Sohyun An, professor of social studies education at Kennesaw State University, will deliver the 2023 Gryphon Lecture on March 20. Sponsored annually by the Center for Children's Books (CCB), the lecture features a leading scholar in the field of youth and literature, media, and culture.
In "Using Asian American Children's Literature as a Tool to Resist America's Long History of Anti-Asian Violence," An will examine the upsurge of anti-Asian violence during the COVID-19 pandemic and explore the significance of the TEAACH Act, which mandates the teaching of Asian American community history in public K-12 schools in Illinois, as a tool in the collective fight to stop anti-Asian violence.
"Asian Americans are largely absent in K-12 history curriculum, and when they are included (usually Japanese American incarceration and Chinese Exclusion Act), they are either presented as an enemy of the state or a powerless victim of racism," An said. "This curricular exclusion and misrepresentation become a source of psychological violence by telling Asian American students that they have no value and worth in this country. Such curriculum further becomes a source of physical violence by leaving Asian American students vulnerable to physical attacks from people who take up the oppressive message."
According to An, education legislation such as the TEAACH Act allows and encourages students to learn and appreciate the "complex, rich, and diverse" experiences of Asian Americans. The next step will be to prepare K-12 teachers to teach Asian American studies—content they never formally learned during their own education.
"While we continue to work for a systemic change in preservice and inservice teacher education, we can start with what scholars have offered already," said An. "One of the pedagogical tools to teach Asian American studies critically is Asian American children's literature. Many Asian American children's literature scholars have already gifted us with the tools to critically select and use Asian American children's literature to engage elementary students to learn about the diversity, humanity, complexity, and richness of Asian American experiences and their cultures."
A former high school social studies teacher in South Korea, An is currently a social studies teacher educator and scholar-activist. Her scholarship centers on K-12 Asian American studies and antiracist social studies education. For her current project, funded by the Spencer Foundation, An is investigating anti-racist pedagogy in elementary classrooms. Her honors include the Distinguished Professor Award from Kennesaw State University and Distinguished Researcher Award from the American Educational Research Association's Research on the Education of Asian and Pacific Americans Special Interest Group. An holds a PhD in curriculum and instruction from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.