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Teaching India

Published: November 17, 2014

CSULB’s Yadunandan Center for India Studies and The History Project at CSULB held the 2014 Teach India Institute, a week-long workshop on campus for middle and high school teachers.

Dave Neumann, director of the History Project at CSULB, and Tim Keirn, interim director of the Yadunandan Center, led 26 selected middle and high school teachers from Southern California (with two participants from the East Coast) to attend a week of full-day activities to learn about Indian religious and cultural traditions and history.

“This year, we had over twice as many applicants as places for teacher participants,” said Neumann, a member of the university since 2005. The Teach India Workshop has been offered for three years and was first initiated in the summer of 2012 by Neumann and CSULB History Professors Arnold Kaminsky and Keirn. The workshop has received generous financial support from not only the Yadunandan Center and The History Project, but also from the Uberoi Foundation for Religious Studies in Colorado.

The Yadunandan Center for India Studies, established in 2005 with a donation from the Uka and Nalini Solanki Foundation, champions the impartial study of India’s cultures, peoples and history. The first center of its kind in California, it promotes the study of India through social sciences, humanities, arts, education and other academic disciplines. The Yadunandan Center also has a special mission to improve and enhance the teaching and learning of India in K-12 schools and universities.

The History Project is a member of the California History-Social Science Project, a K-16 collaborative of historians, teachers and affiliated scholars dedicated to the pursuit of educational excellence in history and social science. The organization promotes teacher development in history-social science by focusing on standards-aligned content, historical thinking and academic literacy.

The California History-Social Science Content Standards do not include substantive coverage of India, which Keirn and Neumann think is a problem given the region’s historic and current importance. Students in California study world history in grades six, seven and 10. The sixth-grade standards do include the study of ancient India and its religious traditions, but neither the seventh-grade medieval course nor the 10th-grade modern course require that students learn about India.

The Teach India workshop seeks to remedy this oversight. Keirn and Neumann reason that if teachers have deep content knowledge about India and understand how to incorporate this knowledge into their courses, they will effectively introduce students to this fascinating region. Each year, the workshop theme is different.

“This year, the workshop’s theme dealt with the Indian diaspora. We always look for topics that are broad enough to apply to the ancient, medieval and contemporary Indian world,” said Neumann. “This theme also allows us to follow Indian communities outside of India, so we were able to include American history teachers in the workshop as well.”

The week included scholarly readings, talks by historians and other experts, discussion of pedagogy and time for lesson plan development. Participants met with Keirn in a seminar-type format for deep and extensive discussion of assigned texts. Speakers included Philip Goldberg, author of the recent American Veda, which examines the influence of Indian ideas on American society from the transcendentalists to the present. Also on tap was Brad Hawkins from CSULB’s Department of Religious Studies, an expert on Buddhism, who spoke on the Indianization of Southeast Asia. In addition, Phylliss Herman from CSU Northridge lectured on the impact of Vivekananda’s tour of the United States in the late 19th century. Each day, Neumann worked with teachers to help them think about how to use discipline-specific pedagogy.

Participating educators were drawn by a fascination with the Indian subcontinent, Neumann feels.

“There is a sense among these instructors that they don’t know as much about India as they would like to. But they don’t have that many opportunities to learn about India outside of workshops like this,” he said. Teachers recognize the difficulty of teaching students about India. Learning about India means dealing with a long time span and a large region with tremendous regional diversity.

“Trying to convey complex ideas in an age-appropriate way can be a challenge. We try to help teachers think about how to teach about Indian culture in an accurate way, without overwhelming students—especially younger students,” he added.

Neumann was impressed by the teacher commitment he saw.

“The teachers who participate are professionals who want to be better teachers. Participating teachers are giving up a week of their summer to join this workshop. If they didn’t feel participating wasn’t valuable, they wouldn’t come,” he said. “Teachers look forward to collaborating with other professionals who take their subject seriously. What makes something like this possible is a shared enthusiasm for India.”

Neumann expects the workshop to return to campus next summer. “There is a core of knowledge we offer about Indian culture and traditions,” he said. “This workshop helps teachers to better instruct with better knowledge of India.”