Imagine being a Hindu American middle or high school student and opening a textbook to find these descriptions of your religion:
"[Hinduism's] origins are unclear, but it is believed that Indo-Europeans invaded the Indian subcontinent around 1500 BCE."
"The practice is suttee, in which a widow throws herself on her deceased husband's funeral pyre. The practice horrifies many, but some Hindus see it as an act of sacred devotion to the husband, a devotion that would continue into the afterlife."
These are just a few examples of textbook descriptions of Hinduism and ancient India that continue to prevail in classrooms across America, despite being debunked by historical evidence. But many textbook publishers adjust their content to fit the curriculum standards developed in different states, counties, and municipalities across the country, which makes the development of accurate social studies standards so vital to preparing students for a global society. Many social studies educators are alarmed by the fact that in the discussions about Common Core, social studies continues to be viewed as a secondary concern.
In California, however, the problem is twofold: for starters, the state's K-12 History-Social Studies Content Standards haven't been updated this century, leaving textbook publishers using outdated information for pupils in the country's most diverse state. Secondly, the development of the content standards, as noted in a dissertation written by Bradley Fogo of the Stanford History Education Group, was fraught with politics and the privileging of certain groups over others, creating an uneven and almost exclusionary set of standards. For example, despite its reputation as a progressive state, California allowed right-wing ideologues such as David Barton to have a say in the process the last time the standards were revised in 1998. As my colleague Suhag Shukla noted, Hindu Americans - and other minority groups - have had to deal with the consequences of these standards in California's instructional materials for nearly three decades, despite objections from historians who noted that the development of several content standards was not grounded in contemporary scholarship.
Now, California has an opportunity to update the standards, thanks to SB 1057, which passed the Assembly 76-3 and the Senate 30-6, and is awaiting Gov. Jerry Brown's signature. Led by Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett and backed by a diverse coalition of groups ranging from education advocates to minority ethnic and religious organizations, as well as scores of prominent academics, this bill would compel the State Board of Education and the California Department of Education to re-write the standards and allow for a more inclusive process. Such a process would not only give greater transparency, but would allow for the most up-to-date scholarship (particularly in history) to be incorporated into the development of new standards.
California has long been a leader in education. It's time for its standards to catch up to its reputation.