A new law requires more diverse curriculum. Here's how teachers can make that happen

Posted at 1:04 PM, May 22, 2024

MADISON — Wisconsin teachers are working to incorporate Asian American and Hmong American history into their curriculums under a new law passed earlier this year.

It can be a challenging undertaking, especially for teachers who themselves never received education on the role of Asian Americans throughout history, says Kabby Hong, an English teacher at Verona Area High School and a former Wisconsin teacher of the year.

"None of us had an actual education about Asian American history, so it's going to require educators to really be thoughtful and to ask a lot of questions and to be willing and open to kind of be learning alongside their students,” Hong said.

Kabby Hong
Kabby Hong, English teacher at Verona Area High School.

The new law signed by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers last month has been years in the making and adds to existing requirements for teachers to incorporate Black, Native American and Hispanic histories into their curriculum. The bill received bipartisan support in the state Legislature.

“Every student in my classroom wants to read about folks that look like them,” said Peggy Wirtz-Olsen, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council. “Educators are eager to ensure that every student from every race, creed, community feels supported in the classroom.”

WEAC, the state teachers union, supported the bill and now offers a course for teachers looking to bring Asian American and Hmong American history into their classrooms. PBS Wisconsin also offers resources for creating diverse lessons.

Hong and his colleagues had a head start on incorporating Asian American and Hmong American history into their teaching. The Verona Area School District in 2022 became the first in the state to require those topics.

Hong’s advice to other teachers who are putting diverse histories in their curriculums for the first time? Make it an everyday occurrence.

"Asian American history, just like all histories from different racial groups, should just be a normalized part of everyday classes. And I think it shouldn't be set aside as a special month or special week or a special unit,” he said. “It should just be an embedded part of all units.”

Wisconsin has the third largest Hmong population of any state, following California and Minnesota. Hmong soldiers fought alongside the United States in the Vietnam War, rescuing downed American pilots and carrying out guerilla missions in Laos. Many immigrated to the U.S. as refugees after communist forces pushed them from their homes.

Sophomore MJ Thorson, who helps lead The Asian Student Association at Verona Area High School, encouraged teachers to search out underrepresented narratives like the history of Hmong immigrants, rather than just teaching more commonly told stories in order to comply with the new law.

MJ Thorson
MJ Thorson, sophomore at Verona Area High School.

“You spend a week, two weeks, learning about internment camps, and then other than that it's just nothing. And there's so much more to Asian history than just those two weeks of learning,” she said. “There are so many different groups and cultures and so much to learn from.”