Right Wing Conservatives Attack a Middle School Foreign Language Program
We all know we need to learn to compete better with China. You would think. But when school board members at California’s Hacienda La Puente Unified voted in April 2010 to approve a Mandarin Chinese class for Cedarlane Middle School, little did they know they’d be attacked as “communist sympathizers” and accomplices to “brainwashing.”
The resistance was clearly over the top relative to the uncontroversial language instruction, The Daily Show had School Board member Jay Chen on as a guest to poke fun at the claims of those who opposed the classes.
But the same people who objected to the initial approval of plans to teach schoolkids Mandarin Chinese are right now in the process of launching a recall effort aimed at four of the five School Board members. It’s estimated the Notice of Recall, filing with the clerk, and gathering signatures to vote on the recall will cost the city and the Hacienda La Puente school system $150,000 to administer. Needless to say, the city and school district are both already cash-strapped because of statewide budget shortfalls not under their control.
The Confucius Classroom is a project originated by the People’s Republic of China to foster appreciation of Chinese language and culture. In purpose and scope, it’s very similar to the French government’s promotion of its language and culture via Alliance Francaise or the German government support of cultural exchange through the Goethe Institute.
Asia Society is partnerThe Confucius Classroom partners with the Asia Society (based in NYC and San Francisco) to provide teaching materials, curriculum, and sometimes instructors to more than 80 schools nationwide. The program offered $30,000 to Hacienda La Puente to cover the expenses of hiring a teacher from the community and course materials for the students. The school board voted to use the course materials but without accepting the funding because of the outcry from opponents in April of last year.
According to Cedarlane Middle School, the Mandarin Chinese classes are extremely popular and students and parents alike are happy that they’re available.
Hacienda Heights, CA, students can now learn the language spoken by a rising global power and America’s largest trading partner, which will open up lucrative business opportunities for them. Moreover, many other school districts eagerly seek Confucius Classrooms in their cities and towns.
In a nutshell, the recall movement’s accusations are baseless. The effort is costly and a nuisance in a time of economic hardship for the city, and they ignore the educational satisfaction reported by many students actually enrolled in the classes.
It would seem sensible that, if China’s economy challenges us so exceptionally, instead of fanning the flames of xenophobia and intolerance, we should be celebrating the curiosity and exploration of young people who are eager to learn about the world, seize new opportunities and even add to the US economic future.