SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA, December 4, 2005: California Hindus breathed a sigh of relief after the December 2 meeting of the State Board of Education Curriculum Commission. The Vedic Foundation (here) and Hindu Education Foundation (here) worked for months through the California Department of Education (CDE) procedures suggesting improvements for the sections of California textbooks that deal with India and Hinduism. Their 170 corrections ("edits," as the CDE calls them) were initially reviewed by an "Ad-Hoc Committee" which included renowned Indologist, Dr. Shiva Bajpai, who had been hired by the Commission, and CDE staff. But then at the intervention of Dr. Michael Witzel of Harvard University, a last-minute "Content Review Panel" was set up to go over the changes approved by Dr. Bajpai's committee again. Witzel claimed the changes were motivated by "Hindutva" forces and would "lead without fail to an international educational scandal if they are accepted by the California's State Board of Education." This panel, comprised of Dr. Witzel, Dr. Stanley Wolpert of UCLA and Dr. James Heitzman, Director of Summer Sessions, University of California, Davis, rejected 58 of the proposed Hindu edits, especially those dealing with an "Aryan Invasion" of India in ancient times. Their recommendations and evaluations are posted here.
Hindus despaired as they believed the Curriculum Commission would accept the Witzel panel recommendations in their entirety. This is not, however, what happened. Near the beginning of the meeting on Friday, Commissioner Dr. Stan Metzenberg, a professor of biology at California State University Northridge, made a motion to accept all of the original recommendations of the Hindu groups as approved by Dr. Bajpai's committee, with the provision to go through the Witzel panel rejections of 58 one by one. This motion passed.
The Commission then went through the 58 rejections, ultimately accepting only about a dozen.
Ten textbooks were under consideration for adoption for 6th grade social studies classes in the California schools. The text book manufacturers produce preliminary editions of their books, which are then distributed throughout school districts in California and comments and corrections requested. The Curriculum Commission considered changes from certain groups. These edits had to be relatively minor, and not represent major additions or deletions to the texts. Each group might submit from dozens to hundreds of edits. Everything had to be in line with the California "Framework" or guidelines for the subject, which will be explained further on in this article.
Much of the discussion during the five-hour meeting was between Commissioner Dr. Charles Munger, Jr., physicist, Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, and Commissioner Metzenberg. Consultant Heitzman was the only one allowed to address the Commission on any questions until Janeshwari Devi, Director of Programs for the Vedic Foundation, complained to Commission members that no Hindus were being consulted. She was allowed to make a few comments, and then no further questions were addressed either to her or Dr. Heitzman. Commissioner Munger, who identified himself as an Episcopalian, was the only Board member who advocated accepting the edits of the Witzel panel. Commissioner Metzenburg took the view that Hindus should at least be able to recognize their own religion when they read these textbooks. Some Commissioners abstained from voting, citing lack of expertise on the subject. Commissioners Man and Levine actively made and seconded motions to get the Commission through the long list of edits in a timely way, and Commissioner Munger's attempts to get Witzel's version of Hindu religion into the texts were voted down time and again.
On the contentious point of an "Aryan Invasion" of India 1500 bce, Heitzman agreed to soften this to "Aryan migration," as there is no evidence found of a violent invasion. But Commissioner Metzenberg, a biologist, objected on scientific grounds. He said, "I've read the DNA research and there was no Aryan migration. I believe the hard evidence of DNA more than I believe historians." It was finally agreed to say, "Some historians believe in the theory of an Aryan migration." This is not as much change as Hindus requested, but it was a major step.
One change recommended by the Vedic Foundation was the use of "deity" for "statue" in referring to the carved image of a God or Goddess, called "murthi" in Sanskrit. This change was recommended by Bajpai and rejected by Witzel's group. The Commission agreed to the Hindu request to change "statue" to "deity."
Another issue the Witzel panel disapproved was to use upper-case "G" for God when referring to Hindu worship of God. Commissioner Levine noted that for Hindus there are many forms of the one God.
Hindus requested one sentence in one book be changed from saying, "Modern Hindu continue to visit temples to express their love of the gods," to "...visit temples to worship and express their love for God." This was rejected by Witzel's group, but accepted by the Commission. Similar changes were accepted throughout the books.
At one point, Dr. Heitzman said to the Commission, "I advise you to err on the side of conservatism and be very careful about adopting any of these changes." Commissioner Metzenberg replied pointedly, "On the contrary, to err on the side of conservatism, we should use the Hindu suggestions. After all, it's their religion." Metzenberg also felt a comment by Witzel's panel on one edit was "insensitive." The edit was to fix the incorrect statement that the Ramayan was written later than the Mahabharata. Witzel's group wrote, "Who in Sixth Grade cares which epic was 'written' first?" Metzenberg observed that it obviously matters to Hindus."
Another edit was to change the definition of yoga from "Yoga is a type of ... slow breathing" explaining its derivation from the Sanskrit "yog," meaning "joining together.
Janeshwari Devi considers the proceedings a partial victory. Her main concern was that 355 edits submitted by the Vedic Foundation dealing with eight of the ten books were shelved during earlier proceedings and not even considered at this meeting. She felt this was a breach of CDE procedure and plans to appeal. She said, "The most significant event of yesterday was that scholarship prevailed instead of scholars who hold anti-Hindu views and have an agenda to keep Aryan Invasion in the books."
Immediately following the Hindu edits, some 600 plus edits from the Jewish community were accepted in their entirety. This is an interesting list to Hindus, and shows the possibilities for adjustment to the texts. The entire list of edits is available here. This is a 117 page document, beginning with the Jewish and Muslim issues and ending with the Hindu (from pages 77 to 105). This document also contains the Hindu corrections as reviewed and recommended by Dr. Bajpai.
Many of the complaints from the Jewish groups were on the subject of Jesus. One, for example, said "The text often implicated Jews in the death of Jesus, and suggests conflict between Jesus and the Jewish authorities. This is in violation of the California standards." On page 27 of the edit document is a list of general complaints by Jews. "The Institute for Curriculum Services (who reviewed the texts) reviewers object to the use of the word 'story' in reference to the Hebrew Bible, as they allege it conveys the idea that the events described are fictitious." Hindus made a similar complaint about their scriptures being referred to as "stories."
The Jews objected to this sentence, "King Herod was known for his cruelty and the additions he made to the Jewish temple in Jerusalem." They said, "The statement of Herod's cruelty is another instance of unnecessary negative information about Jewish kings." Their objection was accepted and the statement rewritten. In another edit, they objected to the comparison of California state hiring builders to build something (the text is not fully quoted) and the "Kingdom of Solomon built with forced labor." They state, "This is an inappropriate comparison that places modern standards on the ancient kingdom of Israel."
In one edit they complained about the term "Wailing Wall" for the Western Wall of the Temple in Jerusalem, as being "undignified" and not used by Jews. They complained repeatedly that certain comments and student exercises would promote anti-Semitism.
An important edit which relates to the Hindu issues is over the Exodus, the escape of the Jews from Egypt in ancient times. The text of one book read, "Unfortunately, Egyptian records from the time don't mention the Exodus of the Israelite slaves. And archeology hasn't uncovered any evidence of their years in Egypt, nor of their dramatic departure. We have only the biblical account for evidence." They objected to this and had it replaced with, "For Jews, the Exodus is a central event in their history..." No mentioned was allowed for the doubt of historians.
A common theme in the Jewish edits was taking out references to Christianity as somehow an "improvement" upon Judaism, or a "replacement" for Judaism. This same kind of thinking comes in the text descriptions of both Buddhism and Jainism, which are presented as "improvements" over Hindus. Khandarao of the Hindu Education Foundation, said, "Just as the books can't criticize Judaism in explaining Christianity, they shouldn't be able to criticize Hinduism in presenting Buddhism."
It is important to understand these issues in the light of the California laws governing school textbooks. There are two documents which contain these laws that are relevant here. One is the "Standards for Evaluating Instruction Materials for Social Content," here, and the other is the History-Social Science Framework," here.
The first is the guiding principles, and with regard to religion it reads in full:
"Education Code Section 60044(a) and Subsection (b):
Purpose. The standards enable all students to become aware and accepting of religious diversity while being allowed to remain secure in any religious beliefs they may already have.
Method. The standards will be achieved by depicting, when appropriate, the diversity of religious beliefs held in the United States and California, as well as in other societies, without displaying bias toward or prejudice against any of those beliefs or religious beliefs in general.
Applicability of Standards. The standards are derived to a degree from the United States and the California constitutions and relate closely to the requirements concerning the portrayal of cultural diversity. Compliance is required.
These standards should not be construed to mean that the mere depiction of religious practices constitutes indoctrination. Religious music and art, for example, may be included in instructional materials when appropriate.
1. Adverse reflection. No religious belief or practice may be held up to ridicule and no religious group may be portrayed as inferior.
2. Indoctrination. Any explanation or description of a religious belief or practice should be presented in a manner that does not encourage or discourage belief or indoctrinate the student in any particular religious belief.
3. Diversity. When religion is discussed or depicted, portrayals of contemporary American society should reflect religious diversity."
The Jewish groups often cited these principles in making edits, especially "adverse reflection."
The second document is the "Framework," which lists in detail what is to be taught. Hinduism appears in the section on ancient history. The section reads:
6.5 Students analyze the geographic, political, economic, religious, and social structures of the early civilizations of India.
1. Locate and describe the major river system and discuss the physical setting that supported the rise of this civilization.
2. Discuss the significance of the Aryan invasions.
3. Explain the major beliefs and practices of Brahmanism in India and how they evolved into early Hinduism.
4. Outline the social structure of the caste system.
5. Know the life and moral teachings of the Buddha and how Buddhism spread in India, Ceylon, and Central Asia.
6. Describe the growth of the Maurya empire and the political and moral achievements of the emperor Asoka.
7. Discuss important aesthetic and intellectual traditions (e.g., Sanskrit literature, including the Bhagavad Gita; medicine; metallurgy; and mathematics, including Hindu-Arabic numerals and the zero).
For comparison, here is the section on Judaism:
6.3 Students analyze the geographic, political, economic, religious, and social structures of the Ancient Hebrews.
1. Describe the origins and significance of Judaism as the first monotheistic religion based on the concept of one God who sets down moral laws for humanity.
2. Identify the sources of the ethical teachings and central beliefs of Judaism (the Hebrew Bible, the Commentaries): belief in God, observance of law, practice of the concepts of righteousness and justice, and importance of study; and describe how the ideas of the Hebrew traditions are reflected in the moral and ethical traditions of Western civilization.
3. Explain the significance of Abraham, Moses, Naomi, Ruth, David, and Yohanan ben Zaccai in the development of the Jewish religion.
4. Discuss the locations of the settlements and movements of Hebrew peoples, including the Exodus and their movement to and from Egypt, and outline the significance of the Exodus to the Jewish and other people.
5. Discuss how Judaism survived and developed despite the continuing dispersion of much of the Jewish population from Jerusalem and the rest of Israel after the destruction of the second Temple in A.D. 70.
The Judaism section is much more comprehensive in terms of theology than the Hindu section is. Under Hinduism, students learn Aryan Invasion and caste more than theology, and the Bhagavad Gita is listed under "aesthetic and intellectual traditions," rather than religion. "Religion isn't even mentioned under Hinduism, while it is listed twice under Judaism. This framework comes up for review in 2008, we understand, and Hindus can request improvements.
Hindu parents in California and other states who are so concerned about what is in their children's textbooks should all continue to take an interest in this issue. The Vedic Foundation and Hindu Education Foundation are to be commended for their months of diligent work.