A Hinduism Today White Paper:
Improving the Teaching of Hinduism and Indian History in California's K-12 Classrooms
Quick Links for This Page:
- Executive Summary Background
- State History Social Science Framework Narrative Revision
- State History Social Science Framework Content Standards Revision
- Textbook Publishers
- Textbook Adoption Process
- Textbook Adoption and the State Social Content Standards
- Common Core Developments
- Teacher Training
- Parent Training to Present to School Classes
- Hindu Classes to Prepare Students
- Parental Guidance
- Educational Resources
Despite concerted efforts by the Hindu community, the teaching of Hinduism and ancient Indian history in California public schools remains highly deficient. The 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. Minor progress was made on the textbooks in 2005, but not enough to change the overall presentation in which the Hindu religion is reduced to a single adverse concept: caste. Now, in 2015, revisions to the Board of Education's guidelines for teaching Hinduism are under consideration, but meaningful changes are by no means guaranteed. Leaving aside favorable Board action, there are a number of avenues concerned Hindu parents and the children themselves can take to improve the situation. Of those listed below, #4 and #5 regarding the adoption of educational material at the local level may well be the most effective stratagies. The purpose of this document is to outline those actionable areas and invite broad participation in a critical process.
To effectively engage with this issue even on a local school level requires a thorough familiarity with the subject. On Hinduism Today's textbook issue page, are a series of documents and powerpoint presentations to provide this needed background. We suggest starting with the 2011 Powerpoint presentation to the Uberoi Foundation meeting in Los Angeles. A more recent Powerpoint includes this white paper's action items.
The key resource is the academic paper, "Teaching of Hinduism in the California State School System: Evaluation and Recommendation" produced by Hinduism Today and Dr. Shiva Bajpai, professor of history emeritus, 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. Additional resources are available on the same page.
We're dealing with an issue that is embedded in an immense bureaucracy, involves tens of thousands of administrators and teachers, millions of students and a billion-dollar textbook publishing industry. 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're 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, Hindu Educational Foundation, Hindu American Foundation, 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 these areas we are about to describe.
The education system is a professional environment largely governed by state law. It is critical for anyone becoming involved to do so with a correct understanding of how the system works. To begin with, we strongly recommend that the initial approach to anyone involved with the system be polite, courteous and do so out of a genuine concern for the children. There is no reason to think anyone at a particular school has even the slightest awareness that Hindus have an issue with the curriculum, leave along what those issues are. A great deal of explanation will likely be necessary.
Because it is an academic environment, whatever you say about the curriculum needs to have strong academic support. In substantial part, this is provided by the academic paper mentioned above. An educator is simply not going to take "your word" for how Hinduism should be taught. Sometimes the engagement of a sympathetic professor from the state university system can be helpful, if they are suitably informed on Indian history and familiar with the K-12 teaching environment.
Part of the approach may be legal, especially with regard to adherence to the state's "Social Content Standards" as explained in section 5. It can be useful to consult with an attorney on the application of these standards--not to threaten the school with legal action (though it might ultimately come to that)--but to understand your options as a parent and concerned citizen. You are more likely to get a fair hearing if you know and understand the laws and policies involved.
The following is an outline and brief description of the actionable areas; it is not intended as a full analysis.
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. It is now up for review: History–Social Science Framework Field Review Draft
Hearings were held in Sacramento by the Board's Instructional Quality Commission in December, 2014, February, 2015 and May 8, 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 these,
the children's personal testimony was the most effective.
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, changes will increasingly difficult. Hopefully, the Commission will incorporate most of the communities suggestions. Interested parties should check with the Commission's home page for meeting dates. The agenda and documents under consideration are posted on their website about one week before each meeting.
Hinduism Today and Dr. Bajpai focused on the 6th grade section of the narrative. The submission was made under the Uberoi Foundation Institute for Curriculum Advancement. It can be downloaded here. Links to all formal comments from all 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). This is despite the fact that during this time period India was one of the most advanced cultures in the world, having a quarter to a 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 these 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.
The Framework Content Standards are a bullet-point summary of what is to be taught. These were adopted in 1998, a decade after the narrative section mentioned above was written. The content standards are mandatory, and in theory, the revision of the narrative is 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 actually requires legislative action, which is being pursued for 2015, with Assembly Bill 740. Such a revision would be several years in the future. Significant changes to 7th grade are most possible, in our opinion, 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.
It is possible to go directly to the publishers, certainly the Muslims have done this since 1998, and to great effect. Unfortunately, they are all on the east coast, except for TCI which is in the Bay Area. It is difficult to get access to the right people. HAF has interacted with publishers to a certain extent.
Historically, the 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--TCI and Pearson--are better in their treatment of Hinduism (and all religions) than the others. For Hinduism, they still cover caste, but they also cover more aspects of the actual religion. Hindus completely missed participating in the district-level adoption process in 2006. When the next round of adoption comes 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 do not have to adopt the state approved textbooks--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 various resources on the Web. In any case, it is now more possible to introduce resources such as The History of Hindu India, the accompanying documentary, and like material suitably developed for sixth grade. But, be advised, schools may be adverse to adopting supplementary material, in part because most are not in a position to effectively evaluate such material for balance and accuracy. A key strategy for influencing a textbook adoption process is adherence to the State's social content standards, discussed next.
Instructional materials used in California's public schools must comply with Education Code sections 60040-60045 and 60048 as well as the SBE guidelines in the document Standards for Evaluating Instructional Materials for Social Content (2013 Edition), available on the CDE's 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; emphasize people in varied, positive, and contributing roles; and be free of inappropriate references to commercial brand names, products, or corporate or company logos. The review process to determine compliance with the EC and SBE guidelines is referred to as the "social content review."
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 this religion one. They may prefer the ethnic standard over the religion one because they don't want to deal with religious objections to the teaching of evolution in the science classes.
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)." [emphasis added]
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.
The fifth 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 classroom. Key to this strategy is the production of Common Core friendly instructional material.
Hindu groups can organize training courses for the 6th grade teachers. Doing so, however, requires special expertise in K-12 education. The Chinmaya Mission, Hindu American Foundation and HSS have training programs.
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.
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.
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 in class.
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 with 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 even actively hostile toward any changes to the textbook.
The academic paper mentioned earlier produced by Dr. Bajpai and Hinduism Today is a useful illustration of the importance of academic efforts. The paper has been submitted to The History Teacher, a peer-reviewed journal out of Long Beach State, and is under consideration, with all likelihood it will be published. Already, Hindu organizations and school administrators alike have found it a useful resource in understanding this complex issue.
There are a vast number of educational resources that 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 and also available at the same website. A third resource (still to be manifested) will be a series of three to seven minute video shorts, which fit neatly into the Common Core approach. Hinduism Today plans a series on Indian dance, music, food, home puja, etc. Fourth is teaching apps for smart phones and tablets. We're not aware of any now. Fifth is for temples 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 that guided tour as a virtual reality tour--something Hinduism Today is working on now for our Hawaii temple. And 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 pilgrimage. In the process, he learns ethics, philosophy, meditation, importance of the guru and the esoteric meaning of worship.
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.