May 21, 2014
Vaishakha Krushna Paksha Ashtami, Kaliyug Varsha 5116
Montgomery County teachers got the chance this April to delve into Sikhism and Hinduism — two religions that some say have been taught incorrectly or incompletely at county schools in the past.
Over the course of two training sessions and one reflection session, Montgomery County Public Schools teachers and administrators were invited to visit two Sikh temples and a Hindu temple where they could learn straight from those who practice the faiths.
The training — which was voluntary and attracted about 10 to 12 people at each session — was organized by the Kaur Foundation, the Sikh Kid to Kid organization, the Hindu American Foundation and the county school system.
In the school system’s curriculum, six major religions are taught in a sixth-grade world history course. The subject of world religions also appears at the high-school level in a comparative religions elective and a modern history class.
The six major religions taught are: Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Sikhism.
Sikhism was added most recently in the 2012-13 school year.
Maria Tarasuk, the social studies PreK-12 program supervisor for the county school system, said the teacher training arose after requests from local and national organizations regarding how Sikhism and Hinduism were being taught in Montgomery classrooms.
Tarasuk said she sees both Sikhism and Hinduism as topics that have made teachers uncomfortable because they lack information about and experience with the religions.
“Anytime you have to teach about something that you’ve learned from in a book and not experienced it can be uncomfortable,” Tarasuk said.
Tarasuk said it made sense, given the growing diversity of the county, to tap into the resources in the school system’s community to help it train teachers.
Hana Kaur, an eighth-grader at Herbert Hoover Middle School in Rockville, was one member in a group of students and parents from the Guru Gobind Singh Foundation Sikh temple who testified in front of the county school board last spring to ask for teacher training and town hall meetings on Sikhism.
Hana, who has worked one-on-one with teachers to help them understand materials on Sikhism, participated in the April 5 training session and said she thinks the training allows teachers to not only convey the information properly but also better understand their students.
“I never thought it would happen,” she said. “It was really cool to see the teachers actually care.”
George Mitchell, who teaches social studies at Rosa Parks Middle School in Olney, said before the Hinduism training on April 26 that he took a lot from the first training session on Sikhism.
“I very much enjoyed it and learned a great deal because I knew virtually nothing and I came away knowing a lot,” he said.
Christina Sesok, a social studies teacher at Col. E. Brooke Lee Middle School in Silver Spring, said she attended the sessions because she didn’t know a lot about either religion and wanted to help make sure her students were’t going out into the world with misconceptions.
“If I taught, I wanted to make sure I had all of the information correct,” she said.
Murali Balaji, director of education and curriculum reform for the Hindu American Foundation, said he thinks the Montgomery teachers’ vists to the Sikh and Hindu temples will provide them with the context they need to help improve their lessons.
“Teachers, beyond their own faith perspective, often are hesitiant to really do their own research and to better teach about religions such as Hinduism and Sikhism,” he said.
Tarasuk said she anticipates the school system will run a similar program in the fall, which will likely continue the focus on Sikhism and Hinduism.
“All of their senses are engaged,” she said. “It’s not just an academic understanding.”