Two recent articles, “Trump tariffs hit at China, but shock waves hit home” (March 23) and “State farmers would have much to lose in a U.S.-China trade war” (March 31), shared discussion about the severe consequences upon businesses and agriculture in Minnesota should the trade war with China escalate. The fallout of the escalation of “China fear” extends into education.
Recently, U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Tom Cotton and U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson have led an attack on Confucius Institutes in the United States. Two such institutes are located in Minnesota. One is on the campus of St. Cloud State University.
Confucius Institutes have a primary mission to promote Chinese language and culture in K-12 programs, the university campus and the broader community. The funding for the institutes is provided by the Confucius Institute Headquarters, under the Ministry of Education in Beijing.
The immense scrutiny, claims of infringement of academic freedom and fears of brainwashing American students to blindly “love” China through the hidden agenda of the Chinese government via Confucius Institutes lack evidence. As the director of the SCSU Confucius Institute, I would like to share how hosting the institute has had an immense benefit in the lives of thousands of Minnesota students in becoming global citizens and future leaders of the Minnesota business and agriculture communities. The threat and calls from Rubio to close all U.S. Confucius Institutes are real and in need of attention, as is the threat of the trade war with China.
At St. Cloud State University, the Confucius Institute is unleashing the potential for learning about China and Chinese language and culture to more than 5,000 students in central Minnesota through providing Chinese teachers to teach Chinese language and culture and sponsoring Confucius Classrooms in K-12 programs. The students in the Chinese immersion programs are being taught American curriculum in Chinese, not Chinese-government-created curriculum filled with propaganda. Students in exploratory and second-language programs are using vetted curriculum by school administrators. Annually, 50 to 60 scholarships are provided to students from Chinese immersion and second-language programs, university students and school administrators and faculty for Education Abroad programs. The scholarships cover all expenses in China, allowing equity and access for all to see the world. Since the opening of the SCSU Confucius Institute in May 2014, more than 200 scholarships have been awarded to Minnesota students, teachers, faculty and administrators. Lives are changed, lessons are learned and globally competent leaders are emerging.
A unique aspect of the Confucius Institute at St. Cloud State University is the leadership role it plays in advocating for the inclusion and engagement of people with disabilities in all programs, language and culture learning and people-to-people exchange programs. This summer, one delegation consists of leaders in deaf education from across the U.S. and is being facilitated in partnership with the Harkin Institute in Des Moines.
Outcomes of this Educational Leadership Delegation will not only be future opportunities for U.S. students who are deaf to learn about China and Chinese sign language and culture, but participants will also share their expertise, research and knowledge on deaf education and employment in the U.S. Through this means, the delegation, funded by Confucius Institute scholarships, is contributing to collaborative dialogue, knowledge and research on best practices in educating students who are deaf. This is a clear example of how academic freedom and research are not being infringed upon.
The majority of American students still learn so little about China, the second-largest economy in the world, one of the largest exporters for Minnesota farmers and leading importer of products for Minnesota businesses. The SCSU Confucius Institute seeks to contribute to the success of these business opportunities with China through increasing mutual understanding of U.S.-China relations, increasing the number of globally competent graduates fluent in Chinese and knowledgeable about China who enter the business world and providing resources and assistance to those doing business with China.
The impact of the escalating threat of a trade war with China expands beyond businesses into education. Together, we need to raise our concerns of the current U.S. administration’s approach to working with China and share the stories of impact upon our business and education communities.
Kathryn Johnson, of Avon, Minn., is director of the Confucius Institute at St. Cloud State University.