Confucius Classroom

China in the Classroom: A Cross Cultural Experience or Communist Dogma?

by hannah shin

At a typical school board meeting, chairs are often unoccupied and the air stuffy. The discourse is civil, if not a tad boring. The occasional buzz of a rogue fly or a stray cough from the back serve as breaks from the overwhelming monotony of school affairs. At a usual school board meeting in Hacienda Heights, however, the air crackles with hostility and an unprecedented restlessness as enraged protestors with poorly rhymed slogans scratched on signs spit racist retorts at the school council.

The issue? Communist invasion.

To be more precise, Cedarlane Middle School of the Hacienda-La Puente School District has been offered textbooks and a $30,000 grant to expand its current Chinese language and culture curriculum. In an economic recession where hundreds, if not thousands, of schools are struggling amidst cutbacks in school spending and disproportionate student-teacher ratios, any offer even remotely resembling fiscal relief would be welcomed with open (if not clawing) arms. But what turns the tables is that a foreign government is involved, and not just any foreign government – the biggest, baddest, reddest one: China.

With China’s economy and GDP skyrocketing past America’s stagnant ones (who also happens to owe the former $1.16 trillion), the problem with China is not only that it is America’s biggest economic threat, but it’s that China apparently has the manipulative, ninja-like ability to infuse their entire population with the fiery red blood of communism.

And therein lies the problem. China is discontent with brainwashing its own population, it wants to move abroad and spread the red. And who better than our nation’s most vulnerable – the children. Or so the rabble-rousers say.

At first glance, it may seem like the protesters (the majority being white and either don’t have kids who attend the school or aren’t even from the town themselves) have a point. It does sound suspicious: a powerful government suddenly decides to take a vested interest in a small town middle school conveniently located a few miles from downtown Los Angeles, one of the largest cities in America…and the world? But then when you actually learn about the program, it doesn’t sound that bad.

The program itself is taught by accredited American teachers and provides resources to those who may not have access to the Chinese language and culture. Like the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the program’s purpose is to promote a better understanding and knowledge of the country, much in the same way that countries like France, Spain, Italy, and Germany – all countries whose cultures are highly supported by the U.S. – do.

The “Confucius Classroom,” named after China’s most famous philosopher whose global image exudes wisdom and grace and is arguably one of China’s “token” things to know, isn’t even a new or revolutionary idea. These language programs have already been successfully implemented throughout various educational institutions, ranging from elementary to university level, worldwide. And it’s not like the Chinese government actually gives grants away to schools at random: schools must apply to the Hanban-Asia Society and go through a long, rigorous process involving proposals, budgets, and recommendations outlining their future Chinese language and culture program to even be considered in the first place.

Hacienda Heights is a town east of downtown Los Angeles with a 59 percent non-white population. Despite the fact that the majority of families are of Chinese and Taiwanese descent and the school board consists predominantly of Asian Americans, the town nevertheless has been plagued by racist sentiments and ignorant views stemming from the nativism of those who arrived pre-1970s, before immigration quotas were relaxed. In the 1980s, there was huge opposition from the non-Asian American community against the building of a Taiwanese Buddhist temple (which was eventually built) over fears of savage, ritualistic animal sacrifices.

History has shown us the consequences of an economic recession, and this incidence at Hacienda Heights is only the tip of a greater, more troubling iceberg. If the sponsor had been any other foreign government, the program wouldn’t have been such a big issue. But regardless of whether it was China or not, I doubt that it would have caused such a large ruckus if the U.S. wasn’t in such a state of economic ruin and confusion. Desperate times often call for desperate measures, and it is often when things are at their lowest that people begin to question motives and assume the worst.

I say let’s welcome the Chinese government’s vested interest in our nation’s children. The children are our future, and the future is a multilingual, global one. Our children need to learn to combat ignorance and bigotry with a cross-cultural education that will expand their understanding and appreciation of other countries. By working together, we can create a nation not only of fiscal responsibility, but of humane responsibility as well.