Revising California’s Curriculum
Though not perfect, the state’s new K-12 “History-Social Science Framework” assures more accurate treatment of India & Hinduism
AN EIGHT-YEAR PROCESS TO IMPROVE THE TEACHING OF HISTORY in California schools culminated on July 14, 2016, when the State Board of Education approved a greatly expanded History-Social Science Framework for kindergarten through 12th grade. Now just under 1,000 pages long, this document outlines the curriculum, grade by grade. Of critical interest to Hindus has been the material presented in 6th grade, covering ancient times to 300ce, and 7th grade, covering 300 to 1750—eras in which India held 25 percent of the world’s population and was rivaled only by China as the most advanced region of the world. Here we explore the history and nature of the Framework, evaluate the revision process and discuss what comes next for the teaching of India and Hinduism in California’s public schools.
California is the largest textbook market in the nation. The state buys $400 million worth of books each year for its six million public school students—that’s more students than most US states have people. These books must be written to specific standards, called “Frameworks,” for each field—e.g., history, mathematics, science, English or health. Textbook revisions made for California often appear in the books bought by smaller states, making California singularly influential in K-12 education nationwide. Global changes made to the History-Social Science Framework, for example, which include LGBT history and much more information on the environment, will likely be included in textbooks used in other states, with the notable exception of Texas. Similarly, the new Framework’s improved (but still imperfect) treatment of India and Hinduism in 6th and 7th grade will also impact other states. That is why this process in California has been so important, and why Hinduism Today’s staff devoted years of effort to it, consulting extensively with other Hindu organizations, scholars and individuals, providing analysis and traveling nearly a dozen times to Sacramento to attend meetings.
Why Revise the Framework?
The California Framework has two major components (see sidebar right), each with its own history of development. The oldest part, first formulated in 1986, is called the narrative; this is an essay-like description of what is to be taught. The newer component, adopted in 1998, is the Content Standards, styled as a bullet-point list easy for publishers to write to, easy for teachers to design classes around and easy to test on. This form was well adapted to the educational fad of that time. Unfortunately, knowledge isn’t so neatly pigeon-holed, and while content standard lists are used in many states, educators now favor a broader, more expository description of what children should learn and how they should learn it. The expanded Framework narrative is part of this trend.
But here’s the difficulty: bureaucracy. The state school system is just that, the state’s. It runs according to rules set down by the California State Assembly and ratified by the governor. Logically, if one were to revise the Framework, one should start with the Content Standards, as they are the concise summary of what is to be taught. But that would require the legislature to pass a law empowering the state’s Board of Education to make such a revision—and that has not happened, though it has been proposed multiple times. Consequently, the board cannot alter the standards—not even to reduce the planetary count of the solar system from nine to eight after the demotion of Pluto. The legislature and the board itself are justifiably wary of revising the Content Standards. When Texas revised its equivalent guidelines a few years ago, the process was contentious, with creationists and other special interest groups impacting the outcome.
Instead, California’s legislature passed binding resolutions requiring the Board of Education to include a number of specific topics in the curriculum, such as the history of the LGBT community, an expanded coverage of environmental responsibility, the role of Filipino soldiers in World War II, California’s Latino history and a section on the Sikh religion (previously entirely absent).
Unable to change the standards, but facing mounting pressure from the various groups specified by the legislature, the Board of Education decided to do what was within their power: revise the Framework narrative while still keeping it in conformance with the existing Content Standards. This wise approach avoided the Texas free-for-all, which attracted national derision. The stipulation to adhere to the standards also proved unexpectedly beneficial to the Hindu community at a critical moment late in the process.
The Eight-Year Revision Process
Work on the Framework narrative began in 2008, and four Hindu organizations submitted testimony to what was then called the Curriculum Framework Committee (later renamed the Instructional Quality Commission). The groups were the Hindu Education Foundation, the Hindu American Foundation, Hinduism Today and California Parents for Equalization of Educational Materials (CAPEEM). The revision process was suspended in 2009 by then-governor Schwarzenegger due to a state budgetary crisis. When the work resumed in 2014, we examined the draft narrative document brought forward from the earlier process. We could not find one single word in the draft that reflected any suggestion from the testimony submitted by the Hindu community in 2009. It was not a good sign.
Initial support for our effort in 2014 came mostly from the same groups that participated in 2008. But as the stakes became apparent, more groups and individuals became involved—not only from California but from other states as well. With funding from the Uberoi Foundation, Hinduism Today worked closely with historian Dr. Shiva Bajpai, professor emeritus at California State University Northridge, to develop a detailed analysis of the historical development of the Framework’s treatment of Hinduism compared to other religions. Another especially effective individual supporter was Tushar Pandya. An active member of the Chinmaya Mission, he arranged for us to address a number of their gatherings in Northern California, which alerted parents to the problem. Chinmaya Mission as an organization was not formally involved, but offered support and encouragement throughout.
Joining the process: December 23, 2014, photo taken outside the Department of Education building in Sacramento with Acharya Arumuganathaswami at right, Dr. Shiva Bajpai to left of sign and Tushar Pandya behind him, along with parents and children from Chinmaya Mission Bal Vihar, all of whom testified at the hearing
As part of Chinmaya Mission’s weekly Bal Vihar classes for children, the parents are required to attend lectures during the same time period—a group they jokingly refer to as “the captive parents.” No mom or dad is allowed to drop off their kids for classes, go shopping and pick them up on the way home. Instead, they are required to improve their own religious knowledge. We addressed groups of parents, and often children as well, at Bal Vihars in the San Francisco Bay Area, Bakersfield, Los Angeles and San Diego. Similar presentations were given at the annual HAF fundraising dinner and a gathering of the Dharma Civilization Foundation (both in the Bay Area) and at the BAPS Swaminarayan temples in San Jose and Los Angeles. Altogether, thousands of parents and children got an overview of the narrative revision process and what was at stake for the Hindu community. The warning was simple, “What you are trying to achieve through years of children’s classes can be wiped out by four weeks of public-school classes on India and Hinduism.”
At the very first talk to a Chinmaya Mission group, just days before the IQC’s December, 2014, meeting, several of the children came forward to describe their 6th-grade study of India—the inaccuracies and biases of the texts (which focused almost entirely on caste and very little on religion) and the ensuing derision and hostility of their classmates. It was immediately decided to bring some of the kids to the upcoming IQC meeting. And come they did. More than a dozen skipped school and set off to the state capital, parents in tow, to defend their heritage and religion. This set a pattern for all subsequent meetings of the IQC, and finally the Board of Education itself. By the end of the process, more than a hundred youth had testified, articulately and with conviction. They came from the Bal Vihar classes, HEF, BAPS Swaminarayan, HAF and other organizations.
The revision process is complex, but Hindus in large numbers attended each of the IQC meetings—nearly a dozen—between 2014 and 2016, and quickly learned how to work within the process. For expert guidance in evaluating the public input, the IQC relied on the California History-Social Science Project, CHSSP, at the University of California Davis. The CHSSP also wrote or revised sections on their own initiative. They were sorely underfunded, and many scholars simply donated their time to what they knew was a strategically critical revision. Clearly, the CHSSP could not possibly engage the needed depth of expertise to evaluate a framework covering the entire expanse of human history from the appearance of Homo sapiens 200,000 years ago. Moreover, many of the topics—such as warfare, gender identification and religion—involved highly controversial issues. In short, the task was near impossible. Nevertheless, the CHSSP and IQC gamely took on the work to the best of their ability.
In the beginning of the process they were able to accept general suggestions, such as to include India—previously barely mentioned after 300ce—in 7th-grade studies. Broad suggestions such as this were incorporated and acted upon in the “first field review,” which ended in mid-2015. After that point, input had to be more specific, giving the exact wording for edits being suggested—otherwise, input often got marked “comment,” and nothing was done. All submissions were assembled by the Department of Education staff and evaluated by the CHSSP. At each IQC meeting, the CHSSP recommendations were considered, then accepted or rejected. As well, the commissioners could make changes.
PRENTICE HALL/HOUGHTON MIFFLIN
Comparing the existing textbooks: Both books shown above were adopted for use in California schools in 2005, but they differ in their treatment of India. The Prentice Hall book at left has a longer and more positive section on Hinduism; The Houghton Mifflin book at right has less, and much of that devoted to caste.
The final Framework document reflects thousands of pages of input and personal testimony from the Hindu community. With some major exceptions, it is a massive improvement to how India and Hinduism will be taught in the future. In 2014 the Framework’s 6th grade section contained just 994 words on India and Hinduism, and almost nothing in the 7th grade. The new 6th grade section—now 2,118 words—provides for a comprehensive explanation of Hindu philosophy (including “a profound acceptance of religious diversity”), practices (e.g., festivals and pilgrimages), Gods (with a capital “G,” for the first time) and the Ramayana. For 7th grade, there is now a 1,366-word section covering the Gupta and Chola empires, the Bhakti Movement, art, dance, music and the spread of Hinduism and Buddhism outside India. Improvements were also made to the sections on Buddhism and Jainism; and, for the first time, the origins and teachings of Sikhism were included in the curriculum.
Unfortunately, however, the newly adopted narrative contains a negative and inaccurate 400-word section on caste. Social structure is supposed to be discussed in relation to each religion, but only Hinduism is singled out for condemnation. The Framework’s extensive coverage of Christianity and Islam makes absolutely no mention of the practice and theological justification of slavery by those religions—the consequences of which impact us to this day. Suggestions from the Hindu community to include a few sentences on the New Testament view of slavery were rejected out of hand. A similar edit for Islam was initially accepted, then later rejected when one commissioner opined that bringing up the subject of slavery under Islam would be “inflammatory.”
The original draft narrative described Hinduism and Islam as patriarchal, even though every other society of the time was equally or more so. When this was pointed out, the IQC acknowledged the unfairness and added entries describing patriarchy in Christianity and Judaism based on proposals made by the Hindu community. This was a major accomplishment in providing a balanced view of patriarchy across religions. Given this success, it is deeply disappointing that the treatment of Indian social structure remains so heavily biased.
Countering Proposals to Delete India and Hinduism
In late 2015 the entire process turned contentious. A group of academics calling themselves the South Asia Faculty Group entered the fray. These were individuals from universities in California and elsewhere with varying degrees of expertise in Indian history and Hinduism. In their letter of February 24, 2016, to the IQC, they summarized their recommendations: “1) the Framework should use the term ‘religion of ancient India,’ rather than Hinduism; 2) Gods, goddesses and deities should be lower case; 3) ‘South Asia’ be used for ‘Ancient India;’ 4) the Indus Valley civilization not be associated with the people of the Vedas; 5) caste and untouchability not be deleted.”
The third suggestion, to replace India with South Asia, enraged the general Indian community in California and attracted attention even in far-away India. Many more individuals and groups became involved in the revision process, submitting comments and testifying in person against these new recommendations. Two IQC meetings, one in March and the second in May, 2016, were largely focused on dealing with the group’s suggestions. The Hindu American Foundation and Hindu Education Foundation, working with Professor Barbara McGraw and others, assembled an equally impressive list of academics, including Diana Eck and Graham Schweig, to oppose these recommendations. But ultimately, academic credentials played a lesser role than expected. The reason, in our opinion, was that the IQC is comprised of K-12 teachers and administrators, a group which, while happy to have the help of university-level academics, are well aware that the politicized debates of higher academia do not necessarily translate well to middle school. As one commission member characterized it, “Academics are always arguing.”
Board of Education: This photo shows only a few of the 300 people—Hindus, Sikhs, Dalits, Muslims, Jews, and others—who testified before the board during a four-hour period at the July 14, 2016 meeting. The board controls a budget of $76 billion per year.
The IQC took a common-sense approach to the five points. They kept Hinduism in most instances because the term is in the Content Standards. They retained the instances where Gods, Goddesses or Deities were already capitalized, not seeing the point in changing to lower case. They used South Asia in a few places, but mostly kept India, because that term is used in the Content Standards. They retained the material suggesting continuity between the Indus Valley civilization and the Vedic people, and kept a sentence saying there is opposition to the Aryan migration theory—both additions recommended by the Hindu community. Caste and untouchability had not been deleted from the narrative, so there was nothing to decide on that recommendation, beyond reinserting the word Dalit, which had been removed in an earlier round of edits.
Going Forward: Some Recommendations
The revised History-Social Science Framework will now be used to create new textbooks for California schools. These will be subject to a process similar to the 2005-2006 textbook adoption process. It will be a major challenge for the publishers to incorporate the greatly expanded narrative in new editions of their books. The India section alone went from a few hundred words to thousands, and that is just one small part of the now 1,000-page narrative.
The adoption process, like the Framework revision, is a duty of the IQC. First, they will hire what are called Content Review Experts, or CREs, individuals with PhD credentials in the subject matter. They will also appoint committees of teachers and parents to evaluate the books—both processes will be completed by the end of 2016. As in 2005-2006, the IQC will hold a series of meetings to review the books, take public comment and make adjustments as deemed necessary. In the previous adoption process, only minor revisions to individual sentences were allowed; major changes were not. The situation might be different this time, given the amount of new territory being covered. The Hindu community needs to pay close attention to this entire process, and be present to insure an accurate presentation of our faith. Once the Board of Education approves the IQC’s recommended books, the state-level process is complete.
Next, individual school districts have a choice to either adopt one of the approved texts or, if they prefer, something else that meets the requirements of the revised Framework. By our count, there are only five major textbook publishers for grades six and seven, and all are expected to participate in the state-level adoption process. It is unlikely that much else will be available in print besides their texts. An innovative district, however, could create a compliant history curriculum from online resources, saving themselves millions of dollars in textbook costs.
In 2006, Hindus missed an opportunity by not paying attention to this district-level adoption process. The textbooks adopted then differed considerably from one another in their treatment of India and Hinduism. Some books, such as Pearson Prentice-Hall’s, were much more fair and favorable (and to all other religions, for that matter) than other textbooks. In general, the books that allotted more coverage to India gave a far more accurate presentation of Hinduism than those with shorter sections on India. The new texts will likely follow a similar pattern. This time around, Hindus in each community need to find out when their district will adopt books—it’s one of those public processes few people even notice—then examine all the choices and advocate for the best book.
Once the books are in place, efforts can focus on providing local schools with teacher training programs, such as HAF’s Hinduism 101 and a similar program by HEF; supplemental materials, such as Hinduism Today’s History of Hindu India book and video series; classroom presentations by trained Hindu parents; and educational tours of local temples. A vast number of online resources could be developed, and we have recommended that a Hindu organization hire someone full time to address this need. Finally, it is up to each parent to read their children’s history books for 6th and 7th grade with them, pointing out errors and biased treatment. Those so inclined could prepare their children to challenge such inequities in class, as several courageous Bal Vihar students have done. By far the most encouraging aspect of this entire process was seeing so many youth come forward to defend their religion with intelligence and passion.
For additional information on this complex issue go to: www.bit.ly/CA-K12. A set of documents relating to the various meetings can be downloaded: bit.ly/CA-Framework-Meetings and bit.ly/CA-Framework-Development. See also www.hafsite.org/our-work/academia.