s been a lot of success, honestly, and all the different things that we were able to plan and do over the past few months.

[00:25:51] Kulsoom: Yeah, I mean, I think just echoing, like, I think one of the most beautiful things about this entire advocacy effort is the coalition is just how many organizations and people we were able to bring together with the same values who were really ready to fight for AANHPI history and curriculum.

We are a coalition of more than 170 individuals and over 60 organizations. This is an intersectional, intergenerational, statewide coalition, which is also really exciting. So, it’s not just a coalition of like, say AANHPI orgs, but a lot of ally orgs are also a part of the coalition fighting alongside us.

The coalition is co-led by CACF and OCA New York. And our steering committee, as Kenny mentioned, is consists of a lot of amazing partners. And I think one of the most inspiring parts of the coalition is also just the fact that we have students in our leadership.

We have students in our coalition who have really been kind of shaping the narrative around this coalition and leading the way in terms of calling in, like what we need, what they are seeing in the classroom, and being a guiding force for like, what we are fighting for and what we should continue to be fighting for.

Also, something that I find really exciting about the coalition is, every time I talk about it, every time it’s brought up, people are excited, they wanna be a part of it. I think it’s really exciting that this coalition is really accessible to anyone and everyone who is value aligned.

You don’t need to be a part of a certain profession or identity group or anything to be a part of it. You just have to believe in this mission. And I think that’s really beautiful. I think that’s also a testament to kind of the folks who are helping lead this coalition.

[00:27:36] Kenny: Yeah, and the fact that there are students in our coalition calls really helping us give input, coming up to Albany with us, really being a part of everything is really beautiful because I know when I was in high school, I wasn’t cognizant of the fact that there wasn’t AANHPI history taught.

I just, I wouldn’t think I wanna see myself in the curriculum or I want this to be taught or that to be taught. And it was kind of just like the norm. It was just, this is our history class, this is what’s taught. And boom. And so, to know that like many years later, that there are students who are very much aware of what our history curriculum currently looks like, what it lacks,

and to be able to like speak up on it and participate in the coalition in legislative advocacy, I think is a really beautiful thing and just really shows the importance of empowering and uplifting students and young people’s voices to ensure that, for generations to come, that they can really learn about our history in the classroom.

It’s beautiful to just fight alongside with the young people today just to ensure that, you know, this effort continues.

[00:28:37] Simon: And for people who want to fight alongside you to pass this bill what, what can they, what can they do?

[00:28:44] Kulsoom: They can join the coalition. It is open to everyone. You can go, I don’t know if I can say a link here, but it’s like in all caps. Once you join the coalition, I think the simple answer is joining the coalition is the best way to get involved. People can feel free to reach out to

I would say anyone who they know is a part of the coalition. I think folks are more than willing to have a conversation about this effort and catch people up to speed. Once part of the coalition, you’re invited to biweekly community calls where folks can raise questions, they can hear updates, provide suggestions. It’s a space for our community and our coalition. Through the coalition we also present opportunities for different events, engagement opportunities that we’re participating in. We recently held an advocacy day. We’ve been out in the community in different like fairs and film screenings and things like that as well.

So, just getting the word out and folks can plug in in whatever ways they feel comfortable doing so.

[00:29:50] Simon: And we will definitely include a link to, to the coalition in the, in the show notes. So, you don’t have to, have to rely on the Bitly link, but I appreciate Kulsoom, your valiant effort to include that. With that Kenny, Kulsoom, thank you so much for coming on to Rights This Way. I,

[00:30:07] Kenny: Thank you.

[00:30:08] Kulsoom: Thanks so much for having me.