Sikhs stories approved for California’s new ethnic studies curriculum. Now, Sikhs vow to keep fighting for others less represented

“For any understanding of historical or contemporary California, Sikh stories have been integral in shaping the state for more than 125 years."

A joint poster by Sikh Coalition and Jakara
By Asia Samachar Team | UNITED STATES |

California students are set to be exposed to Sikh history and their contributions when they undertake ethnic studies.

This is a result of months of active lobbying as the California State Board of Education was working on the state’s Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum (ESMC).

On Thursday, the board met to discuss and adopt the final draft, two years after it set out to draft a model ethnic studies curriculum for its high schools.

“After months of advocacy from community members across the state, California Sikhs are pleased that the meaningful representation of our history, stories, and contributions will be part of the ESMC,” said Sikh Coalition education director Dr. Pritpal Kaur in a statement.

“Having accurate and relevant information about Sikh children in this curriculum and accompanying lesson plans will make their classrooms a safer and more welcoming place for all, while also educating non-Sikh children about an important California community.”

The process began two years ago when California set out to draft a model ethnic studies curriculum for its high schools.

The draft approved draft had seen multiple revisions and received close to 100,000 public comments, including ‘complaints from Jews, Koreans, Sikhs, Armenians and other ethnic and religious groups who said it left out their American experiences’.

In an Associated Press report, it noted that process illustrated ‘the challenges of crafting an ethnic studies curriculum at a time of racial reckoning and national division’.

“California’s ethnic studies debate highlights some of the difficult questions educators will face in an era when the US is redefining its heroes and asking whose stories should be told. More than three-quarters of California’s 6.2 million public school students are nonwhite,” the report added.

Recounting the effort, the Sikh Coalition statement noted that for months, the Sikh community in California — which represents roughly half of the approximately 500,000 Sikhs throughout the United States — has advocated in favor of a robust ESMC.

In March of 2020, the Sikh Coalition and the Jakara Movement rallied 52 gurdwaras (Sikh houses of worship) and more than 1,200 petition signers to endorse their recommended additions and lesson plan for the curriculum. Hundreds of Sikh community members have provided written and spoken public comment, and a bipartisan group of 25 California assembly members and state senators joined a letter in support of these efforts last October.

“Sikhs and our stories are critical for a robust Ethnic Studies field, and the community’s relentless advocacy over these past several months makes it clear that we are resolute regarding our inclusion in the curriculum,” said Jakara Movement executive director Naindeep Singh in the same statement. “For any understanding of historical or contemporary California, Sikh stories have been integral in shaping the state for more than 125 years.”

While pushing for positive Sikh representation, the two groups noted that they fully support the efforts by many other marginalized groups to advance anti-racist education for all.

Accordingly, the Sikh Coalition and the Jakara Movement said it will continue to work with colleagues connected to the Liberated Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum (LESMC) Institute to ensure that legitimate and comprehensive educational materials are created and distributed to support the implementation of Ethnic Studies in classrooms at the school district level.

“We acknowledge that this new ESMC comes with serious and well-documented flaws, and there are several communities that are not represented as they should be,” continued Dr. Kaur. “Accordingly, we maintain a close working relationship with both the California Department of Education and the LESMC Institute, and we will continue to fight for not just the Sikh community, but all groups whose histories should be taught under the discipline of Ethnic Studies.”



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