California Schools Curriculum to Include Sikh Information
Budget Crisis May Delay New Textbooks
By Anju Kaur, SikhNN staff writer, Washington Bureau
Posted: Friday, September 28, 2012 | 12:12 pm
California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law this month a bill to finalize a new history and social studies framework for schools that includes teaching about the religion, history and culture of its Sikh immigrants.
“We have standards that we want our students to achieve,” said state Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Oakland. “The framework is what we expect students to know.” The previous framework was adopted in 1998, and is revised every 10 years.
The bill to adopt a new framework was vetoed by the previous governor in 2009 because of the state’s financial crisis. Hancock’s bill, introduced in February to revive the framework process, was stuck in the appropriations committee this summer.
Then the Wisconsin gurdwara shooting happened.
“The fact that people are mindful of the tragic consequence of not understanding one another’s cultures and respecting them was very much in peoples mind,” Hancock told SikhNN by phone. “You can see, when our students learn what different cultural garb is and why it matters to people,” they become more accepting of those differences.
“I think the Wisconsin tragedy, but of course, added fuel to the urgency of the bill.”
After the Wisconsin gurdwara shooting, two of the assembly members, Mariko Yamada, D-Davis, and Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, came to the Sacramento gurdwara for a candlelight vigil and prayer, said Darshan Singh Mundy, public relations officer for the gurdwara. Both were honored with Kirpans. Steinberg was asked about the delay in the education bill.
The initiative to include information about Sikhs in the schools curriculum began with Onkar Singh Bindra of Gold River, in 2001. With an unsuccessful effort to include Sikhism in a world religions course at a local university, Onkar Singh began focusing on the public schools curriculum.
“He was the driving force behind the legislation,” Hancock said. “A number of religious and cultural groups wrote letters. Many came to testify at hearings. But he really was the person there.”
Onkar Singh’s efforts led to the education department approving supplemental instructional materials about Sikhs. These include the ‘Cultural Safari’ video and education materials produced by the Kaur Foundation; the ‘Boy with Long Hair’ coloring book by Pushpinder Singh; ‘Sikhs in America’ and ‘Meet the Sikhs’, two videos produced by the local Public Broadcasting Station, KVIE; and ‘The Sikh Next Door’, a video about Sikh youths produced by the Lohgarh Sikh Educational Foundation.
His efforts also led to funding, through the Sacramento gurdwara, a Punjabi-language course at the California State University at Sacramento.
When work began on a new framework in 2008, Onkar Singh was part of a focus group for input. It was finished and ready for public review in 2009 when then Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger suspended all further action for five years because of the state’s budget crisis. Gov. Brown then extended the suspension for another two years, until 2016.
Five successive bills to revive the framework process were introduced and failed until Hancock authored Senate Bill 1540 in February. But even with strong support from legislators, the bill was suspended in July by the Assembly Appropriations Committee.
“California’s Sikh and Korean communities went into action, at my request,” Onkar Singh wrote in a commentary.
“So many people from the Sacramento gurdwara and the bay area gave their support,” Darshan Singh said. “Everyone had a role to play.”
The bill was voted out of suspension and reached the governor’s desk on Aug. 30.
“I and my friends reached out to the governor,” Onkar Singh added. California’s Sikhs sent 3,000 letters. And Sikh advocacy groups also joined the letter and phone campaigns.
The governor signed the bill on Sept. 8, along with an equal employment bill that also was initiated by Sikhs.
The public has 60 days from the signing to comment on the drafted framework, which is available on the education department’s Web site.
“We want to have it done by 2014,” Hancock said. This will give the state superintendent and the education board a year to work on this framework.
Once the education board adopts the framework, the Sikh supplemental materials will immediately become available to all schools for use in classes, she said. Schools will have the option to teach the standards while they wait for new textbooks.
The framework is revised every 10 years, and textbooks every five years.
“California is such a large textbook market, when California adopts a framework, textbook companies develop new textbooks,” Hancock said. “The framework shapes textbooks.”
The education department will invite publishers to submit books prepared in accordance with the new framework, Onkar Singh told SikhNN. “The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, or anyone in India or other states, has no right to interfere in California… We (Californians) will choose our own authors and reviewers.”
But it may be a couple of years before textbooks are ready. And, even then, because of the state’s ongoing budget crisis, the schools may or may not have money to update their materials, Hancock added. It all depends on whether the governor’s new tax initiative passes this November.
“Its huge,” Hancock said. “Billions were cut in the last few years. Everything that was not directly going to children in the classroom was cut off. People have to understand the magnitude of the financial crisis. We’re hoping to get it passed.”