Lansing, Michigan – Sikhs across the United States welcomed the nod on June 11 from the Michigan Board of Education to approve new social studies standards that include Sikhism for the first time ever, thus giving over 1.4 million public school students in Michigan the opportunity to accurately learn about the Sikh community.
“As an educator and parent with children in Michigan public schools, these new standards are a milestone in creating safe and inclusive classrooms,” said Sikh community member, Harleen Kaur from Troy, Michigan, adding, “The Board of Education’s vote to approve social studies standards that are more inclusive signals a positive step forward for all students.”
Commenting on the process over the years that helped streamline the new standards to add inclusiveness to the curriculum, Linda Forward, Senior Executive Policy Advisor from the Michigan Department of Education said, “A great deal of hard work over many years has gone into developing these new more inclusive standards.”
“This is a step forward for Michigan’s diverse communities and will go a long way in preparing our students for a globalized world. At the same time, students will have a solid foundation about what it means to be a citizen, including their obligations and responsibilities,” noted Forward.
Welcoming the announcement, Jesse Singh, Chairman, Sikhs of America said in a statement to IAT: “For the Sikhs and Indian diaspora in general, this is a landmark moment. We will strive to get this educational standard rolled out in all the 50 states of the United States. A much-needed way forward for enlightening the general public about the Sikh religion and significance of conspicuous appearance of the followers of the religion.”
The Sikh Coalition in a press release highlighted its work to ensure that Sikhism is taught in Michigan public schools and that it is taught accurately. The Michigan Department of Education (MDE) in its draft of the K-12 social studies standards for review in March 2019 had incorrectly described Sikhism as a blend of other religions and not as an independent religious tradition in one section, and fully excluded Sikhism from the list of world religions in another. In response, the Sikh Coalition successfully mobilized Michigan community members and gurdwaras to advocate for the accurate inclusion of Sikhism.
“Teaching students about Sikhs is an effective and proactive way to combat bigotry and address the issue of bullying,” said Sikh Coalition Education Director, Pritpal Kaur, adding, “Michigan now becomes the 10th state to incorporate these critical updates into their standards as we continue our work to create safer classrooms and increase religious literacy across the United States.”
Appreciating the work done by the stakeholders to make it a success, Kanwaljit Singh Soni, Chairman, Sikh Affairs Wing, Overseas Friends of Bharatiya Janata Party (OFBJP), USA saidin a statement to IAT, “My sincere appreciation to the Michigan Board of Education for inclusion of Sikhism as part of new social studies standards. I will also like to thank everyone whose efforts have made this a reality.” Bharatiya Janata Party is the ruling party of India and is led by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The new standards will be rolled out over the next five years. A detailed implementation plan will be developed over the summer after which stakeholders from across the state will be invited to help with the development of resources and other educational materials for teachers. After teachers have studied the standards, aligned assessments will then be developed. The Michigan Department of Education expects many school districts to be making good use of the standards in the second and third year (and beyond), integrating them into their lesson plans. In the fourth and fifth year, it is expected that assessments will be used across Michigan.
Sikhism, the fifth largest world religion, has approximately 500,000 followers in the United States. The Sikh religious articles of faith, including the turban and unshorn hair, represent a commitment to justice, tolerance and equality for all. Sikhs have been an integral part of the American fabric for 125 years, but continue to remain disproportionately targeted in cases of school bullying, bias and backlash due in part to the lack of educational awareness about the Sikh community, faith and traditions.