HAF Initiates Dialog of Curriculum Frameworks with VA DOE

Minneapolis, MN (May 19, 2008) - The Hindu American Foundation submitted the following letter and comments to the Virgina Department of Education for its upcoming curriculum frameworks adoption for History and Social Science.  A pdf of the letter below and suggested comments can be downloaded by clicking here.   
Dear Dr. Thurston and Respected Members of the Board:
I write to you in my capacity as Legal Counsel and interim Managing Director of the Hindu American Foundation. The Hindu American Foundation (HAF) is a national, non-profit advocacy group providing a progressive voice to over two million Hindu Americans. The Foundation interacts with and educates leaders in public policy, academia, media and the public at large about Hinduism and global issues concerning Hindus, such as the portrayal of Hinduism, the free exercise of religion, hate speech, hate crimes and human rights. HAF is not affiliated with any religious or political organizations or entities. It has come to our attention that the Virginia Department of Education will soon embark upon its public process for adopting new curriculum frameworks for History and Social Science, the subject area in which Virginia schoolchildren are first introduced to ancient Indian history and Hinduism.
HAF is extremely familiar with the general process in which most states adopt not only textbooks but the curriculum frameworks upon which the textbooks are based. It was in 2006 that HAF filed suit against the California State Board of Education (SBE) contending that the procedure through which the SBE had reviewed and approved revisions in sixth grade textbooks, especially as to their presentation of Hinduism, was not conducted in accordance with California law and the SBE’s internal administrative rules. In his ruling on Hindu American Foundation, et al., v. California State Board of Education, et al, Case No. 06 CS 00386, judge upheld HAF’s claim that the textbook adoption process was flawed and illegal. He wrote that the California SBE, “at all times relevant to this matter has been conducting its textbook approval process under invalid ‘underground regulations.’” In fact, as a result of the lawsuit, the SBE was forced to revamp and readopt its entire curriculum frameworks and instructional materials adoption process. HAF has been an active participant in that process, working diligently to ensure that key procedural safeguards are implemented for fairness and transparency to the public.
While we have been reassured by our Virginia-based members that the Virginia Department of Education has been receptive in addressing the concerns of the Hindu American community with regard to issues over the current curriculum frameworks as they relate to Hinduism, we write to you at this juncture because our experience in California and that of other states has taught that once draft regulations are presented to the public for comment, significant changes and edits to such drafts can be quite difficult, daresay near impossible, to implement. We also hope to actively participate in the public comment phase of the adoption and hope the rules regulating the portion of the process are readily available to members of the public.
As the very blueprints upon which textbooks are based, curriculum frameworks (and associated standards of learning) make up the very heart of any educational system. And just as a house built on flawed blueprints could result in collapsing walls or a crumbling foundation, so too can a flawed curriculum framework lead to the sub-standard education of American school children and discrimination against and degradation of, in this case, Hindu American children. Moreover, in this age of globalization, it is incumbent upon on us as world citizens to not only accurately, but thoughtfully and respectfully share the stories of other cultures and religious traditions. Indeed, both scholars and theologians have warned that Americans' woeful level of religious illiteracy damages not only America’s relationship to other nations, but Americans’ relationships with one another and devastatingly, to America’s greatest strength, our democracy.
So it is in the spirit of dialogue stemming from a serious concern for the quality of education of all Virginia schoolchildren, that we ask that the Department of Education take HAF’s following comments and observations into consideration and that the Department call upon the Foundation for references to a wide range of world- renowned scholars of Hinduism, Indic Studies and Ancient Indian History to assist in putting together a curriculum framework that could well become a beacon for other states across the U.S. as to how to teach Hinduism in public schools in a fair and balanced manner and on par with the teaching of other world religions.
Observations and comments have been indicated with strikethrough for suggested deletions, GREEN CAPs where a subject category has not been addressed and red for suggested replacement language.
HAF reserves the right to participate in the public comment period on behalf of our Virginia constituency. Should you have any questions or would like any references to the esteemed scholars mentioned above, please do not hesitate to call me. Thank you for your time and consideration.
Warm regards,
Suhag A. Shukla, Esq.
Legal Counsel and Managing Director