Magazine article The American Conservative

Exporting Idiocracy

Magazine article The American Conservative

Exporting Idiocracy

Article excerpt

Sending American-style education to China could stunt the dragon's rise.

CHINA'S RISE from the nightmarish reign of Mao Zedong to maker-of-all-things WalMart typically rests as lightly as a feather on me. Or rather, many feathers: I think of China as spreading a down comforter over the great futon of American life. Sometimes as I doze comfortably in this splendid world of cheap luxuries, however, I am agitated by an intrusive thought. Where is all this leading?

China's barreling economic growth, military vigor, gargantuan trade surpluses, and disdain for Western niceties like elected government and free speech are almost enough to make me want to go out and buy something American. Then I get hold of myself. What do Americans make besides YouTube videos, pornography, and vitamins? In any case, I frequently run across the assurance that having achieved economic freedom, China will inexorably move towards political freedom. I am a little shaky on the mechanism by which this will occur, but occur it must. The Chinese down comforter comforts all alike and makes no exception for political theorists.

I don't mean to imply any reservations about the value of free trade between the U.S. and the world's most pprotectionist regime. I am second to none in my exuberance for household goods that, adjusted for inflation, cost about the price of a red licorice stick when I was growing up. And Milton Friedman rules.

No, what jabs me, like a quill poking through a feather pillow, is the political regime behind China's beneficence to Western consumers. When that quill pokes me I think of Tacitus explaining how the Romans finally pacified the rambunctious Britons. They built the Britons baths and introduced them to Roman delicacies. "All this in their ignorance they called civilization, when it was but a part of their servitude."

China, if not best buddies with North Korea, seems to like having a mad dictator on a short leash. The diplomatic logic is that if other countries want to make sure Fido doesn't break loose, they have to deal with the Man in Beijing. China to this day hinders Cambodia from any serious reckoning with Beijing's former clients, the Khmer Rouge. And China is intent, sooner or later, on snatching Taiwan. It is increasingly hard to believe that the U.S. would risk war to defend Taiwan, no matter what we say. Add to this that China's spies have reportedly stolen vast stores of our classified aerospace, nuclear, and military research. Suddenly I'm feeling a whole porcupine in my pillow.

But all is not lost. There was good news in the April 1 New York Times Magazine, in an article by Ann Hulbert entitled "Re-education." Hulbert describes the enthusiasm among Chinese for American-style education. She opens with the story of Harvard freshman Tang Meijie, an exceptional young woman from Shanghai who earned her way into Harvard by bucking the usual academic grind in China and focusing instead on extracurrriculars. Meijie is on our side: "There is something in the American educational system that helps America hold its position in the world." Meijie's goal is to bring American-style liberal education to China.

Several comments come to mind. First, Meijie better hurry and get the job done before U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings achieves her goal of dismantling American-style liberal education in America. Spellings is in the midst of decertifying the primary liberal arts accrediting body in the United States, the American Academy of Liberal Education. She is also ramrodding through a federal system of No-Child-Left-Behind-style testing requirements for higher education.

I've been speaking out against Spellings's actions, but that was before I grasped their cool multicultural logic. It appears that what's really happening is that Spellings has cut a deal with China. We get a version of China's Imperial Examination system dating back to the Sui Dynasty in AD 605, and in exchange, China gets our flexible and pragmatic form of liberal education. …

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