Beware China's Role in US Chinese Classes

By Zimmerman, Jonathan | The Christian Science Monitor, September 6, 2006 | Go to article overview

Beware China's Role in US Chinese Classes


Zimmerman, Jonathan, The Christian Science Monitor


Let's suppose that a cruel, tyrannical, and repressive foreign government offered to pay for American teens to study its national language in our schools. Would you take the deal?

Actually, we already have. Starting this fall, American high school students will be able to take an Advanced Placement (AP) course in "Chinese Language and Culture." Developing the course and its exam cost the College Board, which runs the AP Program, about $1.4 million. And half of that sum was picked up by - you guessed it - the People's Republic of China.

That's right. The same regime that has brought us public executions, forced labor camps, and Internet censors will soon be funding a language and culture class in a school near you.

Given what we know about China's rulers, it's fair to ask what's in it for them. And to answer, we might examine the last time a dictatorial foreign government tried to influence our language instruction.

The Mussolini model

The era was the 1930s, and the nation was Italy. Fascist Italy.

About a decade after he seized power, fascist dictator Benito Mussolini began a broad campaign to promote Italian-language instruction in American schools.

In a special enticement, Mussolini's government awarded medals to US high school students for "excellence in the study of Italian." The top five scholars won free trips to Italy, where they attended state-run summer camps. They wore fascist uniforms, received military training, and learned how to hail the Italian flag. Several students even received audiences with Il Duce ("the leader") himself.

Textbooks sang the praises of Mussolini's government. "Fascism has remade Italy," boasted Andiamo in Italia ("Let's Go Italy"), a text used in New York public schools. "Italy was a disorderly and disorganized country in which all wanted to talk more loudly without listening to the voice of the ruler. Now this voice which commands is well heard by all and order has been restored as if by a miracle." After 1941, when the United States declared war on Italy, such propaganda came to a halt.

Today, thankfully, Italian is enjoying a small renaissance in American schools. Shortly before the Chinese agreed to fund the Advanced Placement course here, the Italian government pledged $300,000 to establish an AP program in its own language. …

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