SACRAMENTO, CA - Over 100 Hindu Americans converged on Sacramento on Mar. 24 to voice their concerns about the California Department of Education Instructional Quality Commission’s (IQC) plans to accept problematic edits made by a small group of South Asian studies faculty. These proposed edits would...
The community’s efforts was also supported by a coalition of 20 government leaders and elected officials, including Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), CA State Senator Steven M. Glazer (District 7), and several local leaders.
While these academics, under the aegis of the South Asia Faculty Group, suggested several changes to the existing curriculum for the teaching of ‘History and Social Sciences’ of California Textbooks, including recommendations to substitute ‘South Asia’ for ‘Ancient India’ or ‘India’ in the chapters on Ancient India, parents and students did not take it well.
The group comprising leftist scholars Lawrence Cohen, Thomas Hansen and Sheldon Pollock, has been accused of furthering a leftist agenda to demean Indian culture. After a huge uproar from the community, the California Department of Education’s IQC rejected the suggestions at a public hearing of the matter on March 24.
Among corrections and edits suggested was that the sections of Grade-6 book titled as The Early Civilizations of India be changed to, The Early Civilizations of South Asia.
A petition signed by over 20,000 people had asked the commission: “Would you presume to deny the reality of India’s existence and history, and its deep significance to Indian American students in California, simply because a few misinformed professors of South Asia Studies wrote you a letter recommending you re-educate California’s children in this bizarre manner?”
A large number of students and parents testified at the public hearing of the commission held in Sacramento on March 24 seeking the rejection of these changes. California is home to the country’s largest Hindu population, with roughly one million of diverse cultural, racial, and national backgrounds.
In addition, Hindu American school children from across the state spoke out about the impact of inaccurate and culturally illiterate content on their lives. Academics such as Barbara A. McGraw of St. Mary’s College of California, an award-winning scholar and former American Academy of Religion Western president, and Sofia University philosophy professor Kundan Singh also testified. For Hindu American youth, the frameworks adoption was about ensuring that their identities wouldn’t be minimized or presented in a way that adversely reflected on them. Some pushed back against the faculty’s suggestion that Hindu history was patriarchal, and expressed that their lived experiences were being ignored.
“Having studied the Vedas, I proudly wear my sacred thread as a symbol of my earnest study and scholarship, as did my mother and foremothers before her,” said 12-year-old Vaidehi Dandekar, a 7th grade student from El Cerrito. “As a young woman, I am proud that my enthusiasm and achievement in studying the Vedas is simply reflective of the long tradition of scholarship and oral storytelling by women....and men.....in India’s rich history. The accurate portrayal therefore in our classroom, of women in India’s history as leaders, sages, scholars, and often spiritual authority figures for families and communities is incredibly important for all members of my learning environment.” Concerns Remain
While HAF and other groups believe progress has been made, concerns remain about the way in which the edits were accepted.
“Our concerns remain with how many of these edits were accepted, particularly in the commission’s apparent privileging of one group of scholars over the views of many others,” said Murali Balaji, HAF’s Director of Education and Curriculum Reform. He noted that the commission had previously ignored a virtually identical set of proposed edits by the same group when it was submitted by one individual scholar, but then accepted it after the submission was rebranded as the “South Asia faculty group.”
“I think we all support free and vigorous academic discourse and diverse views on how religions and cultures evolved,” Balaji said. “But giving esteem to one group over the views of many other distinguished academics is troubling. Moreover, academic battles shouldn’t necessarily be fought in a 6th and 7th grade curriculum document. Such battles can impede upon teachers’ ability to provide accurate and culturally competent instruction to their students, which in turn will adversely impact both Hindu and non-Hindu California students.” The IQC will publish its revised set of recommendations two weeks before the May 11 State Board of Education hearing. HAF will continue to work with both community members and educators, along with various officials, to ensure that the Board adopts a document that is inclusive of Hindus and a better resource for teachers across the state.