Education the Chinese way

Posted: Dec 08, 2003 12:00 AM

Some American high school students will be taught Chinese language and culture under a $1.4 million program financed by the Beijing government. The Advanced Placement program will be the second of its kind paid for by a foreign government (not counting Saudi Arabia's Wahhabi subsidy of Islamic schools in this country). A similar program underwritten by the Italian government was announced in September.

China's ambassador to the United States, Yang Jiechi, and the president of the College Board, former West Virginia Gov. Gaston Caperton, announced the program last week. The College Board will conduct tests to measure course results. At a Washington, D.C., news conference, Caperton said, "Our education system needs to respond to an increasing interconnected global economy and to the growing cultural diversity in the United States."

There are a number of questions that should be asked, not the least of which is: When will the Chinese Communists allow Americans into their high schools to teach about capitalism, freedom, God and what really happened at Tiananmen Square in 1989 when the government slaughtered thousands of its own people who wanted nothing more than freedom? It would appear that "diversity" will be a one-way education street.

Bob Schaeffer, public education director for the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, had another good question: "What are the Chinese and Italian governments buying for their sponsorship? Will they be able to specify or influence the content of the exam, which is, in turn, designed to drive the (Advanced Placement) course curriculum? Can they, for example, urge the inclusion of reading passages from the 'Little Red Book'?"

Caperton called such comments "foolish." But there is something far more foolish. Increasingly our public schools are afraid to teach students about America. In some history books there is more about popular culture than the Founders. We used to teach the history, beliefs and traditions of this country. Now it appears we fear those things because other groups with competing interests (including some with anti-American interests) are persuading educators it is wrong to prefer one nation and its beliefs over others. Some even teach that America ought not to lord it over other nations by thinking too highly of itself. So, then, why aren't Americans fleeing to all of those "better" nations instead of vast numbers of immigrants wanting to come here?

The education problems in the United States won't be solved by the Chinese and Italians. In September, the Manhattan Institute released a survey (funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) that found only 70 percent of all students in public high schools graduate, and only 32 percent of all students leave high school qualified to attend four-year colleges. The rates are particularly bad for blacks and Hispanics, with just 51 percent of black students and 52 percent of Hispanic students graduating, and 20 percent of blacks and 16 percent of Hispanics ready for college.

The trends in American public education have not always been encouraging. Long-term trends in science and math showed declines in the 1970s and early '80s, followed by modest increases, according Department of Education figures. But an education is more than regurgitating "facts" on a test. It is about, as Alexander Pope noted, forming "the common mind. Just as the twig is bent the tree's inclined."

We are losing our "common mind" and what it means to be an American. It is being replaced with a watered-down "multiculturalism" that neither advances unique American ideals nor, it would appear from test results, propels many students toward the advantages of a truly educated mind.

Contemporary students know more about sex than about Shakespeare, more about the environment than about T.S. Eliot, more about popular culture than about Thomas Paine. How can foreign governments possibly teach American students how to become better and more educated Americans? Sadly, that does not appear to be the objective of the Advanced Placement program. It should be the objective of every American and the policy of our government.