By Chamiya Carnathan and Penelope Morris
We are DC high school students who have been studying Japanese with Globalize DC since summer 2021. Back in 2021, in the depths of the pandemic, a group of students from our online Japanese program (including the two of us) advocated for the new DC social studies standards, which were soon to be updated, to be more inclusive of Asians and Asian Americans. During and after the pandemic, anti-Asian hate crimes rose substantially. In order to combat anti-Asian hate and violence, we concluded that people need to be taught about Asia, Asians, and AAPI content in order to feel compassion and understanding for these communities.
In June 2021, Penelope, alongside other students from Globalize DC, testified before the DC State Board of Education (SBOE) to discuss the improvements that the new standards needed. In December 2022, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) released the first draft of the new standards. We were extremely unsatisfied with the draft, because OSSE did not respond to our suggestions at all. In fact, the standards regressed in the amount of content for Asia, Asians, and Asian Americans. After we discussed what could be improved, the two of us (now in Globalize DC’s afterschool Japanese Plus program) testified before SBOE in January 2023 to again demand that the standards include more Asians and Asian Americans. We advocated for standards that include specific AAPI and Asian content and the introduction of Asian/AAPI content in earlier grades. After a very strenuous rewriting process, OSSE released a revised draft of the new social studies standards on March 29th, 2023, and we were deeply pleased by the outcome.
After reading this latest draft, we compiled a list of all the standards that explicitly mentioned Asia, Asians, and Asian Americans. We were especially happy about the specificity and amount of this content. In grade 6, OSSE revised the standards to analyze cultural elements of a country located in Asia and its significance for and influence on other societies. Although the standards analyze cultural elements of only one country located in Asia, it is a very important step to add cultural aspects of Asia. We were also pleased to see that OSSE modified the standards to name some specific elements of Asian culture, such as Sikhism and the philosophical writings of Wang Yangming, compared to the vague nature of the previous draft.
In World History 2, OSSE included a lot more standards that discuss a variety of countries such as South Korea, Japan, the Philippines, China, Cambodia, and many more. More people related to Asia are also discussed such as Ibn Battuta, Marco Polo, and Zheng He. In Government and Civics, United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind, United States v. Wong Kim Ark, and Korematsu v. United States are included, which are cases that helped shape America. Overall, OSSE has most definitely added a lot more countries and specific people to the social studies standards.
Instantly, we recognized that OSSE fulfilled our suggestion of introducing Asian/AAPI content in earlier grades. In grade 1, the standards introduce Asian communities as well as other communities to explain how they have shaped and defined Washington, DC. The standards also introduce specific community leaders, including Lee Yick and Liliʻuokalani. In grade 2, OSSE expanded Asian history in the periods between 1100 and 1400. In grade 3, OSSE included greater representation of AAPI history in Washington, DC. In grade 5, OSSE included all Asian immigration during this time period, as well as additional standards about the impact of the Chinese Exclusion Act.
In conclusion, these new standards are what we wanted to be included. They highlight the impact that AAPI communities have had on Washington, DC, as well as expanding Asian history, which will build understanding and compassion among the younger children. Our greatest hope is that teachers will make great use of these standards and incorporate field trips and create other opportunities for children to learn about Asian/AAPI communities firsthand. These standards pair well with excursions to learn about many different communities that make up our city and nation.
We want to give special thanks to Dr. Sohyun An, a professor of social studies education at Kennesaw State University and an expert reviewer for these new standards, for using her expertise to advocate, alongside Globalize DC, for the inclusion of Asia, Asian, and Asian American content. We would also like to thank the members of the State Board of Education and OSSE for listening to our suggestions and taking them seriously.
You can find the latest full draft of the K-12 social studies, along with other background information on the revision process, here.