The California Textbook Review Scandal
The California Board of Education (CBE) reviews and adopts new textbooks every six years. The current review/adoption process for the sixth grade social studies textbooks started in 1st quarter 2005, and concluded in March 2006.
According to the Curriculum Standards established by CBE, ancient civilizations are taught in the 6th grade social studies class.
Hindu parents in California participated in the adoption process and conveyed that the proposed textbooks contain factually incorrect information about ancient India and Hinduism while repeating derogatory, colonial-era clichés and perpetuating Eurocentric and Biblical views.
Rather than consider the viewpoints of Hindu parents and experts on ancient Indian History and Hinduism, the California Board of Education (CBE), solicited the advice of hostile academics who carry political and ideological baggage against Hinduism and India and whose knowledge of ancient Indian history and Hinduism is both limited and prejudiced.
Hinduism is not treated on par with other religions in these textbooks. Positive aspects of ancient India and Hinduism are ignored, while Euro-centric, colonial and Biblical views are given prominence in the textbooks.
Whereas Christianity, Islam and Judaism are presented from the believers’ perspective, Hinduism is presented from the non-believers’ perspective.
Corresponding school textbooks pertaining to other religions do not dwell upon negative or controversial aspects such as slavery, religious persecution of infidels and pagans, sexual abuse by clergymen and the lower status of women. However, the textbooks pertaining to Hinduism inexplicably emphasize negative societal aspects related to Hinduism and ancient India.
Several essential elements of Hinduism are not adequately covered in the proposed textbooks. These include the divinity of men and women, the freedom to worship God in any form, Yoga and meditation. Similarly, the textbooks also fail to adequately cover the contributions of ancient India to science, mathematics and medicine.
Many of the controversial topics included in the textbooks involve complex issues. Appropriate discussion of these issues belongs to a much higher academic level and is not suitable for grade 6 students.
Hindu Education Foundation (HEF) and Vedic Foundation (VF), two premier Hindu organizations, worked on behalf of the Hindu community in California to provide factually correct information about ancient India and Hinduism in textbooks. They followed the CBE guidelines to provide detailed line-by-line comments on the textbook sections related to India and Hinduism.
The CBE hired an expert, Dr. Shiva Bajpai, Professor of History at CSU Northridge, to review the comments provided by these organizations. However, before the Board could approve the recommendations of Prof. Bajpai, a group of academics promoted by the Indo-European Research (IER) group petitioned the CBE to discard the comments of Hindu organizations. The CBE appointed three members of the politically-motivated IER group to review comments.
On December 2, the California Curriculum Commission reviewed all the
comments provided by the group promoted by IER and rejected most of
them, while affirming the recommendations of Prof. Bajpai. However,
we understand that the SBE is siding with the IER group and has ignored the Hindu community’s input as well the recommendations of Prof. Bajpai and its own Curriculum
Contrary to the California state regulations, the CBE resorted to working with hostile academics with questionable political and ideological motivations in clandestine, closed-door meetings while denying information about the proceedings to Hindu organizations and ignoring their queries.
Examples of Incorrect and Biased information
Basic information regarding Hinduism is riddled with errors: e.g. the chronological priority of two major scriptures is given in the wrong order: the Mahabharata is placed before the Ramayana. This is akin to stating that the Gospel was written before the Hebrew Bible.
One textbook states that Hindi is written in the Arabic script with 18 characters. The correct information is that Hindi is written in the Devanagari (Sanskrit) script with 46 characters.
One textbook states that the monkey King Hanuman is so dear to Rama that whenever the Ramayana is recited, he is present. The textbook proceeds disparagingly: “Look around, see any monkeys?”
The blatant errors on rudimentary facts indicate that the material was authored by non-experts whose knowledge about India and Hinduism is severely limited. However California and many other states in the US have a sizeable Indian American population today. There is therefore every reason that the Hindu community should be treated on par with other communities by ensuring that the task of writing textbook sections related to their civilization involves Indian academics who are experts in ancient Indian history and are also practising Hindus.
Hindu organizations have pleaded with the CBE that negative portrayal of India and Hinduism is harmful to the proper development of the young minds of children of Indian ancestry. In many instances, children have been ridiculed and have faced harassment from their classmates after disparaging discussions took place in the classrooms (e.g. "see any monkeys?"). Unfortunately, the CBE has been unwilling to pay attention to the concerns of Hindu parents even after children spoke at the SBE meeting describing their experiences.
An Example of a Controversial Topic
The textbooks continue to propagate the Aryan Invasion Theory according to which fair-skinned, light-haired and blue-eyed Aryans invaded India in 1500 BCE. The theory relies on racist and colonial interpretations of Indian history from the 19th century. Such theories have been discredited by recent studies involving genetics, carbon dating and satellite imagery. In spite of the fact that versions of the Aryan Invasion Theory have been used to bolster hateful ideologies such as Nazism and neo-Nazism, the academics promoted by the CBE and IER insist that it be taught to Grade 6 students.
California Parents for the Equalization of Educational Materials (CAPEEM) filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of California against the California State Board of Education and the California Department of Education. The complaint is about the civil rights of Hindus and Hindu children, the derogatory portrayal of Hinduism & Ancient Indian Civilization and the violation of Federal laws and statutes.
The civil rights of Hindu school children are violated by advancing an inaccurate and derogatory picture of Hinduism in sixth grade school textbooks. The California Department of Education and State Board of Education meetings on the matter failed to address Hindu concerns. Hindus are being discriminated against.
Various Hindu groups and parents participated in this process since the Grade 6 History-Social Sciences textbooks came up for adoption last year. After being let down by the CDE and SBE, the parents decided to proceed legally to restore the civil rights of Hindus and eradicate discriminatory practices against them. Action is urgent as school children are the ones who will suffer damage due to the derogatory presentation in the textbooks. Many students have spoken to the CDE and SBE about their experiences in the classroom and the complete disconnect between their school curriculum on Hinduism and what they know and practice at home.
CAPEEM has retained Venkat Balasubramani to represent its interests. Venkat is an attorney who has worked in the past with public interest groups including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on civil rights matters.
Swami Vivekananda on calumnies heaped over Hinduism and Hindu civilization by foreign missionaries: “What is meant by those pictures in the school-books for children where the Hindu mother is painted as throwing her children to the crocodiles in the Ganga? The mother is black, but the baby is painted white, to arouse more sympathy, and get more money. What is meant by those pictures, which painted a man burning his wife at a stake with his own hands, so that she may become a ghost and torment the husband’s enemy? What is meant by the pictures of huge cars crushing over human beings? I have heard one of these gentlemen preach in Memphis that, in every village of India, there is a pond of the bones of little babies… What have the Hindus done to these disciples of Christ that every Christian child is taught to call the Hindus ‘vile’ and ‘wretched’ and the most horrible demons on earth?” Swami Vivekananda, The Complete Works, Vol. IV (1945 ed.)