kitchen table math, the sequel: rigged, part 2

Thursday, June 14, 2012

rigged, part 2

Harbin Pharmaceuticals Plant

How Chinese kleptocracy is related to education:

I am now officially off the boat for funding a Chinese language program in my district.

No that I was ever on the boat, exactly, and not that we're going to have a Chinese language program in my district -- not that we're going to have any foreign language program in the early grades at all.

But still. Parents here have lobbied and labored for years to persuade the administration and whatever school board happened to be in office at the time to bring in a serious foreign language program in the early grades, and our current and newly elected board members, all of whom support Math Trailblazers, like the idea of Chinese.

As one of them told the community, Chinese is a 21st century skill.

Why we switched from Chinese to French
Frauducation, Part 1
The Macroeconomics of Chinese kleptocracy
Harbin Pharmaceuticals at Business Insider


Catherine Johnson said...

btw, I don't object to people learning Chinese - !

I object to paying for students **not** to learn Chinese (which is what would happen if we taught Chinese here), and I particularly object to "rolling out" an "initiative" to **not** teach Chinese on the rationale that parents think their kids will are going to make a brilliant living as a direct result of **not** learning Chinese here in my school district.

I don't want to fund any more mishegoss.

AmyP said...

If your district did do Chinese, how many parents would be able to tell if the kids were learning to speak Chinese understandably?

Catherine Johnson said...


Boy...there are not many Chinese nationals here.

One BOE member spent some time working in China (so he's keen on instruction in Chinese).

There are quite a few people from South Korea here because the Unification Church is here.

Bostonian said...

I don't think Chinese as the only option for a foreign language for elementary school student is a good idea.

I suggest reading

Why Chinese Is So Damn Hard
by David Moser
University of Michigan Center for Chinese Studies .

Glen said...

I think Chinese is a very valuable 21C skill, but it's having the skill that's valuable, not just taking the class.

Chinese is the only language offered to sixth graders at the school my son will start attending in a few weeks. Many of us at middle school orientation were happy to see that Chinese would be offered to our kids. In fact, from the look of the group, it appeared as though we would have to fight each other to get our kids into the class.

Until they described the class. The kids would be "introduced" to Chinese language and culture. They would read stories about China. They would practice a few characters. They would memorize some greetings. They would even get to go on a field trip to local Chinese restaurant to witness the culture firsthand.

In a room full of Chinese parents jaws dropped. A few memorized greetings and a trip to a Chinese restaurant? WTF? (I think that stands for "What's That in French?")

We'd been afraid that competition for the Chinese class would look like Walmart on Black Friday. We were no longer afraid.

I suspect our school district will end up concluding from this that the demand for Chinese language isn't as strong as they had thought.

AmyP said...


That's suitable for framing.

I've previously told my story of being really excited by the fact that the kids' private school does Spanish starting in kindergarten. Only much later did I realize 1) the Mexican folk dance program sucks up nearly the entire spring term 2) the kids never seem to get anywhere with it. A possible 3) is that all of the teachers were nice white ladies who speak English as a first language, but for elementary, I won't quibble about that.

Catherine Johnson said...

I think Chinese is a very valuable 21C skill

Why so? (I'm curious.)

fyi: I've now seen three waves of 'language enthusiasm':

* Russian
* Japanese
* Chinese

In the case of Russian and Japanese, the enthusiasm was based on the idea that these countries were threats in one sense or another.

In my experience, the Chinese fad (it's a fad in my neck of the woods) is the same thing.

Neither of those bets panned out, and I don't think the 'China bet' will, either.

AND: that's not to say I think kids **shouldn't** learn Chinese ---

I just don't want to pay for Chinese classes on grounds that China is going to take over the world, so American kids need to speak Chinese.

I definitely don't want to pay for Chinese classes where the kids don't learn Chinese...

Catherine Johnson said...

Plus I strenuously object to the Chinese government funding boondoggles for US principals and teachers.

Our h.s. principal took a Chinese-paid trip this school year.

Amy P said...


Here's an outline of an English course for Chinese students based on Glen's story.

The students will learn how to say "hello" and "goodbye," will visit McDonald's and will watch a Hollywood blockbuster (with Chinese dubbing).

AmyP said...

"fyi: I've now seen three waves of 'language enthusiasm':

"* Russian
* Japanese
* Chinese"

That's right. Note the similarities. They are 1) feared foreign entities 2) "hard" languages and 3) very few Americans make much headway with learning them, no matter how big the fad.

I think Arabic belongs somewhere on the list (when we were in DC, everybody was learning Arabic), but it doesn't come up as often as a school language as Chinese.

AmyP said...

If we struggle to teach Spanish and French, why do schools think they are going to be successful with Mandarin?

TerriW said...

My kids took Chinese this year (6 & 8). I wasn't expecting much -- it was actually more rigorous than I was expecting, heh -- but the reason I've had them in various language classes is more about being able to distinguish and produce the non-native sounds.

I am particularly bad at this sort of thing, I wasn't good at it as a kid, and I'm worse now as an adult. I can't distinguish tones, I can barely distinguish short i and e in English (either hearing it or speaking it) and that is my native tongue.

So, I was happy to see that both of my kids learned to distinguish tones quite easily and could speak them handily.

I also think that even if they don't learn to fluency now -- which they won't, because we don't have the time, funds, or inclination to do what would be required for that -- what they do learn now will be a great help to them later when they do a more intense study.

I was shocked at how easily I picked up French again this year with Rosetta Stone, over 20 years after my last French class in high school. The rails were already laid.

Catherine Johnson said...

Amy - you read my mind!

I think Arabic is absolutely on the list -- I became obsessed with learning Arabic myself after 9/11, and I tried to talk Chris into taking it in college.

(Plus the non-selective college I teach in has a Rhodes scholar from ... one of the Emirates ... teaching Arabic!)

The unusual thing, with Chinese, is that public schools think they should be teaching it.

Provisionally, I chalk that up to public schools having so much more money than they did 20 years ago -- and probably to the efforts being made by the Chinese government to persuade US schools to teach Chinese.

The hilarious thing about the Chinese government investing money in this is that they probably have no idea that US schools teaching Chinese will produce exactly the same result as US schools not teaching Chinese.

Catherine Johnson said...

If we struggle to teach Spanish and French, why do schools think they are going to be successful with Mandarin?

They don't.

Here in Westchester, at least, they "teach the culture."

That's what they actually say: "We teach the culture."

I've told this story before: a few years ago, we were in an IEP meeting with the director of SPED. We got onto the subject of foreign language instruction, and he said cheerfully that some schools around these parts were teaching SEVEN LANGUAGES!

Seven languages to the same kids.

Ed and I both said, "How is that possible?"

The SPED guy didn't miss a beat: "They teach the culture."

I'll never forget the look of utter disgust that passed over Ed's face ---- it was pretty funny.

Of course, the idea that 4th graders can learn SEVEN CULTURES (and that grade school teachers, who are generalists, KNOW 7 cultures along with everything else they have to know and teach) ---- was codswallop.

Catherine Johnson said...

I hope you guys all looked at the Harbin Pharmaceuticals Plant.

In China, 4 bench workers produce enough profit to build the Palace of Versailles.

That's some roaring economy you got there!

TerriW said...

I thought the problem with Arabic is that no one actually speaks the formal "Arabic" you would be taught in the United States, that actual foot-on-the-ground Arabic-speakers speak one of hundreds of dialects of it.

Amy P said...

"The hilarious thing about the Chinese government investing money in this is that they probably have no idea that US schools teaching Chinese will produce exactly the same result as US schools not teaching Chinese."

That is funny!

""They teach the culture.""

You need to get hold of the curriculum for this and share it with the online world.

Catherine Johnson said...

If they even bothered to write anything down....

Teach the culture means, in French, the kids wear berets and sing Frere Jacques or some such.

(And don't get me started on the fact that there is more than one Spanish culture on the planet ----