California textbook approval process in 2017, inputs and outcomes
In November 2017, California State Board of Education ratified the recommendation made by the Instructional Quality Commission to adopt 10 of 12 instructional materials submitted to the IQC from publishers. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt's two programs were not approved: HMH Kids Discover (K-6) & HMH Social Studies (6-8). All of the 6th and 7th grade instructional materials include India & Hinduism as required by California's History Social Science Standards (1998) and History Social Science Framework (2016). The quality of the materials in the approved books are improved from what was approved during the previous cycle (2007) — but still portray Hinduism and India in a racist and bigoted manner.
During the 3 year process, the state board of education and its other bodies received letters from thousands of Hindu American parents, children, educators and community members from across California, including immigrant Hindus from Fiji, Caribbean and India, as well as letters from a broad coalition of more than 75 interfaith and community groups, 17 state and federal elected officials and 75 academics asking for equitable representation of Hinduism and India in textbooks Mala Gavin, a retired educator and member of the ISKCON Berkeley community was one of the 500 people that gave testimony to the State Board of Education on Nov 9th reminded the commissioners that “all teachers were trained on Cultural Proficiency recently. So, how could they approve textbooks that are filled with bias and misinformation?”
At the close of the hearing, Board President Mike Kirst said: “That was the longest in the history of the state Board of Education.” In the deliberations leading to the final recommendations, the Instructional Quality Commission’s History Social Science Sub-committee cited the following on the reasons to recommend that the State Board of Education reject Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s two sets of materials:
- 52 citations mentioned in the letter from Hindupedia that detailed derogatory and bigoted materials that would negatively impact Hindu students’ ability to hold on to their faith
- Several violations of the FAIR act as voiced by LGBT groups
- 3000+ edits and corrections submitted by HMH
In their recommendation to approve McGraw Hill's programs, the IQC accepted approximately 10 edits from Prof. Long, Professor of Religion and Asian Studies at Elizabethtown College with relation to India and Hinduism.
The IQC accepted almost all the recommended edits from LGBT groups bringing those texts in alignment with the FAIR act with exception of Studies Weekly where they did not approve any of the requested changes.
The State Board of Education decision closes a four-year process which also saw the approval of a new History Social Science Framework in 2016.
State Board of Education (SBE)
The State Board of Education (of the California Department of Education) is the final decision-making body in matters related to textbooks and other education related topics in California. They held a hearing on Nov 9 in which they accepted and approved the recommendations of the Instructional Quality Commission. Leading up to the Nov 9 hearing, they received letters from thousands of Hindu American parents, children, educators and community members from across California, including immigrant Hindus from Fiji, Caribbean and India, as well as letters from a broad coalition of more than 75 interfaith and community groups, 17 state and federal elected officials and 75 academics leading up to the hearing. It also heard testimony from 500 people before the public hearing closed. A total of 800 people from the Hindu community came to the hearing to ensure that the State Board adopted the resolution of the Instructional Quality Commission.
Instructional Quality Commission (IQC)
The IQC is responsible for advising the SBE on matters related to curriculum and instruction. The IQC:
- Develops and recommends curriculum frameworks and criteria for evaluating instructional materials submitted for adoption;
- Evaluates instructional materials that have been submitted by publishers and makes recommendations to adopt or reject each submission;
- Recommends policies and activities to the SBE, CDE, and local educational agencies regarding curriculum and instruction; and
- Advises and makes recommendations to the SBE on implementing the state’s academic content standards.
The publishers received the History Social Science (HSS) Framework authored by the IQC (and ratified by the SBE in 2016) and were supposed to include and expand on its materials in their textbooks. When the drafts of these books were made public, the Hindu community was shocked at the mediocre quality of the materials. Most of the publishers chose to ignore the new framework and leveraged older materials on India and Hinduism. Some of them expanded their sections on India & Hinduism but had very poor-quality materials (having racist and bigoted materials and many historically inaccurate statements). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, McGraw Hill, National Geographic, Discovery Education and Studies Weekly were the worst of the lot. Pearson and Teachers Curriculum Institute had comparatively better materials. Hindupedia submitted a nearly 300-page document providing detailed review of the issues in the chapters relating to India & Hinduism for six of the publishers’ draft materials. The IQC also received feedback from other Hindu groups and thousands of parents & school districts asking for equitable representation of Hinduism. They also received feedback from the IMRCRE panel they created.
They ultimately did not agree with the IMRCRE panels recommendations in totality and recommended the following changes to their recommendations:
- Rejecting HMH’s two sets of instructional materials based in part on citations mentioned in Hindupedia’s letter
- Making 10 additional edits in McGraw Hills materials on India & Hinduism based on a letter from Prof. Jeffry Long from Professor of Religion and Asian Studies at Elizabethtown College
- Accepting recommendations from the LGBTQ community on all the remaining materials (except Studies Weekly)
The IQC created a group of panels staffed by “Instructional Material Reviewers (IMR)” and “Content Review Experts (CRE)” to review the instructional materials. The IMRs were primarily school teachers supplemented with some members of the community. The CREs were PhDs in one of the fields of History or Social Science. Each panel was composed of a group of IMRs and one CRE and expected to review all the draft instructional materials from one program. The panel was moderated by a member of the IQC. They met for one week where they were to review and discuss the feedback and agree on whether to recommend the materials for approval or rejection to the IQC.
These panels were provided a printed copy of all the feedback submitted by the public including Hindupedia’s detailed analysis. Two panels had IMRs from the Hindu Community (HMH Kids Discover and Studies Weekly). Several panels had CREs from the Sikh community (HMH Kids Discover, McGraw Hill, Pearson, etc). The LGBTQ community had representation or sympathizers on almost all the panels.
The recommendations of the panels included edits and corrections to the publishers. The feedback from the Pearson panel included edits and corrections which removed the Sarasvati river from the text as opposed to the HSS framework which included it. The CRE on the panel did not agree with the approved History Social Science framework.
Several IMRs felt that the IQC commissioners were biased and did not allow them to fairly review and discuss the materials. Three panelists (including the two Hindu panelists) refused to sign the IMRCRE panel recommendation to approve all the materials. Both Hindu panelists submitted letters of descent to the IQC stating that the panels were biased and the panels were not allowed to make a fair evaluation of the materials.
Sandeep Dedage, a CRE on the Studies Weekly panel stated “I feel privileged to have been a part of California’s process. Few states give us such an opportunity to influence textbooks in a positive manner. That being said, the process needs to be significantly improved. The Studies Weekly instructional materials are historically inaccurate and present a distorted and biased perspective on India and Hinduism.”
Problems with draft instructional materials
The draft instructional materials from all publishers provided undue emphasis and unfair detailing on caste in contrast while ignoring the same in in other major ancient civilizations & religions. They
- Equated Caste with Hinduism and ignored that in medieval & modern times, it was more of a facet of Indian society than Hindu society (as it exists in Christianity and Islam in India)
- Discussed modern day ills of the caste system in the context of Ancient India (which is thousands of years older than the term “caste” itself)
- Did not highlight any of its positive aspects (which was a key contributing factor to enable Hindu/Indian society to be one of the wealthiest societies in the ancient world)
- Ignored the fact that an entire group of people left “society” and existed outside of this structure and yet had considerable influence on the development of Hinduism and India (ascetics, sages and rishis who authored the Veda, Ramayana, Mahabharata, developed rich philosophical systems, et al)
- Overly emphasized untouchability which was at best a fringe phenomenon in ancient India (becoming a bigger issue on medieval & modern times)
- Ignored the ongoing work of many Hindu teachers, sages, reformers to improve Hindu society and remove social ills and discrimination as they crept in over time
- Ignored that Hindu society was one of the most equitable ancient societies in the ancient world
- Ignored that Hinduism was overlaid on a system of patriarchy, matrilineality and matriarchy (depending on location in India)
These textbooks deal with a period of 4000 BCE to 500 CE where the discussion needs to focus on varna and jati not caste. Except for the last few centuries during this period, endogamy was still not a norm and boundaries between jatis and varnas were relatively fluid. Yet, the texts consistently narrate a singular tale of victimhood and oppression, forgetting the harmful impact it could have on children of Indian / Hindu origin in the classrooms. These materials tell kids that they are merely ‘broken people,’ whose ancestors had no agency, no contributions, and no glorious past to look up to. These materials single out Hinduism for negative treatment. They ignore the fact that the Bible regards non-believers as inferior and the Koran contains negative attitudes against the infidels. They ignore the fact that the Bible and the Koran permit slavery and the latter has also been used to allow enslavement of infidels as war booty. These 6th grade materials implicate Hinduism for caste inequities while portraying Islam and Christianity did not drive slavery and the slave trade.
The issues with the draft materials were not limited to social structure. All textbook drafts failed to recognize the last 50 years of scholarship on the Harrapan culture often referred to as the Sindu-Sarasvati Civilization and referred to in the HSS framework as the Indus-Sarasvati civilization. They failed to recognize
- Its antiquity (by missing findings in Mehrgarg and Bhirrana or discussing its early period)
- Its breadth (1500 sites identified, with 1,000 sites along the Sarasvati Riverbed)
- Some of the largest sites (Rakhi Gargi, Dholavira, Kalibangan, etc)
- Key findings as related to Hinduism (Namaste seal, meditation, etc) whose inclusion was mandated by the SBE’s HSS framework
- Discussion of the significance of the Sarasvati river (as required by the SBE’s HSS content framework)
Consequently, they artificially separated and dated Hinduism as a post-Harappan development which is inaccurate. Thus, the textbooks furthered the colonial treatment of India & Hinduism by arguing for the outdated Aryan Invasion / Aryan Migration theory. Regardless of where the Aryans came from, the fact remains that the scriptures they left behind treat the geography of India as sacred and as a “mother”. There are numerous mentions of the sacred rivers, mountains, countries, etc of India and there are no mentions of geography outside of India and certainly none pointing to the “Steppes”. Thus, the entire narrative creates an inaccurate and misleading view of the origins of Hinduism.
All the draft textbooks uniquely privileged geographical term South Asia over the historical term India. Like Chinese, Roman, and other major civilizations, the civilization of India has been historically referred to as the Indian civilization. Civilizational and geographical boundaries of China for example, have continued to change over the course of history, however civilization is still referred to as Chinese by its historical term, not by a geographical term north-mid-Asia or such. Uniquely calling out South Asia for Indian civilization is discriminatory.
The section on Islamic civilization and impact on India in the HMH Social Studies and McGraw Hill’s materials treat the Islamic invasion of India and the genocide of Hindus as merely “the expansion of Islam by trade and sometimes forced conversion” but never by bloodshed. In addition, many Hindu achievements in math and sciences were credited to Islamic scholars.
In addition to these issues, there are additional problems that are unique to each publisher including:
- Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company (both Kids Discovery & Social Studies series of books)
- Hinduism was mocked starting from its cover page with a discussion such as “Were Unicorns Real” and makes light of religious concepts such as karma.
- It failed to discuss South Indian empires like the Chola Empire which is commonly thought to also represent a “golden age” of India (in addition to the time period of the Gupta Empire).
- Used derogatory colonial concepts and negative pictures. Descriptions of Hindu texts were inadequate and incorrect at places.
- The section on Chandragupta Maurya had gross inaccuracies including mis-representation of the Arthashastra
- Buddhism was projected as a vastly superior faith compared to Hinduism. In doing so, the section misrepresented and stereotyped Hindu beliefs and doctrine
- They separated the cause & effect relationship of the invasion of Islam into North-western India and the disappearance of Buddhism in the region.
- Discovery Education
- Had significant negative and discriminatory portrayal of Hinduism and India. Juxtaposed pictures of poverty striken children & slums (of modern day India) with ancient India. No other country or society was treated in a similar manner
- Chopped off the state of Jammu & Kashmir from India in in multiple maps
- Showed pictures of slums, cows in trash piles, poor kids carrying manure as representative of Hindu society as a whole
- Encouraged role-playing of religious beliefs and instills in order to instill prejudice against Hindus & India vis-à-vis the US & UK
- It discussed the Aryan invasion theory as the definitive theory and ignores all research over the past 50 years to the contrary.
- Used inaccurate translations of sacred texts which provided a derogatory and accusatory tone regarding the Hindu social system. It further compounded this by hosting a video series that stereotyped the Hindu social system by focusing on untouchability.
- Portrayed Sufi Islam, Sikhism, and Buddhism as an improvement over Hinduism.
- Failed to mention the Sages Valmiki and Vyasa, the Bhumi Sukta, Yoga, the four fold purpose of life: Dharma, Artha, Kama Moksha, or diversity and pluralism in Hinduism as required by the HSS Content Framework
- National Geographic Learning, a Division of Cengage Learning, Inc
- Had materials that were not revised in alignment with the HSS framework (2016). They submitted their national materials.
- These materials grossly misrepresented Yoga, Holi and the Ramayana. It stated that Yoga was simply exercise with no religious or spiritual meanings. It depicted Holi as a celebration with flowers—where the festival is typically celebrated w/ colored powder and states commited sacrilege by referring to the Ramayana as a love story.
- It provided an incomplete timeline ignoring the Indus-Sarasvati civilization.
- The chapter failed to discuss sages Valmiki and Vyasa and specific Harappan seals as required in the HSS content framework
- McGraw-Hill School Education LLC
- Creating an entire narrative around the Indo-European & Aryan people ignoring alternate perspectives and the fact that this was removed from the HSS framework.
- Falsely stated that early Hinduism was not one religion but a number of other religions
- Vivi-sectioned Hindu society stating that Brahmins had a religion apart from everyone else
- Butchered the historically well accepted narrative around the origins of the Vedas and development of subsequent scriptures, the oral tradition and development of Sanskrit as a language
- Denigrated the Hindu institution of marriage
- Minimized the role of women in Hindu society – focusing on historically inaccurate perception of inequality despite decades of broadly accepted scholarship dating back to the 1800s on the deep level of equality the two genders had in ancient India
- Falsely portrayed Buddhism as one of the many efforts by people dissatisfied by Hinduism to create new religions
- Failed to discuss topics included in the HSS content framework including male & female deities, yoga, & meditation
- Distorted the narrative of the Mauryan empire (through a very large number of errors of omission and commission. Starting from discredited theories of why Alexander retreated from India to the reason for the downfall of the Mauryan empire)
- Having an incorrect narrative on Indian/Hindu literature …limiting it to moral lessons and some historical texts while ignoring the medical, mathematical, astronomical, philosophical, other scientific treatises, fictional works, etc numbering in the thousands.
- Summarizing revered scriptures like the Bhagavad Gita & Ramayana in a derogatory manner
- Stated that little of the arts and architecture of ancient India survives and the vast majority of what remains is Buddhist in nature
- Calling translations of Hindu holy texts by Christian authors as “primary source materials”. These are highly as inappropriate as an excerpt on the Bible authored by an Islamic scholar would be
- Studies weekly
- Treated early Hinduism from a largely colonial (and factually incorrect) perspective that is alien to Hindus
- It segregated early Hindusim from modern Hinduism by calling them different religions
- Mocked Hinduism through statements such as “people believed Brahmins had magical powers”
- Mis-stated the causes of gender-inequality by treating it as a facet of social structure in Hinduism and ignoring the rich traditions of matrilineality and matriarchy.
- Presenting Indian civilization as a series of disconnected civilizations instead of one ancient, continuous civilization
- Making unsubstantiated guesses at political structure of ancient India (i.e., political landscape of Harappan civilization) while ignoring the last 50 years of scholarship
- Had numerous errors on the Mauryan empire mistaking regions for cities, incorrectly stating key dates and who ruled when, governmental organization and create causal relationships where none exist (e.g., downfall of Mauryan empire due to the rise of Buddhism).
- Confusing basic concepts like the written language of Sanskrit (Devanagari) and stating that Sanskrit is written using an international standard for writing Sanskrit with the Roman alphabet or translating people’s names as personal characteristics (“Asoka is the emperor w/o sorrow”).
- Insulted key Hindu scriptures (“Bhagavad Gita is a poem”) and derogatory choice of pictures (i.e., Mughal era picture of a jewel encrusted chariot for the warrior prince Arjun and political maps that remove large pieces of modern day India).
Groups involved in the process
Hindupedia focused on detailed reviews of the draft textbooks to ensure that the IQC & SBE were aware of the specific problems with the draft materials submitted by 6 of the 7 publishers that had content related to India & Hinduism. It also worked to bring academics together as signatories to its submissions and rallied members of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) community to join the effort and started the letter campaigns which were later driven by the Hindu Education Foundation. The ISKCON community rallied behind the effort as they felt that “it is important that textbooks present our culture in our voice as is done for other cultures and religions,” as per Balimardana Das, board member of ISKCON Silicon Valley. Hindupedia also started the letter campaign to drive awareness among the community as well as create pressure for the SBE. This effort was carried forward by the Hindu Education Foundation.
The Hindu Education Foundation played a prominent role organizing the larger Hindu community to ensure that the IQC & SBE heard the voice of the Hindu community. They reached out to various Hindu groups to ensure that people participated in the civic process including Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, Samskrita Bharati, Tri-Valley Telugu Community, Marathi mandal and many others. They also engaged with school district officials across California to build support for the effort in Sacramento. Dakshata Talekar of the Hindu Education Foundation led a small team to get gather 1,000 letters for submission to the IQC. She felt that the “Letter campaign played a significant role in bringing awareness about the CA Textbook Issue…not just among the Hindu American community but also among various state officials. Sadly, earlier most of the Indian Americans & many of the state officials were unaware of what's going on in CA middle school textbooks. Thousands of personally signed letters, conveyed thoughts & concerns of Hindu American Community to the state officials, which proved to be one of the catalysts that motivated them to sign-on to a letter to the IQC led by California State Assemblyman Ash Kalra asking for equitable treatment of Hinduism in textbooks.”
The Hindu American Foundation worked to get public officials to submit letters of support to the IQC & SBE to ensure that Hindus were equitably & fairly represented in textbooks. Their efforts culminated in the letters submitted by 17 elected officials from the California State Assembly, California Senate and Congress.
Many LGBTQ groups participated in the process under the banner of the FAIR Education Act Implementation Coalition. They submitted detailed reviews related to LGBTQ issues to the IQC & SBE. Other groups included the Sikh Coalition and the South Asian Histories for All.
The Sikh Coalition argued for a limited number of changes to how Sikhism was represented in textbooks. The South Asian Histories for All promoted the bigotry around caste already present in textbooks.