Hinduism Today White Page California K-12 Textbook Issue
Author: arumuga
Published: 2015/9/3 17:00:00
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A Hinduism Today White Paper:

Changing the Teaching of Hinduism and Indian History in California's K-12 Classrooms: 13 Actionable Areas

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Introduction

The purpose of this document is to outline thirteen possible areas of action in the critical process of gaining parity and accuracy for Hinduism and Indian history in California textbooks. Despite concerted efforts by the Hindu community, the teaching of Hinduism and ancient Indian history in California public schools remains highly deficient. The negative impact on Hindu youth subjected to these classes has been substantial. Most become embarrassed or even ashamed of their religion, and suffer this humiliation in front of their classmates. A few have even abandoned Hinduism as a result, despoiling years of religious education by their parents. This is not what happens with the other religions which are all treated in a kindly manner.

There is no unified effort on the part of the Hindu community to address this multifaceted problem, and it is unrealistic to think there will be. What we are seeing is more of a grass roots, multi-pronged approach with each organization or person taking up what they feel they can succeed with. In 2015, the Chinmaya Mission, CAPEEM (California Parents for Equalization of Educational Materials), Hindu Educational Foundation (HEF), Hindu American Foundation (HAF), Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh and BAPS Swaminarayan are closely watching this issue and taking an active part, as is Hinduism Today. But none is engaged with all of the areas we are about to describe.

A basic introduction to the issues is given in this 2011 Powerpoint presentation given at the Uberoi Foundation meeting in Los Angeles. The most comprehensive resource is the academic paper, (click to download: "Teaching of Hinduism in the California State School System: Evaluation and Recommendation"), produced by Hinduism Today and Dr. Shiva Bajpai, professor emeritus of history, California State University Northridge. It is a complete history and detailed analysis of the issues surrounding the teaching of Hinduism in California. The paper is required reading for anyone seriously engaging in this topic.

It is critical for anyone becoming involved to do so with a correct understanding of how the system works. The textbook issue is embedded in an immense state bureaucracy involving tens of thousands of administrators and teachers, millions of students and a billion-dollar textbook publishing industry. The education system is a professional academic environment largely governed by state law. There is no reason to expect that anyone at a particular school has even the slightest awareness that Hindus have issues with the curriculum, let alone what those issues are. Also, an educator is simply not going to take a lay person's word for how Hinduism should be taught. One must provide accredited academic support.

The following is an outline and brief description of thirteen actionable areas; it is not intended as a full analysis of each area.

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1. Narrative Revision

Objective: Change the state's official curriculum instructions for the teaching of Indian history and the Hindu religion. As of fall, 2015, this is the "front line" of the battle to change what is taught.

There is presently underway a revision to what is called the "narrative" portion of the Board of Education's "History-Social Science Framework." This long document outlines what is to be taught about history, including religion, in the state's K-12 schools. This is a complex and on-going process. Importantly, this narrative is now up for review: History-Social Science Framework Field Review Draft .

Hearings were held in Sacramento by the Board's Instructional Quality Commission (IQC) in December, 2014, and February and May, 2015. Hindus testified in substantial numbers at each of those hearings. Representatives, parents and children from the Chinmaya Mission, CAPEEM, HEF, HAF and Hinduism Today were present. Of all that was said, the children's personal testimony was the most effective.

Selected Hindu Testimony (video) at the December 18, 2015, hearing of the California State Board of Education's Instructional Quality Commission in Sacramento

Selected Hindu Testimony (audio) at the May 8, 2015, hearing of the California State Board of Education's Instructional Quality Commission, Sacramento

The IQC will next meet October 9, 2015, to adopt a final version for submission to the Board of Education, which will involve more hearings. However, once that version is adopted on October 9, making changes will be increasingly difficult. Hopefully, the Commission will incorporate most of the community's suggestions. Interested parties should check with the Commission's home page for meeting dates, which sometimes change. The agenda and documents under consideration are posted on their website about one week before each meeting.

Instructional Quality Commission Home Page

During the last round, Hinduism Today and Dr. Bajpai submitted proposed edits for the 6th grade section of the narrative. That submission was made under the Uberoi Foundation Institute for Curriculum Advancement. It can be downloaded here. Links to all formal comments from individuals and organizations on the draft narrative can be found in the agenda for the December 18, 2014, meeting here.

Other groups, including HAF and CAPEEM, have made suggestions for changes to the 7th grade narrative. India is almost entirely absent from the 7th grade framework (covering 300 to 1800 ce), despite the fact that during this time period India was one of the most advanced cultures in the world, having a quarter to one third of the world's population and a like amount of the world's gross domestic product.

The LGBT and environmental communities have requested wholesale additions throughout the K-12 framework. Much of the commission's efforts will go into incorporating the input of those two groups. The Hindu suggestions deal with only a few pages of the draft framework. Other groups, including the Sikhs, Koreans, Persians, Armenians and Filipinos, have similarly requested changes or additions to relatively short sections of the narrative.

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2. Content Standards Revision

Objective: Pass a bill in the state legislature requiring the Board of Education to review and update the state's official "Content Standards" for the teaching of Indian history and the Hindu religion. Though closely related to the preceding action item, this is at a much less advanced state of development.

The Framework Content Standards are a bullet-point summary of what is to be taught in California classrooms. The standards were adopted in 1998, a decade after the narrative section mentioned above was written. The content standards are mandatory, and, in theory, the current revision of the narrative seeks to bring it in line with the standards. But when the standards are outdated or wrong, as is the case with India (or Pluto...), revising the narrative is more difficult. To change the content standards requires legislative action, which is being pursued for 2015, with Assembly Bill 740. Such revision would take effect several years in the future. In our opinion, significant changes to 7th grade texts are most possible, with a revision of the content standards, and political support for AB740 is critical for substantive changes to the teaching of Indian history and Hinduism in the schools.

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3. Legal Action

Objective: Take legal action to enforce a fair treatment of India and Hinduism in the public schools.

Legal action was taken against the Board of Education by the Hindu American Foundation and CAPEEM following the 2005-2006 textbook approval process. Though both suits were successful in establishing that the process was flawed, no changes were ordered by the court for the approved textbooks. It is possible that lawsuits will follow the narrative revision process now underway. Lawsuits are expensive, time consuming and have no guaranteed results. As was seen with the earlier suits, judges are loathe to order remedies that might be disruptive to the on-going education system, or very costly to the state. Nevertheless, lawsuits remain a viable option for the Hindu community, both at the state and the local level. If families or institutions encounter profoundly unfair treatment in the texts without state-level remedy, and provided the issue is of known significance legal action could be pursued.

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4. Publishers

Objective: Directly convince the publishers to change what they write about India and Hinduism in their books.

It is possible to go directly to the publishers. The Muslims have done this since 1998, and to great effect. Unfortunately, the publishers are all on the east coast, except for TCI, which is in the Bay Area, making it difficult to get access to the right people. HAF has made important initial connections with publishers.

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5. Adoption I

Objective: Influence which books are adopted by the local school district, as some textbooks treat India and Hinduism much better than others.

Historically, each local school district is responsible for adopting one or two of the state-approved history-social science textbooks for use in their schools. Of the seven books approved in 2006, two (those by TCI and Pearson) are better in their treatment of Hinduism (indeed, all religions) than the others. For Hinduism, they still cover caste, but they also explore other aspects of the religion. Hindus completely missed participating in the district-level adoption process in 2006. When the next round of adoption will come is unknown--possibly in 2017. Impacting the adoption process requires engagement with the district, such as getting elected to the school board. As of 2014, schools are not required to adopt the state approved textbooks. This is a significant change from 2006. It is not clear exactly what they would adopt instead. It could be textbooks developed for other states, or it could be a program assembled from other resources, such as on the Web. In any case, it is now more possible to introduce supplemental resources, such as The History of Hindu India, the accompanying documentary, and like materials suitably developed for sixth grade. But, be advised, schools may be adverse to adopting alternative resources, in part because most are not in a position to effectively evaluate them for balance and accuracy. Textbooks are trusted, even when they are not accurate. A key strategy for influencing a textbook adoption process is adherence to the State's social content standards, a topic we discuss next.

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6. Adoption II

Objective: Require the local school district to take into account the state's Social Content Standards when adopting course material.

Instructional materials used in California's public schools must comply with Education Code sections 60040-60045 and 60048 as well as the SBE (State Board of Education) guidelines in the document Standards for Evaluating Instructional Materials for Social Content (2013 Edition), available on the review page of the California Department of Education (CDE) Social Content Review Web page.

These statutes and policies were adopted to ensure that instructional materials used in California would portray in a realistic manner democratic values, cultural pluralism and the diversity of the state's population; that they emphasize people in varied, positive and contributing roles; and that they be free of inappropriate references to commercial brand names, products, corporate or company logos. The review process to determine compliance with the EC and SBE guidelines is referred to as the "social content review" and is supposed to be part of the textbook adoption process at both state and district level.

The CDE conducts social content reviews for K-8 instructional materials. School districts may also conduct their own reviews. For grades nine through twelve, local governing boards have the responsibility for ensuring that instructional materials comply with EC sections 60040-60045 and 60048 and the SBE guidelines.

The social content standards, are--in theory--mandatory guidelines to be applied to all teaching material. One section is called ethnic and cultural groups. It states in part, "instill in each child a sense of pride in his or her heritage." That's not happening now for Indian Hindus and we can call on districts, schools and teachers to enforce this requirement. A second social content standard concerns religion. It says students should be "allowed to remain secure in any religious beliefs they may already have." Somewhat unexpectedly, educationalists seem to respond better to the ethnic group requirement (especially in schools with a large number of Indian students) than to the religion requirement. They may prefer the ethnic standard over the religion standard because they don't want to deal with religious objections to the teaching of evolution in the science classes or because of unspoken religious bias.

The application of the social content standards during the adoption process is discussed on page seven of Instructional Materials in California: An Overview of Standards, Curriculum Frameworks, Instructional Materials Adoptions, and Funding by the California Department of Education:

It reads in part, "Local educational agencies (LEAs)--school districts, charter schools, and county offices of education--have the authority and the responsibility to conduct their own evaluation of instructional materials and to adopt the materials that best meet the needs of their students. Some LEAs conduct adoptions on an agency-wide basis; others delegate authority to individual school sites to select their own materials. LEAs retain the flexibility to select materials that meet the needs of their students. LEAs that elect not to use state-adopted instructional materials must conduct a local review process that includes a majority of classroom teachers in the appropriate discipline (EC Section 60210). In addition, all instructional materials used in California's public schools must be in compliance with the social content standards (EC sections 60040-60045 and 60048) as well as with SBE guidelines contained in the document Standards for Evaluating Instructional Materials for Social Content (2013 Edition)."

In our opinion, enforcement of the social content standards at the level of the local educational agencies, especially the school districts, is our best strategy for meaningful change in what is taught. Parents can petition the district, lobby the school board members, testify at meetings and run for election to the board.

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7. Common Core

Objective: Provide the schools with materials on India and Hinduism designed for use with the new Common Core teaching methods.

This action area revolves around the common core. This is a nation-wide revision to how basic skills are being taught in schools. It gives much more freedom to the teacher as to how and what is taught, making it more likely to get our resources, such as the history book and movie, into the classrooms. Key to this strategy is the production of Common-Core-friendly instructional material.

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8. Teacher Training

Objective: Provide direct training for school teachers in the history of India and the Hindu religion.

Hindu groups can organize training courses for the 6th grade teachers. Doing so, however, requires special expertise in K-12 education. The Chinmaya Mission, HAF and HSS have training programs; their effectiveness has not been evaluated.

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9. Parent Training

Objective: Train parents to give class presentations on India and Hinduism.

Closely related to teaching training is preparing parents to give presentations on Hinduism to 6th grade classes. This also requires special preparation and expertise. Chinmaya Mission and HSS are currently doing this in California, and as with teacher training, the actual effectivness of such programs has not been evaluated.

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10. Student Preparation

Objective: Conduct classes at local Hindu organizations to prepare Hindu children for what they will encounter in school during their study of India and Hinduism.

Several Hindu organizations run weekend classes for children that are organized by grade level, including Chinmaya Mission and BAPS. Special classes can be scheduled prior to the unit on India in the local 6th grade to offset the negative information the children are about to receive. They can be given pointers on what to expect and how to deal with the class, objections they can raise, and additional resources they can recommend. Parents can be similarly warned and instructed when the India unit is coming up. At this point, we are unaware of any organization taking this approach, though individual parents have done so. With some advanced planning, it is possible to provide accurate and interesting balance to the flawed lessons students will be exposed to.

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11. Parental Guidance

Objective: Train and encourage parents to work with their children to offset the negative information being provided at school.

Ultimately, the responsibility falls upon the parents. Every parent with a child in sixth grade must read the school's social studies book, not only about Hinduism, but about the other religions as well. They can then point out to their children the bias and errors, and if their child is so inclined, suggest they speak up about these issues in class.

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12. Academia

Objective: In the long term, create Hindu academics, fund chairs in Hindu studies and create institutes dedicated to Hinduism.

We should encourage some of our Hindu youth to enter the field of humanities to become scholars of Hinduism and Indian history, as did our friend Dr. Bajpai half a century ago. Until they do, these fields will continue to be dominated by non-Hindu scholars who have little regard for Hindu religion. Just in the last two years, the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, has gained a Hindu Studies Initiative and the University of California at Irvine an endowed chair in Vedic and Indic Civilizational Studies--both worthy efforts of the Dharma Civilization Foundation. These are critical developments that will have long-term impact and which the community must encourage in every way possible.

Academia is important because, in theory, the university system of California is supposed to guide and inform the K-12 education system. Especially when it comes to India and Hinduism, this does not happen. Some scholars--such as those engaged by the Board of Education during the 2005-2006 edits process--are actively hostile toward any changes to the textbooks.

The academic paper mentioned earlier, produced by Dr. Bajpai and Hinduism Today, is a useful illustration of the importance of academic efforts. It has been submitted to The History Teacher, a peer-reviewed journal out of Long Beach State. It is now under consideration, and will likely be published. Already, Hindu organizations and school administrators have found it a useful resource in understanding this complex issue.

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13. Educational Resources

Objective: Create useful and appealing educational resources for schools to use which offset the negative presentation of India and Hinduism in the existing textbooks.

Many types of educational resources can be created to supplement the teaching of Hinduism. The first is books, such as the aforementioned The History of Hindu India, written jointly by Hinduism Today and Dr. Bajpai for use in the public schools. Chapter one is specifically intended to replace the existing 6th grade textbook section on ancient Indian history and the basics of Hinduism. This is available on-line as downloadable epub files along with class lesson plans. The second is educational movies, such as the one done on the first chapter of The History of Hindu India. It is also available at the same website. A third resource (still to be manifested) is a series of three- to seven-minute video shorts, which fit neatly into the Common Core approach. Hinduism Today plans for this series to depict Indian dance, music, food, home puja, etc. Fourth is teaching apps for smart phones and tablets. We are not aware of any now. Fifth is for temples in communities around the nation to set up programs for school children to visit and receive a guided tour, such as BAPS does in the UK. The sixth is to recreate those guided tours as virtual reality tours--something Hinduism Today is working on now for our Hawaii temple. Seventh is Hindu-oriented educational adventure video games. Hinduism Today is working on one in which the main character--which the child controls--goes on a fun pilgrimage. In the process, he learns ethics, philosophy, meditation, importance of the guru and the esoteric meaning of worship.

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Conclusion

Regardless of the outcome of the present efforts to revise the History-Social Science Framework, there are a number of areas where action can be taken to improve the teaching of Hinduism and the history of ancient India in our public schools. Each requires commitment and effort on the part of Hindu organizations, parents and children alike.

Hinduism Today is prepared to help with resources and advice.

Email: Acharya Arumuganathaswami, Managing Editor, Hinduism Today magazine.

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