Will Texas Students Learn About Sikhs?

(Austin, TX) 15 people have the chance to ensure public school students in Texas learn about Sikhs and Sikhism. 15 people have the opportunity to severely decrease the number of bias based bullying incidents against our Sikh children. 15 people have the ability to pioneer efforts to reflect the diversity of this country in our public school curriculum.

Who are these chosen 15? They constitute the 15 members of the Texas Board of Education.

The Coalition, along with local community members, has been allocating significant resources towards advocating for the inclusion of Sikhism into the Texas state standards for social studies since this past summer. Though the world’s fifth largest religion, the Texas standards currently lack any mention of Sikhism.

Decisions made on new classroom standards in the coming weeks will determine how social studies is taught in Texas public schools for the next several years.

Even more important, the standards used in Texas will also be used to develop state tests and by textbook publishers who develop material for the whole nation based on Texas, as it is one of the largest markets.

Leading up to the final decision making in March, Sikhs have had several opportunities to provide input and we’ve taken advantage of all of them:

  • Over 400 Texan Sikhs wrote letters to the Board last September urging them to include our faith into their standards.
  • Several Sikh community members came to testify at the Board of Education meeting held last November.
  • Sikh Coalition staff and volunteers lobbied Board Members individually through one-on-one conversations, email, and the sharing of written supporting materials over the past 3 months
  • And finally, 5 people spoke about the importance and necessity of adding Sikhism to the current draft of the standards at yesterday’s board meeting.

Of these 5 speakers, one of them was Reverend Stephen Nickle from Trinity University. He spoke about the importance of learning about a faith different from one’s own so students can ask themselves if what they trust is similar or different.

Harsimran Singh, a high school sophomore, related a personal story to the Board about how he was escorted to the principal’s office one day for wearing a “du-rag”. He tried to explain that he was wearing a patka, and that it was a part of his religion. Harsimran believes that incidents like this would not happen with other Sikh students if their teachers knew about Sikhism.

The other testimonies yesterday included Manpreet K. Singh and Shammi Gill from Houston and G.P. Singh from San Antonio.

The Board Members were very receptive to our testimonies, and one Board Member even voiced that he will fight to include Sikhism into the standards.

One of our community representatives and speakers, G.P. Singh, said it best “Every one did a great job with their testimony and Simran stole the show. Simran you are ‘my hero’. Thanks once again for everyone’s efforts. One of the lessons I walked away from this event was that in a representative democracy you have to make an effort to represent yourself. Otherwise what do you really have?”

What happens next? Sikhs in Texas are waiting with bated breath to hear the Board’s decision this Friday, 1/15/10.

However, the final vote and adoption of new state standards will occur in March. The Coalition will continue to partner with the community and engage the Board of Education on this initiative until that time.

If you would like to replicate this effort in your own state or have any questions, please contact the Coalition at manbeena@sikhcoalition.org.


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