Education board in California in the US has approved a new school curriculum framework which will include richer content on ancient India and Hinduism for the first time and remove text inaccurately depicting Islam.
The framework, which will update and upgrade history and social science instruction in California, was developed over a period of last two years went through several rounds of public hearings and saw many controversies including the push by a group of top academics to rename ancient India with South Asia.
Much to the disappointment of a section of academicians, the board decided in favour of India.
“While much needs to be done to bring content on Hinduism and Indian civilisation on par with other religions and civilisations, we believe that great progress has been made in the last two years,” said Sandeep Dedage, director, Hindu Education Foundation USA, expressing satisfaction over the completion of the process.
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The framework now has mention of Vedic sages, Hindu teachings and philosophy, bhakti saints, music, dance, art and scientific contributions of India.
Ahead of the final hearing, Congressman Tulsi Gabbard and California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom batted for their causes.
The State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson in a separate statement said the new framework will improve the teaching and learning of history and social science.
“It will give our students access to the latest historical research and help them learn about the diversity of our state and the contributions of people and groups who may not have received the appropriate recognition in the past,” he said.
In addition, information was added about financial literacy; voter education; genocide; and the contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Americans and people with disabilities to the history of California and the United States, the California Department of Education said.
Many topics in the Framework sparked spirited debates, including “comfort women” in World War II, the Bataan Death March and the Battle of Manila, the roles of LGBT Americans in US and California history, the Armenian Genocide and discrimination faced by Sikh Americans, it said.
The move by a group academician to replace India with South Asia generated heated discussion among various sections and was vehemently opposed by Hindu Americans.
“We have a long way to go. But we are on our way to a bright future for a more equitable representation of Hinduism in California textbooks,” Barbara McGraw, convener of the Social Sciences and Religion Faculty Group.
While Hindu-Americans can rightly claim victory on many fronts, Hindu American Foundation senior director Samir Kalra voiced disappointment that the board was not swayed to make even a few more changes requested by Hindus.
“The board showed much sensitivity to activists representing Islam and Muslims, by adjusting the frameworks slightly to show the religion in a more positive light.”
Kalra went on to note, however, “We only wish they had shown the same empathy when discussing further changes on the presentation of Hinduism.”
On the other hand, the South Asian Histories for All (SAHFA), a multi-faith and inter-caste coalition of 8 religions and 25 organisations across California and the US, celebrated significant improvements to California’s new history and social science textbook curriculum.
The group said that despite some opposition from Hindutva groups, it managed to convince the board on several key issues.
These include the word “Dalit” is used to describe communities formerly known as “Untouchable”, caste is depicted as both a religious and social/cultural practice, caste is described as being based on birth, rather than professional ability and the Indus Valley Civilization will not be renamed “Saraswati”.
“In retaining the term ancient India, the text now defines at the start that ancient India is shorthand for the full list of nations in modern South Asia,” SAHFA said.
Muslim community groups appreciated that the B]board corrected three of the five major errors.
For example, the board decided to remove text inaccurately depicting Islam as an inherently war-mongering religion.