A Globally Aware America: the Rationale for Including Chinese in American Education

The National Chinese Language and Culture Coalition

 (September 30, 2016)

 The 21th Century will be the Pacific Century. Americans and Chinese, facing East and West across that greatest of oceans, will be engaged in an unprecedented historic relationship that will change the societies and people in both regions of the globe.  This relationship will include competition as well as cooperation in countless cultural, social, economic, and political activities.

As you consider our Rationale, we ask that you acknowledge the relationship between the USA and the Chinese-speaking world to be unlike any previous international engagement. China is not the USSR of Cold War times, nor is the engagement with Chinese-speaking societies the economic “reckoning” with Japan that startled Americans in the 80’s and 90’s. The intertwining of Americans with the peoples of the Chinese-speaking world in the 21st Century is a new kind of encounter between societies on our planet. The NCLCC intends to contribute knowledge to this historic encounter and propose actions for achieving harmonious and rewarding results. Among our efforts is to expand and improve the teaching of Mandarin, the language with the most speakers on our planet.

The Chinese-speaking world is a growing economic and cultural presence in the 21st Century. For at least a quarter of a century, Western scholars and economists have been regularly predicting the collapse of China’s burgeoning economy and throughout that period that economy has grown to the number-two ranking in the world. In addition to that, Chinese-speaking regions have expanded their economies, technologies, and cultural production. Furthermore, tourists, business people, migrants, and students from these regions can be found in significant numbers throughout the world. In addition to looking backward through thousands of years of Chinese civilization with long periods when it was the dominant world culture, looking into the future will convince any clear thinking person of the permanence and impact of the Chinese-speaking regions on the lives of us and even more on the lives of our children. China must become part of American’s perspectives on our world and times.

The Chinese-speaking regions will continue to play a crucial role in the development of science and technology in the 21st Century. A survey of the university programs in the STEM areas will reveal that an disproportionate number of the key persons in these fields have Chinese surnames and come from all over the Chinese-speaking world as well as the home countries of those institutions. In addition to the mega-engineering projects associated with China in the past and present—the Great Wall, Grand Canal, Three-Gorges Dam—modern day China is home to research projects in astrophysics, medicine, and agriculture that will have global impact. Knowing about the future aspirations of the Chinese-speaking world is no less important than knowing about its past.

However, the popular media on both sides of the Pacific provide disturbingly similar perspectives to Americans and Chinese about each other. As if by agreement, the majority of media reports about one side of the Pacific to those on the other side present negative impressions. When reading or watching media reports about each other, both Americans and Chinese are likely to be exposed to stories or images that invite fear or ridicule of the other. As a result, in the absences of spectacularly positive or negative news, no more than approximately 40% of Chinese and Americans have favorable impressions of each other. [1] Because of powerful political and economic influences on the various American and Chinese media organizations, this unhappy agreement is likely to persist into the future in the absence of a rational process of building an honest and productive mutual respect between the Chinese-speaking world and Americans.

The unfavorable views across the Pacific have many sources:  shared and conflicting heritages, historical adventures and misadventures, cultural admiration and disdain, the emergence and rediscovery of civilizations.  Without a clear motivation to address it, this deficit of mutual regard across the Pacific will persist. As we advance into the 21st Century, the urgency to improve this situation is becoming more compelling.

For America and China to have better stories on which to build a future of mutual respect and productive interactions, we must make sure that respectful and productive knowledge of each other is discernible in our education programs. Chinese and Americans socializing in each other’s languages and cultures is the best way to assure that a reasonable basis for a harmonious Pacific community emerges over the coming decades.

Education is the crucial factor in determining whether the American relationships with the Chinese-speaking world will develop to be mutually beneficial or will be an incessant series of debilitating antagonisms.

This is the motivation for this rationale for expanding Chinese studies in American schools by the National Chinese Language and Culture Coalition (NCLCC), a group seeking to express common interests among the national organizations providing 5-18 year old students opportunities for learning Chinese in our schools.

The three organizations that comprise the NCLCC are the most comprehensive groups engaged in the pre-college levels of American education.  CLASS (Chinese Language Association of Secondary-elementary Schools) represents public and private school teachers from across the United States. CSUAS (Chinese Schools Association in the United States) and NCACLS (National Council of Associations of Chinese Language Schools) represent approximately 1000 heritage schools and 250,000 students across the United States. All together, these organizations represent 320,000 students of Chinese in American communities.  The NEALRC (National East Asian Languages Resource Center), a US Department of Education Title VI center, plays the role of identifying the common interests of these organizations and coordinating this campaign to mainstream Chinese language and culture in American education.

[1] www.pewglobal.org/2013 (2014)