Group wants Georgia schools to improve teaching about Asian Americans

Members of the the Atlanta Korean-American Committee against Asian Hate Crimes hold signs during a a vigil for the victims of the spa shootings outside of the Gold Spa in Atlanta on March 19, 2021. The committee consists of Korean-American community members, business leaders and religious leaders.  (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Members of the the Atlanta Korean-American Committee against Asian Hate Crimes hold signs during a a vigil for the victims of the spa shootings outside of the Gold Spa in Atlanta on March 19, 2021. The committee consists of Korean-American community members, business leaders and religious leaders. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

A group of community activists and politicians will push today for more Asian American history in the Georgia public school curriculum.

The Atlanta Korean American Committee Against Asian Hate Crime is hosting an event featuring speeches on inclusion from Democratic U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux, several local elected officials and a Kennesaw State University professor.

The spa shootings in March that killed eight people, including six Asian women, in metro Atlanta provoked many Asian Americans to raise their voices, said Jongwon Lee, volunteer attorney for the committee.

“Teaching about Asian American history or culture is a step to understand each other,” Lee said. “We just want to let you know your neighbor.”

The event will begin at 6:30 p.m. today at the Korean American Association of Greater Atlanta Center, 5900 Brook Hollow Parkway in Norcross. Those who choose to participate via Zoom can register online.

The list of speakers includes Tarece Johnson and Karen Watkins of the Gwinnett County Board of Education.

In Gwinnett, 11% of students are Asian American and in Fulton, 12% are, compared to a national average of 6% in public schools.

Lee said too many people don’t know the difference between Korean, Chinese and Japanese history and never learned important topics such as how the Chinese Exclusion Act laid the groundwork for the segregation of African Americans.

He hopes a more inclusive history curriculum will correct racist misperceptions of Asian Americans.

“People just call our entire community Asian American and Pacific Islander, but each ethnic group has their own immigration history and background,” Lee said.

In American history classes, students learn about Chinese transcontinental labor in the 1800s and Japanese incarceration during World War II, but not much else, said Michelle Kang, the committee’s secretary general and moderator of today’s event.

Asian Americans also participated in the civil rights movement and made academic, cultural and economic contributions that are not taught in school, Kang said.

“There’s an untold history of Asian Americans in the United States,” she said. “We want our Asian American history included in Georgia.”

Local school districts control their own curriculum, but are expected to follow state standards that outline what students should be learning at every grade level. The Korean American committee is proposing state legislation that would encourage school districts to teach more Asian American history at every level.

Members plan to solicit feedback on additional strategies.

Gwinnett schools

Gwinnett, with 20,000 Asian American students, is introducing two new high school courses in August that will allow students to focus more on Asian American history and culture.

One is a “critical literacy” class that teaches students to think about race and justice through critiques of literature across different cultures, said Clay Hunter, associate superintendent of curriculum and instruction.

Another is an ethnic studies class that teaches students how to research race, ethnicity, nationality and culture, Hunter said.

In elementary school social studies, all Gwinnett students learn about cultural traditions such as the lunar new year, Diwali and Ramadan, Hunter said. They also learn about Asian immigrants at the turn of the 20th century, he said.

In middle school, students focus on the history of Pacific Islanders and the contributions of new immigrant communities to the growth and economy of Georgia, Hunter said.

In high school, the world geography course contains a section on ancient Asian nations. United States history includes the impact of American imperialism in the Pacific and the effects of the civil rights movement on Asian Americans, Hunter said.

“There’s a lot of history, in a short period of time, to cover,” he said. “What happens is, someone inevitably is not covered, not focused on.”

More education on Asian Americans is needed, Hunter said, but that also requires a state-level conversation about standards.

“The challenge is time,” he said. “Something has to be removed because the school year isn’t getting any longer, and so there’s some really tough decisions we have to make as a community, across the state and in our school district, in order to find the right balance.”

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