A Historic Compromise

It’s said that history is written by the winners. But it’s also
written — and rewritten — by textbook publishers. From Texas to
Japan, textbooks have been the objects of heated controversy, with
protesters often seeing nothing less than history at stake.

One recent clash occurred in California. The weekly newspaper
India-West reports that South Asian groups there
bumped heads with each other and religious scholars over the
representation of Hindu culture and religion in the state’s
sixth-grade textbooks. Points of contention included the caste
system, Aryan migration, and the treatment of women. As
India-West reported in a piece picked up by the
Pacific News Service
in December, among the changes
sought were replacing the sentence ‘Men had many more rights than
women,’ with ‘Men had different duties (dharma) as well as rights
than women. Many women were among the sages to whom the Vedas were
revealed.’

The suggested changes kicked up a storm of critics, including a
band of prominent religious scholars led by Harvard Sanskrit
professor Michael Witzel. In a letter to the California Board of
Education (CBE), Witzel wrote, ‘The proposed revisions are not of a
scholarly but of a religious-political nature, and are primarily
promoted by
Hindutva [Hindu
nationalism] supporters and non-specialist academics writing about
issues far outside their area of expertise.’ As proponents insisted
the changes were necessary to correct ‘biases and distortions,’ the
academics argued that they tended to cast a warm light on the
colder aspects of Indian culture.

After months of fiery debate between the groups, a CBE
subcommittee voted in favor of editing the state’s sixth-grade
social science and history textbooks. Seventy percent of the
changes presented by the Hindu Education Foundation (HEF) and Vedic
Foundation were approved, according to the HEF, in a compromise
largely accepted by the groups involved. The full board is meeting
to make a final decision on the changes from March 8-10. Meanwhile,
the ramifications of these changes could cross state borders. Since
California buys more textbooks than any other US state, the
decision made there could set the precedent for schools across the
nation.

Go there >>

Panel Accepts Some Textbook Edits After Compromise

Go there too >>

Hindus and Sikhs Protest Curriculum Changes in Calif.
Textbooks

Related Links:

Related Links From the Utne
Archive:

Comments? Story tips?
Write a letter to the editor

Like this? Want more?Subscribe to Utne
magazine

UTNE
UTNE
In-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.