Federal suit calls history curriculum anti-Hindu

Federal suit calls history curriculum anti-Hindu

(Calif.) This week the state board of education will go into closed session to consider a federal civil rights suit filed by followers of Hinduism who claim new history and social science content standards are discriminatory.

The complaint, filed last month in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, is the second time in recent years that the Hindu-American community has gone to court in an effort to get California education officials to rewrite instructional materials.

“The claim is that Hinduism is treated as an inferior religion,” said Glenn Katon, an Oakland-based attorney representing the plaintiffs in the case. “We feel that Hindus are given kind of a second class status.”

A spokesman for the California Department of Education said they could not comment on the lawsuit.

“However, the History-Social Science Framework provides the latest, most accurate information to our students about history, social science and civics,” Peter Tira, an information officer at CDE, wrote in an email to Cabinet Report. “The framework, which was produced after an extensive public comment period, treats all religions and ethnic groups fairly.”

At issue are the academic elements that the California State Board of Education establishes to guide the development of textbooks and other instructional materials.

The foundation of curriculum is the content standards–what a student should know and when they should know it. Next comes the curriculum frameworks–which are guides to implementing the standards.

Until last summer, California had gone almost 30 years without updating its history and social studies standards. But in an effort to save money, the state decided in 2008 the best way to bring the curriculum up to date would be the history frameworks, not the standards.

After significant public input and oversight from academic experts, the state board adopted the new frameworks last summer.

The process of adopting new standards and frameworks is traditionally a delicate one–especially for curriculum like history and social sciences where descriptions and phrases are open to interpretation.  The new history frameworks, for instance, were delayed more than a year largely because of the large number of public comments from scores of political, racial and ethnic groups that raised questions of fact and fairness.

Katon said the issues raised in the lawsuit were among those brought to the attention of state officials during the review process of the frameworks.

“If not a hundred percent off the concerns, somewhere close to that, were in fact raised during the framework adoption process last summer,” he said. “But that, of course, is a political process.”

The plaintiffs, who are three parents of children attending public schools in the Bay Area along with a Hindu-American advocacy organization, allege that the state board disregarded a policy they otherwise maintain, which is not to include in the frameworks any negative examples that might lead to prejudice.

The suit alleges that other religions–Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam–are all given greater attention in the frameworks than Hinduism, especially as it relates to “teachings,” and the inclusion of “virtues and characters central to those faiths.”

They also claim that the state board and an advisory commission charged with building standards and frameworks relied on “anti-Hindu” content experts including a professor of anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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