Back in early December, I pointed out the media silence over a curriculum battle in California. Even though reporters were all over stories about curriculum battles in Kansas and Pennsylvania, no one was paying attention to California, where Hindu nationalists were succeeding in making major changes to sixth-grade textbooks about Hinduism.
I have no idea what changed but the Wall Street Journal (sorry, no link), Christian Science Monitor and Sacramento Bee published stories this week about the controversy. The Christian Science Monitor‘s Scott Baldauf wrote the most comprehensive story, explaining the positions of the Hindu nationalists fighting for the changes, and the Hindus and scholars who are fighting the changes. It’s worth excerpting some of his excellent explanations of the conflict:
Communities use history to define themselves — their core ideals, achievements, and grudges. Small wonder, then, that history is frequently reevaluated as political pendulums shift, or as long-oppressed minority groups finally get their say. History, and efforts to revise it, have touched off recent controversies between Japan and its neighbors over its World War II past, as well as between France and its former colonies over the portrayal of imperialism.
Here in India, Hindu nationalists have pushed forcefully for revisionism after what they see as centuries of cultural domination by the British Raj and Muslim Mogul Empire.
The Hindu nationalists fought for over 100 changes. One photo caption in the textbook, for instance, needed to be changed as it identified a Muslim as a Brahman priest. But other changes were much more controversial, such as downplaying the Hindu caste system.
The most contentious debate in the textbook battles is over when Indian civilization began. Most scholars believe Hindu was codified by people who came from outside India. Baldauf explains why this a problem:
Many Hindu nationalists are upset by the notion that Hinduism could be yet another religion, like Islam and Christianity, with foreign roots. The HEF and Vedic Foundation both lobbied hard to change the wording of California’s textbooks so that Hinduism would be described as purely home grown.
The final changes to the textbook, many of which were already adopted by the textbook committee, will be completed in the next couple of weeks. I remain curious why mainstream education and religion reporters failed to cover this for most of the past three months. I’m also curious why they started noticing now.