The 1882 Project took to the road in November to share lesson plans with educators from Virginia and around the country. On Nov. 2nd, Ting-Yi Oei and Ted Gong presented “Righting Wrongs: Congress (Finally) Apologizes for the Chinese Exclusion Acts” at the Virginia Council for the Social Studies Conference in Roanoke, Virginia. Ting-Yi then took the presentation to St. Louis, Missouri for the National Social Studies Conference.
In Roanoke, speaking to an audience that included a number of school division curriculum specialists, Ting-Yi introduces a lesson intended for Government and Civics classes. Using the actual language of Senate Resolution 201, students start by noting the contributions of the Chinese to American history, learn the background to the Exclusion Acts, and follow a timeline of discrimination, violence, and systematic violation of the civil rights of Chinese and other Asian Americans for over 60 years. The activities in the first part of the lesson plan call for students to focus their attention on political cartoons, editorials, and other primary source documents. Through close and guided study of those documents, students make meaning of the Exclusion Acts and their consequences – just as historians do. In the end, students look at the principles found in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, particularly the 14th Amendment, to analyze how well we have lived up to those principles. The second part of the lesson plan leads to the passage of the Resolution itself. Making the point that getting Congress to apologize is very rare indeed (it’s only happened four times in American history), students are asked to think of what steps are involved to gain passage of a law or a resolution. Ting-Yi and Ted explained through a slide show and discussion how in this case a grassroots movement of community organizations generated interest in the cause and mobilized support for the Resolutions in the Senate and the House of Representatives. The lesson’s takeaway is for students to recognize the elements needed for success: having a worthy cause, organizing effectively, generating interest and publicity, lobbying key political leaders for their support, and persevering to get the job done.
In St. Louis, at the National Conference, over 100 teachers and other educators stopped by the 1882 Project table. There they could receive a folder of the same teaching materials used in Roanoke, view a slideshow, and see posters produced by the Smithsonian Institution’s Asian Pacific American Center on APA history and culture. Ting-Yi was overwhelmed by the number of educators and quickly ran out of materials. So his wife, Diane, and cousin Cathy Hwang of St. Louis, pitched in to speak with visitors when Ting-Yi was busily engaged with others. Teachers were eager to learn more about the Chinese Exclusion Acts with many acknowledging that they knew little or nothing about them. If the topic was taught, usually it was in the context of immigration of the late 19th century or in the building of the transcontinental railroad, not as an opportunity to dig deeply into American civil rights history.
The conversations at both conferences were illuminating to the presenters and the participants alike. It’s very encouraging to think that more teachers will be addressing this aspect of American history not only with a stronger understanding of these events, but also encouraging and influencing colleagues to re-examine their lessons.