Tulsi Gabbard, the first Hindu Congresswoman, came out in favor of the updates to the way lessons about Hinduism are taught in California schools. Image: dma-hawaii via Flickr.

California Curriculum Updates Aim to Bolster Students’ Understanding of Indian History


Two years after the South Asian community began pushing for changes to the way California schools teach Indian history and culture, the California Education Board has updated its curriculum for the second time in three months. In May, the Board decided to replace the use of “South Asia” with “Ancient India” in regional history lessons. July also brought new changes to California’s curriculum. The new framework brings a level of detail to lessons about Hinduism by explaining philosophies and teachings that emerged out of the religion. Overall, the changes were made to diversify and deepen students’ understanding of India’s history and culture.

The debate over changes regarding India’s place in California’s curriculum attracted voices from academia, politics, and everyday Indian American students concerned about how their culture was represented. A Board of Education committee meeting in May, ahead of the first round of changes, attracted more than 200 speakers. Members of multiple groups representing Indian Americans, including the Sikh Council of Central California, the Hindu Education Foundation, the Hindu American Foundation, and Dalit activists (members of the caste also known as the Untouchables), voiced their opinions ahead of both reforms. South Asian scholars also penned a letter to the Board defending the use of the term South Asia instead of India, while the first Hindu US Congresswoman, Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawai‘i’s second district, voiced support for the Board’s changes.

Although not all parties supported the Board’s changes to the way South Asian culture and history are taught in California schools, the liveliness of the debate and the amount of press it received in California and nationwide are demonstrative of the growing influence of the US’ Indian immigrant population, which numbers more than two million. California itself is home to nearly 600,000 Indian Americans, which also adds significance to the debate over how to teach Indian history and culture as accurately as possible.

This is also not the first debate to take place over how to teach students about Asian history, geography, or culture. In 2014, Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe signed a bill mandating that Virginia textbooks must refer to the sea between Japan and Korea as both the "Sea of Japan" and the "East Sea", reflecting the names respectively used in Japan and South Korea. Given the increasing amount of Asian Americans in the United States, numbering over 18 million in 2011 and representing nearly 6% of the US population, state education boards nationwide are increasingly looking to ensure accuracy in their schools’ lessons about Asia.

Andrea Moneton is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington and a student at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service.