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The New Jersey Assembly lawmakers unanimously (75-0) voted on the resolution AR-172 to include the Sikhism instruction into social studies curriculum in NJ public schools. Sikhs are a minority community but with substantial concentration in the State of New Jersey. Sikhs have made immense contribution since they have landed in US and in the State of New Jersey but due to lack of education and awareness around Sikhism in schools, it mostly has led to increases in bullying of Sikh kids in classrooms due to mistaken identity and negative stereotypes of Islamophobia. As per a 2014 report by a National Sikh organization, the bullying of Sikh kids is 2x the national average. This situation has further worsen after the COVID-19 as the hate crime against Asian Americans, including Sikhs, have increased, the resolution notes.
Sikh Youth Alliance (SYA) carried out data collection on bullying and Sikhism education in Sikh places of worship across NJ from February 2023 and in its early findings noted that Sikh kids from Grade K-12 either did not learn anything or learned very little about Sikhism in classrooms at some point. New Jersey is a multi-racial and multi-cultural state with home to Asians, African/Black Americans, Whites, Latinos, Muslims and other visible and invisible communities. The kids from these communities share common space in the classrooms and therefore the inclusion of history, culture, religion and identity about a community becomes too important to impart necessary knowledge and awareness to trigger those empathetic values.
SYA strongly asserted that it the need of the hour to teach our future generations to be more empathetic and inclusive of other communities and religions living within our boundaries. The lack of education and awareness about Sikhs in classrooms could be a contributing factor for the spike in cases of bullying. The New Jersey Student Learning Standards (NJSLS) are reviewed and
revised every five years. The 2020 NJSLS in Social Studies were adopted by the State Board of Education on June 3, 2020.
The FBI March 2023 Hate Crime Statistics report notes that Sikhs are 2nd in rank after the Jewish population when it comes to religion-motivated hate, discrimination, and bigotry incidents. The negative stereotypes of Islamophobia and mistaken identity could be strongly attributed to the reasons behind these rising attacks. Since the horrific incident of 9/11, the attacks against Sikhs have increased and the recent FBI report sets an alarming bell.
With the unanimous passing of this resolution by legislators within the State, education boards across New Jersey would have an opportunity to reflect upon the inclusion of Sikhism education alongside other religions and communities in school social studies curriculum. In a support letter, AFTNJ notes, “Without education, there is no acceptance – and without acceptance, there is no
Sikh Youth Alliance takes the opportunity to thank Hoboken Mayor Ravinder Singh Bhalla, New Jersey Education Association (NJEA), American Civil Liberties Union (NJ), Latino Action Network Foundation (LANF), American Federation for Teachers NJ, Make Us Visible NJ, Garden State Coalition of Schools, and Sikh Coalition for slipping in their support for passage of AR-172.
Through the online voting process, close to 850 members of NJ sangat voted in favor of passing this critical legislation. The overwhelming participation by NJ sangat points the need of Sikhism education to be taught in classrooms. The Sikhs want to feel included in the state and including education at the public school would be a stepping-stone in the right direction. Sikh Youth Alliance intends to take this initiative to Township Boards of education as the next step for inclusion of Sikh education in classrooms.
The legislation was championed by Assembly Members Carol Murphy, Sadaf Jaffer and Raj Mukherji and it garnered 29 co-sponsors before it reached the Assembly full floor. Sikh Youth Alliance is hopeful that the legislative measure in Senate will also clear the hurdle in future.