Today, the Michigan Board of Education voted to approve new social studies standards, which for the first time ever include Sikhism. As a result, the new standards will give over 1.4 million public school students in Michigan the opportunity to now 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. “The Board of Education’s vote to approve social studies standards that are more inclusive signals a positive step forward for all students.”
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.
The Sikh Coalition worked behind-the-scenes to ensure that Sikhism is taught in Michigan public schools and that it is taught accurately. When the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) released a draft of the K-12 social studies standards for review in March 2019, it 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 mobilized Michigan community members and gurdwaras to advocate for the accurate inclusion of Sikhism. Over 400 Michigan Sikh community members took direct action asking the MDE to make corrections in the draft social studies standards; 12 Michigan gurdwaras signed onto a letter requesting the MDE and members of the state standards writing committee make changes to the proposed standards; and Michigan Sikh community members attended MDE listening sessions across the state – including in Detroit, Oakland, Kalamazoo, Lansing and Grand Rapids – to advocate for accurate Sikh inclusion to enhance the social studies standards.
This collective action played a significant role in ensuring Michigan schools will include accurate information about Sikhs, and include Sikhism in the list of major world religions.
“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. “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 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.
"A great deal of hard work over many years has gone into developing these new more inclusive standards," said Linda Forward, Senior Executive Policy Advisor from the Michigan Department of Education. "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."
For more background information on the Michigan social studies standards process or additional interviews, please contact Rajanpreet Kaur or Harkeet Singh. For nearly 18 years, the Sikh Coalition has worked to create safer and more inclusive schools for religious minorities across the United States. For more detailed information on the Sikh community, faith and traditions please see our Sikhism Reporter’s Guide.