In the year since I left academia to become the Director of Education and Curriculum Reform for the Hindu American Foundation (one of the best decisions I've ever made), I have been truly blessed to have gotten to know and become friends with world-class education reformers who believe diversity is critical to a quality education.
My counterparts in civil rights, faith-based, and public education advocacy groups have helped me make the transition to K-12 education work, and their passion has been a great motivating force. The folks at Texas Freedom Network, for example, continue to do great work in the trenches to ensure that public education in the state isn't torpedoed by extreme right-wing groups seeking to minimize diversity and re-write history. Meanwhile, my friends among Jewish, Muslim, and Sikh-based organizations believe strongly that all religious minority groups deserve an equal seat at the table when it comes to a basic understanding of religion and culture in public schools.
One of the most inspiring individuals I've had the chance to work with is the Rev. Mark Fowler, director of programs for the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding, one of the most innovative groups promoting pluralism. Fowler and his colleagues emphasize culturally sensitive and inclusive teaching approaches as the key to promote interfaith and intercultural understanding in our schools, which is why Tanenbaum is considered a go-to source for pedagogy trainings.
Tanenbaum's teaching approach is driven by its "Seven Principles for Inclusive Education," which are: teaching all students; exploring multiple identities; preventing prejudice; promoting social justice; choosing appropriate materials; teaching and learning about cultures and religions; and adapting and integrating lessons appropriately.
These principles, while seemingly simple, are much more difficult to achieve in classrooms for a variety of reasons, but Fowler and the Tanenbaum team are persistent and patient in their training sessions, making sure that teachers and school administrators understand that institutional inclusiveness promotes quality education and prevents bullying among students. What makes Tanenbaum's approach stand out is its insistence that our identities are fluid, and that appreciating the fluidity of our interactions - instead of pigeonholing and homogenizing diverse groups - goes a long way in promoting understanding at the face-to-face level.
Tanenbaum's publications, including its Religions in My Neighborhood and World Olympics do a phenomenal job of getting teachers to engage their students in diversity. Not only can they help teachers with Common Core, but they help to make sure that administrators feel comfortable teaching about religions in a constitutionally approved manner.
I am thankful to work with great people like Mark Fowler and the folks at Tanenbaum, who help advance the idea that pluralism can only be achieved through the shared efforts of many. I look forward to many more wonderful years of great work and helping to institutionalize the goal - and implementation - of inclusive education.