In 2018, the Connecticut legislature mandated Holocaust Education in all public schools.
In 2019, the Connecticut legislature mandated Black and Latino Studies in all public schools.
In 2021, the Connecticut legislature mandated Native American Studies in all public schools
In 2022, the Connecticut legislature is considering another mandate, this time the teaching of Asian American and Pacific Islander studies.
To many legislators, HB 5282 is the logical next step.
“The history of Asian Americans is just as important as the history of Blacks, Latinos and Native Americans,” said Rep. Antonio Felipe, D-Bridgeport. “This is the history of our country and we need to make sure everyone is a part of it.”
Dozens of individuals from throughout the state – including Na Lae Kim, a professor of Asian American Studies at the University of Connecticut – came to testify in support of the new mandate.
“Asian Americans are quintessential members of American society. Moreover, learning about Asian Americans allows us to grapple with the making of America, and the structure of racism, exclusion, and xenophobia that continue to impact American society,” said Kim at the public hearing for the bill.
Kim said the bill also presents a way to move forward.
“The resilience and vision for change and social justice demonstrated by Asian Americans allow us see what America can be, rather than what it purports to be. It is absolutely essential that Asian American history be included in our school’s curriculum,”
But to others, it is yet another distraction away from the current problems in public education.
“I don’t want to add to the problem, we are not focusing on core academics,” said Representative Kim Fiorello, a Republican and Korean-American from Greenwich at an Education Committee meeting this week.
Fiorello pointed to dropping test scores in math and English across the state, especially over the last three COVID-effected school years as the real educational issue.
“I want all of education to get right what is the core classical academic needs,” she said. “I’m hoping more of us will drive academics to focus on core academics and put to the side some of these other things because education does not only happen in the public school building, because education happens everywhere else…there are many other ways to address the need of folks who want to know more about Asian American history.”
Fiorello and other legislators including state Rep. Donna Veach, R-Berlin, also stated that the progression of bills from 2018 until today — all mandating another small sliver of history based on race or ethnic group — is not only burdensome on districts and the under-staffed Department of Education who must create these curricula, but is also serving to exacerbate the deepening divides between racial groups.
“With this race-based lens on education…when do we get to the point where it is truly e pluribus unum? We need to guide people toward an understanding of American culture without this constant siloing of these many, tiny cultures into identity groups,” Fiorello said. “We are all Americans, and our education system should focus on that.”
The State Department of Education also testified against the bill.
“Asian American and Pacific Islander studies was required to be included in the K-8 model curriculum the Department was tasked with creating under section 374 of PA 12-2 from the June Special Session. Therefore we believe this requirement is redundant,” said Commissioner Charlene Russell-Tucker.
The K-8 model curriculum, however, is not required to be used by school districts throughout the state. If HB 5282 were to pass, Asian American and Pacific Islanders studies would be required statewide.
The bill was voted out of committee and moves to the Appropriations Committee this Friday. Although originally the bill included a third section prohibiting the disaggregation of student data by ethnic subgroups in public school information systems, that section has now been removed from the bill.