The Urban Legend

The School Newspaper of Urban School of San Francisco

The Urban Legend

The School Newspaper of Urban School of San Francisco

The Urban Legend

Reworking the South Asian History class

History Teacher Guy Leavitt plans to introduce changes to the History of South Asia curriculum in the upcoming 2024-2025 and 2025-2026 school years. Students in the American Born Confused Desis (ABCD) affinity space and students taking the class share thoughts on its curriculum and content on its current stage.

The current curriculum includes a general survey of South Asian religions and epics. The new curriculum will likely have an increased focus on these topics. “[Cultural/religious history] is my academic background (medieval Hinduism, Buddhism, and South Asian aesthetics) and what students often seem most interested to learn about.” wrote Leavitt in an email reaching out to ABCD on January 19.

Leavitt has also reached out to ABCD. On March 26, they hosted an open discussion of the class for feedback on March 26 to further examine the class from a South Asian perspective.

In the ABCD led discussion, students expressed that they felt the old course description was insensitive. Co-leader of ABCD Sameera Notaney ‘24 said, “The [previous] description exoticized South Asians and … was generally alienating and culturally insensitive. … [South Asian people] are more than just people you’ve read about in a book. They’re real people, they’re real humans with emotions and feelings and history and futures.”

The older course description read, “Modern South Asia explores a faraway and fascinating place. … Students are immersed in the culture and meet a range of characters from a rural midwife to a tailor, to key figures like Mahatma Gandhi and Muhammad Ali.”

Students compare the old class description to other history classes offered at Urban. ABCD Member Vaani Chandra ‘25 said, “[The old course description] had an emphasis that [the class] is an unusual and unique course for a high school to give … and the referral of historical figures from India as characters feels strange. … [Other classes] that also offer unique topics and subjects don’t have that same line.”

Between 2022 and 2023, minor changes were made. “Last year, I switched out a couple of readings and put in an introduction to the region … and [added] a general reading on Hinduism, which wasn’t there before. But largely, I kind of left it in place,” said Leavitt.For the 2023-2024 school year, a new unit on cultural history and a section on Hinduism was added.

Students in the class have had a positive response to new changes. “I really enjoyed learning about … every single aspect of the Hindu religion. It’s super interesting to learn about how you can tell these different stories through history,” said Emme Adamick ‘24, a current student in the class.

When discussing different religions and beliefs, ABCD members are hoping the class will have room for more open discussions. “Urban’s classes are usually very focused around the idea of discussing topics. Even if people are afraid to say the wrong thing. I would rather have them say the wrong thing and say something that is politically incorrect than not [say] anything at all,” said Chandra.

Urban teachers work to ensure that students feel comfortable discussing sensitive topics when brought up in the classroom. “For most classes, when you have controversial topics that come up, one of my main functions as a teacher is to make sure that people feel that they have room to speak in terms of whatever view they might happen to have,” said Leavitt.

Difficulty and reading materials are also the inspiration for upcoming changes. “We have a copious amount [of reading] and a lot of the same opinion,” said Adamick. “It’s easier to understand the material…if there is less reading, just sheer volume of reading doesn’t enable us to actually engage with the material,” said Adamick.

According to Leavitt, the difficulty of the class allows it to be more in-depth and complex. “It’s not going to be easy; it is a UAS class. But that’s the beauty of Urban. In these UAS classes, [students] get to confront real scholarly texts in bite-sized portions, but get to do some real history and learn from some of the best scholars around,” he said.

Some members of ABCD emphasize that they would rather have the class be more accessible to learn more about their own South Asian culture and heritage. Currently, Urban’s South Asian history class is the only course that dives deeply into the history of that region. “A lot of people – including me – are very intimidated by the amount of reading,” said Chandra. “But I want to know more about my history. The lack of knowledge about your own history is painful … because it disconnects you from your own people, from your family, from the people who came before you and from your culture.”

Photo credit: Daphne Gilman
About the Contributor
Zoya Sarangan
Zoya Sarangan, Staff Writer