Congressional Hearing Sounds Alarm on Chinese Communist Influence in K-12 Classrooms

Terri Wu
By Terri Wu
September 20, 2023China News

A congressional hearing sounded the alarm about the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) using Mandarin language programs to spread communist ideology and grow its soft power in America’s K-12 classrooms.

Confucius Classrooms, the K-12 version of Confucius Institutes (CI) in universities, are language programs for which the CCP provides funding and controls curriculum and teacher vetting. In August 2020, the State Department designated the CI program’s D.C.-based headquarters as a “foreign mission” of China based on its “skewed Chinese language and cultural training for U.S. students as part of Beijing’s multifaceted propaganda efforts” and that the CI language programs were under guidance from the CCP’s United Front Work Department, the leading agency in charge of influence operations.

“[The CCP] are not paying for these books because they want us to learn,” Mike Gonzalez, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Heritage Foundation, said at the Tuesday hearing organized by the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education under the House Education Committee.

In his view, the two nations are in an “asymmetric information warfare” in which the CCP takes advantage of America’s open society. The CCP-backed language programs play an integral role in shaping American public opinion to not worry about the threat of the People’s Republic of China, Mr. Gonzalez wrote (pdf) as early as 2015.

“We should learn Mandarin. I studied Mandarin myself and Japanese and Korean. This is not what this is about. This is about a foreign party, a Communist Party-run country that is trying to influence how we think and how we act,” he added.

Nicole Neily, president of Parents Defending Education (PDE), a parent activist group, urged lawmakers to create a law to mandate foreign investment disclosure in K-12 schools, a requirement currently applicable to higher education institutes only. She further recommended a minimum disclosure threshold of $10,000, much lower than the $250,000 required for colleges.

A recent investigation by Ms. Neily’s organization identified CCP-funded Chinese language teaching programs in at least 143 K-12 school districts in 34 states and the District of Columbia.

In 2019, a Senate investigation reported (pdf) Confucius Classrooms in 519 schools in the United States. The same report said that Chinese language teachers under Confucius Institutes were required to “report to the Chinese embassy within one month of arrival in the United States,” and such controls on teachers were attempts to “export China’s censorship of political debate and prevent discussion of potentially politically sensitive topics.”

“We deeply appreciate the House Education Committee’s consideration of the issue of foreign funding in America’s K-12 schools. This is absolutely not an attack on Chinese language and cultural programs—nor an attack on the Chinese people—but rather, a plea for investigation and transparency,” Ms. Neily told The Epoch Times after the hearing. PDE discovered from a survey in June that 87 percent of parents said schools should be required to disclose money from foreign governments.

“Families deserve information about foreign funding in schools so they can determine whether such programs comport with their values; such oversight is required at the university level but not in K-12 schools, which can hopefully be a point of agreement between the two parties going forward,” she added.

Her comments partly attempted to address criticism from Democratic lawmakers. Committee ranking member Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) said the hearing wasn’t a good use of time 11 days before a potential government shutdown. Further, he accused committee Republicans of “injecting divisive partisan politics in our children’s classrooms” and promoting “conspiracy theories and dubious research.”

Subcommittee ranking member Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (R-Ore.) also said that her daughter studied Chinese in China, and she didn’t worry a bit that the CCP’s influence would turn her daughter into a communist or a foreign agent.

After the hearing, Mr. Gonzalez told The Epoch Times: “It was baffling to hear elected members of Congress carrying water for the CCP, calling its intrusion into the education of American students through Confucius Institutes and Classrooms ‘alleged foreign interference.’”

From The Epoch Times

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