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Calif., Texas Debate Portrayal of Ethnic Groups in Curriculum

This spring found the nation's two largest states embroiled in debates over the portrayal of ethnic groups in state history and curricular standards. 

In California, where two-thirds of students are Latino or Asian, the state's Instructional Quality Commission, which sets curriculum frameworks for schools around the state, voted last Thursday to adopt a new history curriculum for middle schoolers that split the difference between the concerns of several groups of Hindu Americans.

One group, led by the Hindu American Foundation, was concerned that the proposed framework used the term South Asia to refer to the civilizations that came out of the Indus River Valley, rather than India, the name of the most prominent of those civilizations. The group also lobbied for the curriculum to exclude teachings about the caste system, which they said led to misunderstandings about Indian culture and some students being taunted or bullied in schools.

That group was countered by a group of South Asian scholars and activists who argued that excluding teachings about the caste system is tantamount to whitewashing the subcontinent's history and the detrimental impact of that system especially on Dalits, the lowest caste.

The California board decided Thursday to refer to India rather than South Asia, but to keep in teachings about the caste system. The New York TImes reports that the board came to the decision after debating dozens of individual sentences.

California's deputy superintendent of education Tom Adams told the Times that  "what we're really trying to do here is make sure that the children of California have a curriculum that helps them understand all these groups."

Meanwhile, in Texas, a new textbook proposed for use in that state has drawn fire for its representation of Mexican-Americans. The Associated Press reports that the book describes Mexican-Americans as having "adopted a revolutionary narrative that opposed Western civilization and wanted to destroy this society." 

The textbooks are on the agenda after a group of activists convinced the state's education commission to include Mexican-American studies in textbooks. 

The Texas process is at an earlier stage than in California: Texans have until September to submit comments about the textbook.

Correction: An earlier version of this post refered to the Dalit caste as Dawits.


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