When my daughter was in grade six, she asked me, “Mom, did the Indians not know how to make statues until the Greeks got to India?” This made me question what was being taught to my children in their schools. Equally important, were my children and their peers being raised to think in their schools that Indians, an ancient people, were no more than foolish folks, who, on their deathbeds, did things like ‘catch hold of the tail of a cow’ as a blind hope for getting into ‘heaven’? This mistake was repeated in two textbooks used by the CLIO project at UC Berkeley – meant to ‘correct’ K-12 teacher education about India through in-service - and left me speechless. That a public university could regurgitate such colonial nonsense towards my children’s heritage, at taxpayer expense, had to be addressed.
My question to these folks was, “Would you teach US history only from British perspectives in US classrooms?” This question was met often with dead silence. Some teachers could not quite get over what a simple question it was, and some attended the same, repeat presentation, at the same conference! Some told me I would not really prosper, since what I was questioning the status quo of power in society. A few people told me that I was being a revolutionary! What I was asking was this: My children had an equal right to non-biased materials about their heritage as any other American; why should my taxes pay for mis-educating the next generation about the heritage of South Asian Americans, born and raised in the US?
I attended the California and the National Council of Social Studies (CCSS & NCSS) conferences, and in 1988/89 and found out about the changes made to the California State History/Social Sciences Frameworks. Yes, there was work to be done, but California seemed ahead of the curve, nationally.
I could go speak in my children’s individual classrooms and schools (and did); I could correct the mis-education in their individual schools (and did), but the problem was bigger than that. Surely, all children, regardless of their heritage, deserved similar help? For me, as much as I could (as any one person can), a society free from colonialism and slavery was the true legacy I wanted to leave for my children.
At the CCSS I had met the late A. Elgin Heinz, who told me to talk to the SPICE folks at Stanford. I did. It seemed that Asia had been informally divided up (my words) between the local universities, so that Stanford University would cover Japan and China, and UC Berkeley was left to cover India. When I complained to Elgin about what I had found in the materials at UC Berkeley, he asked me why did I not put my outrage to good use? If what I had found was not satisfactory, why didn’t I write, he challenged me. I hesitated. Elgin volunteered to edit, which truly humbled me. In the end, my desire to educate won. So I started to explore writing.
I talked to some publishers. One major educational publisher was willing to explore what I wanted to say, but said they would retain editorial control over my writing. This colonial habit of control over content did not sit well with one educated about colonialism from an early age. I could hear echoes of my civics teacher in high school: ‘don’t ever forget that you are born in a free India; remember that you don’t have to kow-tow to anyone…’ So I started to explore publishing.
In 1991, I started Vidya Books, a niche publishing company, meant to educate students about South Asia from South Asian perspectives. My intent was to self publish materials that I felt were needed for the public schools, tailored to the California State Department of Education’s History/Social Sciences Frameworks. I learned about bar codes and got ISBN’s; I learned about the details of book production and color separations. I published ten history social Studies booklets, some lesson plans for teachers, some posters (all of which won state approval for supplementary materials in California), and an art activities kit.
When in 1992 the California State Department of Education sent me an official invitation to submit in the Textbook Adoption process, I thought I must be on the right track. Long-story-short, this self-publishing venture then got me to establish a precedent in the California State Department of Education Textbook market, but commercially, it did not get me too far. One state official (like a Euro-American who worked at my children's school, and wanted to teach me - an Indian born and raised in India - how to pronounce my son’s name, from Sanskrit!) commented that they were right (it was only an ‘either or’, never an ‘and’ proposition to her), and anyway, she said, what I was saying was ‘just one person’s views.’ One friend had commented then that what I was doing was a pretty sophisticated marketing idea, creating demand for a product, and another said it would be a long road. Little did I know!
I knew there were many other people who felt like I did. So in 1995, with help from like-minded people, I formed a nonprofit group, Education About South Asia - Vidya, a 501,c,3 group, EduSA-Vidya.org. Our idea was to teach teachers, as the more cost effective way of putting scarce money to good use, while our work could have a domino effect, by teachers teaching students year after year. We were gratified to receive a grant from The Asia Society in New York to develop a program on India for Middle School teachers.
In 1999, friends who did not know each other (almost simultaneously) suggested I meet with Larry Shinagawa, then head of the American Multicultural Studies Dept. at Sonoma State University. At the end of that meeting, he offered me a job at SSU. I started teaching there that fall.
Fast forward to 2010. All the negatives that I faced earlier may have now become positives. In the 1980’s, my manuscripts had been rejected, since, as one publisher said, “you are ahead of your time.” Another had said, ‘there was not enough of a market for Indians’ in the US at that time.
E-books and online publishing, which had also started around 1992, have now become a reality. Kindle and I-Pad change publishing, perhaps as much as did the printing press. Niche publishing is in. The world has shrunk, in terms of the world wide web bringing people together. India is no longer shrugged off as immaterial. The online nature of publishing, without the brick and mortar costs of doing a business, and the marketing costs to traditional independent stores (sadly, very few of which remain), now actually make me more poised for success, with relatively limited resources. The timing seems finally right to revive Vidya Books online, and doing the business of publishing in an electronic format
The state of textbooks in the US, alas, remains dismal. On the one hand, are the big four commercial, global, textbook publishers, who are big multinational businesses, and hold educational materials captive to their profit. On the other hand, there the folks who espouse the ‘wiki’ textbooks /free content idea. While free and easy access of the second idea definitely has an appeal over the stranglehold and outrageous pricing practices of the first, neither works on its own. Textbooks publishers, mired in capitalist thinking, are more interested in their own market share than quality or content, and the other side has joined in the fray, by thinking that anyone with access to a computer, including students of any age, can publish their own ‘textbooks’. Neither appreciates the ‘unity in diversity’ idea behind the US, nor do they cater to education as an essential discipline that supports (or not) a democracy. Still others, speaking on behalf of ‘their’ own individual segments of the ‘minorities’ (in the multicultural context) have taken to calling themselves authorities, and yet others are trying to debunk others’ views with lawsuits. Perhaps what may be happening is a healthy debate in a democracy.
However, what has become lost in this political drama is the interest of the next generation, and their educational welfare, and the welfare of society. In attack and counterattack, made worse by 'grab a quick buck', or grab a 'headline' to gain an advantage over the other, we seem to have lost sight of what is important. Forgotten is the fact that education is a calling and a mission, not a global business. It is true that education need not preclude profit, but if profit is the main, driving force in education, we will raise no more than a society of consumers. We may as well all wear barcodes on our forehead, and deliver schooling online, with virtual content managed from corporate servers and robots! Put simply, if everyone lived as most Americans do, this planet cannot support its global consumers. Most of us who are in education are not in this profession for money. I applaud dedicated educators for staying true to their educational mission, while trying to meet assessments and other requirements from officials.
Vidya Books remains a niche publisher. Vidya is a word from ancient Sanskrit, Vidya he param jyoti (education, whether formal or informal, is the true light/illumination, at any age). In 2010 it is expanding its list to include all people, not just the single constituency of South Asian Americans. Thank you for making the journey with me.
Resume of Founder Rashmi Sharma Singh
Professional Development and Education:
M.A. in English, Delhi University, India;
B.A. English Honors, Delhi University, India;
National Archives and Records Administration course, “Using Historical Documents/Primary Sources to Teach in the Classroom,” 1998;
Wesleyan University and the Asia Society, “Asia in the Schools,” 1997;
Graduate School of Education, George Mason University, and First Liberty Institute, “Religion and the First Amendment in the School Curriculum,” 1992;
UCLA Extension course, “Writing for Children,” 1989;
SSU’s War and Peace lecture series, every fall semester, Fall 03 to 2012.
Sonoma State University (SSU), HUM 200, Peace Studies (a course I designed), spring 2005 through 2011.
Guest speaker, SSU’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), on Globalization, 2005.
SSU’s American MultiCultural Studies Department (AMCS) Fall 99 to Spring 04:
AMCS 360, Ethnic Literature (for four semesters),
AMCS 255, Ethnicity and Ethnicity in the Humanities (to nine sections),
AMCS 200, Race, Ethnicity and Multiculturalism (for three semesters)
Osher LLI course, ‘The Practice of Religion, post 9-11’, Fall 03
Lead presenter, India Institute, North Bay International Studies Project at SSU,
Guest Lecturer, CSU Stanislaus, School of Education, 2001
Guest Lecturer, UC Berkeley, Ethnic Studies Department courses,1998
Guest Lecturer, CSU Fullerton, School of Education, 1997
Lecture to Docents, Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, 1997
Lecture for teachers at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, 1997
Management / Administrative Experience and Consultation:
President and Founder, Education About South Asia – Vidya, Inc. a nonprofit, (501),(c)(3), organization, 1995-2006.
Program Director of one of eight national resource organizations selected for a TeachAsia grant from the Asia Society of New York, 1997
Member, Albany High School WASC Accreditation Committee, 1994 Chairperson, School Improvement Plan, Albany High School, 1993
Member, California Digital High School Committee, Albany High School, 1998-99
Supervisor, Internship program for UC Berkeley students to Education about South Asia Vidya, 1996 and 1997
Consultant, Education Department, Asian Art Museum, for India Exhibit, 1996-97
Consultant to editors for HBO special, How Do You Spell God, 1996
Reviewer, Teacher’s Guide to World Resources, World Resources Institute, 1994
Consultant to editor, Longman Publishing, New York, for textbook on India, 1990
Curriculum Developer, new course at SSU, Religious Aspect of Diversity and Multiculturalism, taught as AMCS 481 through Extended Education.
New course at SSU, First Amendment Guidelines for K-12 Teachers, taught through Extended Education.
Co-developer and co-instructor, Osher LLI course, ‘Practice of Religion, post 9-11’, Fall 03
US v. Bhagat Singh Thind, original research on this case at National Archives and Records Administration in Washington DC (NARA), Seattle, San Bruno, CA, and New York, published as previously unknown work in a Lesson Plan, presented at the California Council of Social Studies, and published as NARA resource.
Course work for Edu 600 at George Mason University – Indian Value System, India from Indian Perspectives – Varna or Caste.
Community Service and Honors:
Faculty Advisor and Evaluator, Project Censored, 2011, and every year since 2000.
Founding member of the California Faculty Association’s Affirmative Action Committee, Sonoma State chapter.
Guest of honor for International Women’s Day, 2004 held at SRJC, by the United Nations Association of the North Bay.
President (and Founder), Education About South Asia – Vidya, Inc., a nonprofit, (501),(c)(3), organization, 1995-2006.
Guest speaker, Osher LLI’s series on Globalization and India (in 2005), and Guest speaker, Osher LLI’s Asia in Transition (in 2003).
Guest of Honor at celebration of UNA’s International Women’s Day, 2004 at Santa Rosa Junior College.
Guest speaker, Friends House, Santa Rosa, 2004.
At the request of the Principal of Rancho Cotate High School, in Rohnert Park, CA, presented workshop on Race for students following racial incidents at school, spring 2004.
Guest speaker, University Women’s Club of the North Bay, 2003.
Listed as an Expert on South Asia, Sonoma State University.
Quoted in the Freedom Forum’s annual desk calendar, 2002.
Cited in Marquis Who’s Who in the West, 1998-99.
Journalist, weekly column “Living in America” on Indolink.com, 2000 to 2001.
Judge, Growing Up Asian in America essay contest for the nine San Francisco Bay Area counties, 1997, organized by Asian Pacific American Foundation of San Francisco; and
Member, organizing committee for the “Growing Up Asian in America contest organized by the Asian Pacific Heritage Fund, San Francisco, 1996-2001.
Cited in Something About the Author, Gale Research, 1997.
Profiled in California Perspectives, Special Issue: Community Canons by California Tomorrow, 1994.
Member, Superintendent’s Advisory Council, Albany Unified School District, 1988-94, 1996-1999.
Member, California Digital High School Committee, Albany High School, 1998-99.
Fifth ranking statewide, California Civil Service exam for Staff Analyst, administered by the State Personnel Board, 1989.
President, Marin Elementary School PTA, 1988.
Managing Editor, Albany News, a small local community newspaper, 1987-88.
Internship in Program Planning, Women’s Center, UC Berkeley, 1981-82.
Publications, chapters in books by others and Reprints:
“Crossing The Dark Waters,” introductory chapter on the history of South Asian immigration to the US in Living in America, Westview Press (now Perseus), 1995.
History/Social Sciences Supplementary Instructional Materials, from VidyaBooks.com
The Blue Jackal text reprinted in Choices in Literature, Textbook Anthology for Middle Grades, Prentice Hall, 1996.
Ashoka, partial reprint in Teaching About India, A South Asia Curriculum, the American Forum for Global Education, New York, 1994.
Workshops on India, partial list, presenter – Rashmi Sharma Singh:
Faculty advisor, and lead presenter, India Institute for area K-12 teachers, North Bay International Studies Project at SSU.
California Council for the Social Studies (CCSS), annual conference, Oakland, 2001:Immigration Laws; at the same conference, Hinduism and Buddhism; and a panelist, Asian American authors.
CCSS, San Diego, March 2000, workshop on Sikhism, and another on Non-Violence.
Lecturer, for a teacher workshop at the Asian Art Museum, Nov 1999 Co-presenter (with Gurinder S Mann, endowed Chair of Indian Religion at UCSB), at Sikh Conference, held at UC Berkeley, June 1999.
Fremont Unified School District (FUSD), workshops for all district school principals, September 1998, and a second district-wide workshop for FUSD sixth grade teachers, October 1998: India.
University of San Francisco, School of Education, International & Multicultural Program, 1998: The Oral Folktale Tradition of India Continues in the US.
CCSS, Long Beach, California, 1998: India for grade 6, Essentials of Hindu and Buddhist Dharma.
Sonoma County Office of Education and the Redwood Empire Council of Educators for the Social Studies, 1997: The Religious Diversity of India.
CCSS, Sacramento, California, 1997: Teaching India with Integrity – Going Beyond Stereotypes.
Bay Region CCSS Affiliates and CISC Region Four and Five County Offices of Education, Bay Region Subject-Matter Projects, & CCSS, Foster City, California, 1997: India.
Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, Teacher Workshops, Education Department, 1997: Vidya and docent lecture: Understanding India.
California State University, Fullerton, two sessions at a two-week India Summer Institute for Orange County educators, 1997: India.
UC Berkeley Extension CLAD courses in Cross-Cultural Education for Teachers, 1997, 1996, 1995, 1994: India in the Curriculum.
Education About South Asia-Vidya, the Asia Society, Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, Alameda County Office of Education, Albany Middle School workshop for Bay Area Sixth grade teachers, 1997: Understanding the Diversity of India.
National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) annual conference, Washington, DC, 1996: Including South Asian Perspectives in Teaching About India.
Gandhi Peace Camp, Olema, California, 1996: Exploring South Asian American Heritage and History.
The American Forum for Global Education, 10th National Conference, Monterey, California, 1996: India, Perceptions and Global Realities.
Education About South Asia -Vidya and Albany Middle School, Albany, California, 1996: India in the Classroom.
Santa Clara County Office of Education, Regions H & L, Los Gatos, California1996: India for Grade 6.
CCSS, Long Beach, California 1996: India Made Easy for Grade 6.
National Council for the Social Studies, Phoenix, Arizona, 1994: India and Stereotypes:Critical Thinking in Action.
California Poets in the Schools Annual Conference at Fort Mason, San Francisco, California, 1994: Mandala: Immigrant Identity of South Asians in the US, and at the same event, member of a national panel of experts on: The Ownership of Knowledge: Who Can Lay Claim to What?
California League of Middle Schools, Annual Conference, Burlingame, California, 1994: Tradition and Change for Women of Guatemala and India. CCSS, Los Angeles, California, 1994: Tradition and Change for Women of Guatemala and India.
Council of Math and Science Educators of San Mateo County, at Canada College, Redwood City, California, 1993: India – Interdisciplinary Teaching Strategies.
California Department of Education, Title IV Desegregation Program, South-West Regional Labs Center for Educational Equity, Western Region Magnet Schools Consortium, co- sponsors of Title IV Conference, Burlingame, California 1993: From My-Culturalism to Multiculturalism -Positive Self-Images for Minority Students.
CCSS, San Diego, California, 1992: British Raj in India: Lesson Plans and Strategies for grade 10 and Ancient India for grade 6, Lesson Plans and Strategies.
CCSS, Santa Clara, California, 1991: Taking on the Challenge of Democracy and Diversity – Incorporating Indian views of India’s History, and The Story of India/British Raj in India.
Anonymous student reviews:
“Rashmi made this class enjoyable to me even though I did not want to take this class. She allows people to say their opinion no matter what it is and doesn’t judge them on it.”
“Rashmi is one of the best, if not the best, instructors that I have had at SSU. She is fair and teaches so that you can learn.”
“This course is wonderful. The ideas and instruction of the course are outstanding. This class has impacted me tremendously.”
“This course is the best class I’ve taken this semester. The content and instructor are extremely intelligent. Rashmi should teach more classes …”
“Thank you for opening me up to a world I would not have seem from this perspective without this class.”
“I completely enjoyed and learned so much from this class. I would recommend taking this course with Rashmi Singh to anyone… Mrs. Singh is a very powerful and knowledgeable instructor. She always delivers well thought out discussions. She expects a lot from the students but makes success achievable for us. I would like to take more classes from her in the future.”
“I loved Rashmi Singh’s class and her teaching style. Please offer more of (her) classes in the future. I was disappointed to see that she was not on the schedule of classes …”
“The instructor did a superb job facilitating our learning and challenging us to delve deeper into the material.”
Excerpt from NBISP letter of commendation from Prof. Miriam Hutchins, Director of North Bay International Studies Project, at Sonoma State University to Dr. Larry Shinagawa, then Chair, American Multi Cultural Studies Department at SSU:
“… Teacher evaluations indicate tremendous enthusiasm for the presentations Professor Singh made over the 5 day summer program and at the conference. She brings a wealth of knowledge as well as an understanding of the needs of classroom teachers. She generously shares materials with teachers, guiding them in critiquing, evaluating and using appropriate resources. Professor Singh’s work was an important contribution to NBISP’s programming this year and also fulfills the University’s mission of contributing to the continuing professional development for teachers in the North Coast region.
It has been an honor and a privilege to work with Professor Singh. We look forward to continuing our partnership and foresee future conferences and programs that will support greater understanding of India and South Asia in our region.”
- Signed, Miriam Hutchins, in letter cc’d to SSU Provost Bernie Goldstein, and to Arts & Humanities Dean Bill Babula.