Saturday, October 17, 2020

US Education versus Confucius

 Last Wednesday, the Education and State departments in DC announced that it was time to clamp down on Chinese influence in US classrooms.

The letter, which appears over the signatures of Betsy DeVos and Mike Pompeo, addresses the issue of the Confucius Classroom program. The program is a cultural outreach of the Chinese government; it has been around for a while and has always been viewed with suspicion in many quarters. From Associated Press coverage:

DeVos and Pompeo echoed longstanding complaints from academic groups that say schools give China too much control over what’s taught in Confucius Institute classes. Teachers who are vetted and paid by the Chinese government “can be expected to avoid discussing China’s treatment of dissidents and religious and ethnic minorities,” the officials wrote.

Conservatives have ben particularly critical. Here's Ethan Epstein, an associate editor of the Weekly Standard, digging up some quote ammunition for Politico in 2018:
A 2011 speech by a standing member of the Politburo in Beijing laid out the case: “The Confucius Institute is an appealing brand for expanding our culture abroad,” Li Changchun said. “It has made an important contribution toward improving our soft power. The ‘Confucius’ brand has a natural attractiveness. Using the excuse of teaching Chinese language, everything looks reasonable and logical.”

But concern extends outside the rightwing sphere. And internationally, Australia and Canada have both rescinded the Confucius Classroom welcome. 

In what is a rarity for me, I don't really disagree with DeVos or Pompeo on this one. If there's any nation that has perfected the art of pernicious political bullshit, it is the Chinese, the folks who brought world history the most horrifying and deadly demonstration of Campbell's Law ever--the Great Chinese Famine. Between 20 and 56 million people killed in a needless famine created by a government that was far more interested in appearances on paper than reality on the ground. And for years the world didn't even know. The Chinese government is bad business, even if their leader can write beautiful love letters.

There are several serious ironies here. The Trump family has proven willing to do business with the Chinese government, which I suppose is not so much irony as business as usual. 

Then there's this section of the DeVos/Pompeo letter:

While teachers in Confucius Classrooms may not appear to be engaged in ideological propaganda, those vetted and paid by the PRC can be expected to avoid discussing China’s treatment of dissidents and religious and ethnic minorities.  Indeed, some Confucius Classroom students have described their teachers’ repeated avoidance of topics perceived to be “sensitive” to or critical of the PRC.  Particularly at the high school level, this creates a troubling deficit of information in a setting supposedly focused on the study of Chinese language and culture.

This sounds pretty much like the Chinese version of the "patriotic American" curriculum that Trump has announced for the US. Trump has called for education that focuses on everything good and beautiful and pro-American in our history. He only has two education goals, and one is "teach American exceptionalism" i.e. the reasons that we are a better nation than all others.

The letter is correct in pointing out that a nationalistic program "creates a troubling deficit of information." Your country's nationalistic propaganda is my nation's proudly patriotic education program, I suppose. Stay tuned.

No comments:

Post a Comment