Book: How to incorporate Asian American culture into elementary classrooms 

November 14, 2023

A new book co-written by MSU Assistant Professor Noreen Naseem Rodríguez will help elementary schools weave Asian American cultures, identities, histories and more into classroom curriculum.  

This is the first book of its kind to help elementary educators teach Asian American topics, according to Naseem Rodríguez. While other books have been published, they only focus on secondary or collegiate students.  

Headshot of Rodríguez smiling at the camera while sitting on a bench. She wears a navy blouse with white flowers on it, and gold hoop earrings. Her dark hair falls about shoulder-length.

“The vast majority of current educators never learned anything about Asian American culture in their own schooling. How can we expect them to teach what they don’t know?” asked Naseem Rodríguez. “This book gives educators the content and ideas for how to incorporate it into units, lessons and standards to teach our young learners.”  

Throughout its pages, “Teaching Asian America in Elementary Classrooms” (Routledge) focuses on themes including: “complexity of Asian American identity, major moments in Asian immigration, war and displacement, issues of citizenship and Asian American activism.”  

It expands on ways topics can be included in lesson plans beyond the traditional social studies learning time. For example, the authors suggest talking about Asian American scientists and inventors into history or science teaching, or to incorporate Asian American cultural traditions into arts, music and physical education lessons.  

The book also provides recommendations for subsequent literature – including children’s literature and media.  

“In the last 10 years, we have seen an explosion of diverse children’s literature. This is wonderful, because it is important for kids to see themselves and their families and their traditions reflected in books,” said Naseem Rodríguez.  

While the growth in ways for kids to read and learn about different cultures is exciting, it also comes with a caveat. 

“It’s important to think about who is writing and illustrating these,” said Naseem Rodríguez. Though her book reflects primarily children’s literature, the same can be said for television shows, for example. “It’s also important to know it’s not all accurate or monolithic. We can read about Diwali to learn about the South Asian experience, for example, but that doesn’t represent every South Asian culture or religion.” 

Teaching Asian America in Elementary Classrooms book cover

The book, co-written by Sohyun An (Kennesaw State University) and Esther June Kim (William & Mary), expands on these topics. The authors took care to ensure the book was written with accessibility in mind and encourage educational leaders and caregivers to read the book as well.  

“Our children are learning so many understandings and misunderstandings all the time,” said Naseem Rodríguez. “We offer examples of ways stereotypes begin to manifest: How to identity them and disrupt them, and to know the implications if they don’t. There are very real consequences if we don’t make changes. We need to interrupt stereotypes and biases early.”  

Naseem Rodríguez hopes the book provides context and equips the reader with the tools necessary to enact change, beginning immediately.  

The coauthors are already working on a new version of the book for high school educators.  

Teaching Asian America to Elementary Classrooms” is available for pre-order now; and available for purchase beginning December 1.

For those interested in learning more, the authors are hosting two webinars:

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Naseem Rodríguez is the co-editor or co-author of two other books: “Critical Race Theory and Social Studies Futures: From the Nightmare of Racial Realism to Dreaming Out Loud” (Teachers College Press) and “Social Studies for a Better World: An Anti-Oppressive Approach for Elementary Educators” (Routledge). The latter book will soon have an update second edition for elementary educators, and a brand new version for secondary educators. The book is currently being used in more than 50 teacher preparation programs across the U.S. and Canada.  

Graduate student viewpoint from Kyle L. Chong: What I learned about APIDA/A racism and education from writing my name (New Educator, 2023)