ED and DOS Issue Urgent Warning About Chinese Influence in American Schools

National Association of Scholars

The National Association of Scholars commends the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and Department of State (DOS) for issuing two joint letters signed by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, urging American education leaders to investigate possible Chinese government influence in their schools. The letters, issued by the Office of Elementary & Secondary Education (OESE) and the Office of Postsecondary Education (OPE) respectively, draw attention to the concerning operations of Confucius Classrooms and Confucius Institutes in American K-12 schools, colleges, and universities.

The OESE letter alerts Chief State School Officers to the presence and potential dangers of Confucius Classrooms in their schools. Ostensibly, Confucius Classrooms (CCs) are Chinese language and culture programs overseen by the Chinese Communist Party and hosted by K-12 schools, of which there are over 500 in the United States alone. However, as the letter correctly points out, CCs “are in reality an important element of the PRC’s global influence campaign, now reaching tens of thousands of U.S. schoolchildren every day.” Indeed, Confucius Classrooms—and Confucius Institutes—teach a whitewashed version of Chinese history, one that plainly avoids discussion of the PRC’s myriad human rights abuses, both past and present.

The letter continues,

A review by the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs found that approval from an institution affiliated with the PRC’s Ministry of Education is generally required when filling teaching positions associated with Confucius Classrooms. This practice by the PRC does not necessarily align with our values or support the safe, equitable, and positive learning environment U.S. students deserve. ...

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. At any grade level, the presence in U.S. classrooms of instructors supported by an authoritarian regime poses risks to our democratic values [emphasis added].

ED and DOS stop short of calling for the outright closure of Confucius Classrooms, but encourage Chief State School Officers to “carefully examine” CC operations and consider alternatives.

Meanwhile, the OPE letter has a different focus: Confucius Institutes (CIs). CIs are collegiate-level Chinese language and culture centers which are, similar to CCs, operated by the CCP and hosted by American institutions. The NAS counts 67 Confucius Institutes in the United States. Like CCs, CIs cover up true Chinese history in favor of pro-CCP propaganda. The letter states,

Confucius Institutes are branded as Chinese language and cultural learning centers, but there is increasing evidence that they are also tools of malign PRC influence and dissemination of CCP propaganda on U.S. campuses. The presence of a Confucius Institute, with the Beijing-based funding that comes with it, can provide an institution with financial and other incentives to abstain from criticizing PRC policies, and may pressure the institution’s faculty to censor themselves. The American Association of University Professors noted in a 2014 report that “Confucius Institutes function as an arm of the Chinese state and are allowed to ignore academic freedom” [emphasis added]

The Departments again do not write to compel college and university presidents to close their Confucius Institutes, but rather to monitor them closely.

ED and DOS echo concerns about Confucius Classrooms and Confucius Institutes that the National Association of Scholars first brought to light in 2017 through our report, Outsourced to China. And they’re not alone. There is now a sizable chorus of voices—including federal legislators, state legislators, and nonprofit organizations—who are all singing the same tune: Confucius Institutes and Confucius Classrooms must go.

NAS commends Secretaries DeVos and Pompeo for their continued efforts to inform American education leaders on the dangers of Chinese government influence in their institutions.

Image: U.S. Federal Government, Public Domain

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