Most educated Americans would be happy to hear that their local schools offer students a chance to learn Mandarin Chinese. Given China’s growing importance, many opportunities in business, academia and diplomacy are open to those with such skills.
However, offering foreign languages (or “world languages,” to use the preferred academic term) is difficult for modern schools. They require teachers with specific training. Relatively few students want to take them. Since those students tend to be high achievers in other disciplines, matching a class of those students with that particular teacher creates scheduling nightmares. (What happens if three French level 3 students also want to take marine biology and the only section of both classes occurs simultaneously?) Therefore, the classes tend to be small—and expensive.
Thus, despite the undoubted advantages to students, relatively few schools offer classes in Mandarin Chinese. The same case applies to Japanese and Russian. Even courses in French and German are increasingly rare.
Assume then that a gentleman walks into a superintendent’s office offering to underwrite the expense of offering Mandarin Chinese. The non-profit organization that the gentleman represents will also help locate a qualified teacher and a set of up-to-date materials. The school need only provide the classroom and the students.
A “Win-Win” for Everyone?
At first glance, this is a “no-brainer.” The superintendent gets a chance to announce a “groundbreaking” program. The school board can boast about superiority over other area school districts. The students gain opportunities that few others share. The parents like it, and so do the taxpayers. Everybody wins.
However, lurking behind a labyrinth of “non-profit” organizations lies the Communist Chinese Party (CCP) with its nearly limitless resources.
For the CCP, there is no desire to further the education of U.S. students. They want two things—to burnish China’s international reputation and to propagandize America’s young.
Spreading Dollars—and Propaganda
This agenda is documented in a report released by Parents Defending Education (PDE) in August 2023. The report, titled Little Red Classrooms: China’s Infiltration of American K-12 Schools, is remarkably specific. It backs up its assertions with legal documents and written agreements between school systems and sponsors. It ties those sponsors to the CCP.
The report should cause grave concern about the state of America’s schools.
“[T]he People’s Republic of China fostered relationships with American K-12 schools through grants, sister school partnerships, and other programming since at least 2009. Parents Defending Education tracked affiliations in 143 schools across 34 states and Washington, D.C.—and at least seven are still active. Financial exchanges between K-12 schools and the Chinese government range from a few thousand dollars to, in Thomas Jefferson High School’s case, more than a million dollars.”
One of America’s Best Schools
Located in Alexandria, Virginia, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology is 11.2 miles southwest of the U.S. Capitol Building. According to U.S. News and World Report’s ranking, it is the best school in Virginia and number five in the nation. Its overall score is 99.97/100. “The school offers courses like DNA science, advanced marine biology, automation and robotics, architectural drawing and design, research statistics and A.P. calculus. TJHSST boasts 15 specialized research labs, ranging from astronomy and astrophysics to oceanography and geophysical systems.”
Where 54% of Virginia’s students are proficient in mathematics, Thomas Jefferson boasts a perfect 100%. The same score holds for reading and science. All of its students take at least one Advanced Placement course.
Thomas Jefferson High’s foreign language program also shines. That department employs thirteen faculty members who teach French, German, Japanese, Latin, Russian, Spanish—and Chinese.
The school has also received considerable money from the Chinese Government. Of course, that money has not come directly from the CCP but rather through several other organizations. Parents Defending Education summed up these contributions in March 2023.
Laundering Communist Cash
“Fairfax County Public Schools’ T.J. Partnership Fund has received over $1,000,000 worth of donations from Chinese interests since 2014. Documents reveal that the 501c (3) non-profit operating out of Thomas Jefferson High School (T.J.) received funding amounts of $500,000+ from Shirble HK, and $250,000+ from Tsinghua University (Beijing) and the Ameson Foundation, respectively.”
The full name of Sherble HK is “Sherble Department Store Holding China LTD.” Its corporation charter is registered in the Cayman Islands. However, its primary field of action is in China. According to PDE, “The Company and its subsidiaries are principally engaged in department store operations, property development and provision of property development consulting services in the People’s Republic of China.”
Readers who ask, “Why would a Chinese real estate investment firm be sending money to a high school in Virginia?” are in good company.
Thomas Jefferson’s connection to “The Ameson Education and Cultural Exchange Foundation” makes more sense. Despite its occidental-sounding name, it, too, has significant Chinese links. Its Executive Vice Chair, Sean Zhang, acknowledged the foundation’s role in establishing the “first STEM high school in China.”
Carrying on the Confucius Institutes’ Work
Until recently, most of the money passed from the CCP through university-level outreaches called Confucius Institutes. It was one of the Institutes, then, that passed the money to the schools.
However, the Institutes are not products of Chinese altruism. On July 17, 2020, Attorney-General William Barr openly criticized them.
“The Chinese Communist Party also seeks to infiltrate, censor, or co-opt American academic and research institutions. For example, dozens of American universities host Chinese government-funded ‘Confucius Institutes’ which have been accused of pressuring host universities to silence discussion or cancel events on topics considered controversial by Beijing.”
Almost immediately, many Institutes ceased operation. It is unlikely, however, that the Chinese have abandoned the goal. Most likely, the public notice only signaled a change in methodology.
As Little Red Classroom shows, the amount that Thomas Jefferson High received is unusually high. Grants and gifts between $10,000 and $20,000 are far more common. However, the intentions behind that largesse are much the same. By providing books and other materials, as well as recommending teachers, the CCP is spreading its tentacles into classrooms from Maine to California.
Answering the Big Question
So the question might be asked, “How can the Chinese gain influence over American education? There are several answers.
First, they deal with people who don’t see China as a threat. The vast majority of public school administrators already possess liberal inclinations. Such people, generally, are far less likely to recognize a leftist tilt in instructional materials.
Second, the Chinese understand the art of subtlety. The CCP doesn’t stamp Chairman Mao’s likeness on the covers of these books. Nobody will find the virulent statements of Mao’s “Little Red Book” in them. Instead, there will be statements about fellowship, community and partnership that are easy for young people to accept.
Third, the indirect distribution of money provides what the politicians call “plausible deniability.” As seen in the Thomas Jefferson School, the CCP passes the cash to an international corporation. The corporation funds an ostensively private foundation. The foundation bankrolls the university program. The university then makes a grant to local school systems. Such precautions make it easy for supporters to accuse critics of “seeing a Communist under every bed.”
However, the concealed nature of this threat only makes it more dangerous. The CCP is well aware of that fact. It is a truth, however, that passes unnoticed in the halls of academic bureaucracy.
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