Michigan Schools Seek to Include the Study of Sikhism into Classroom Curriculum

indica News Bureau-

On June 11, 2019, the world’s fifth largest religion, Sikhism, received approval by the Michigan Board of Education to be inculcated in the state’s social studies standards. Consequently, over a million public school students will now be able to acquire knowledge about this vibrant Indian religion.


Harleen Kaur of Troy, Michigan, a member of the Sikh community, commented, “As an educator and parent with children in Michigan public schools, these new standards are a milestone in creating safe and inclusive classrooms. The Board of Education’s vote to approve social studies standards that are more inclusive signals a positive step forward for all students.”


While the majority of religion’s followers reside in India, the US alone inhabits 500,000 followers. Despite such a wide base in the country, these community members continue to remain victims of bullying, backlash, and ignorance from the rest of the community.


The symbolism of the Sikh’s primary traditions lies in the commandments issued by the worshipped leader of their faith, Guru Gobind Singh, the last guru of the faith. The most discernible of these include keeping uncut hair, to be worn inside a turban and wearing around metallic bracelet representing strength and integrity. Sadly, many individuals in the US remain ignorant and oblivious to the deep significance of these traditions.


It is to the merit of the Sikh Coalition that worked hard to ensure that knowledge of the religion could be imparted in the public schools of Michigan. According to a previous draft of the K-12 social studies standards, released in March 2019, the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) failed to recognize Sikhism as its own religion, instead of calling it a blend of other religions, while completely leaving out Sikhism as a distinct world religion in another section.


As a result, a ripple was created in the Sikh community in Michigan which mobilized over 400 community members and 12 gurdwaras to plead and protest against the MDE, signing a letter to request changes against the proposed course of action. The members of the community participated in listening sessions in regions including Detroit, Oakland, Kalamazoo, Lansing, and Grand Rapids to propel their agenda and enhance social studies standards.


The Sikh Coalition Education Director Pritpal Kaur remarked, “Teaching students about Sikhs is an effective and proactive way to combat bigotry and address the issue of bullying. 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.”


The amended standards will be implemented over the course of the following five years. The upcoming summer will see a more intricate plan being developed after which statewide stakeholders will come in to assist with the establishment of resources and tools for instructors at schools. Aligned assessments will be built after teachers study the standards. The MDE expects schools to be making good use of standards in and beyond the second and third years. By the fourth and fifth year, the expectation holds that the assessments will be implemented all across the state.


Linda Forward, Senior Executive Policy from the MDE stated, “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.”


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