Language Requirements

U.S. Lawmakers are facing an interesting debate in regards to today’s school systems: Should learning Chinese be mandatory in American public schools?

Currently over 1.3 billion people populate China, which amounts to roughly 19.5% of the world’s population. Both through my former posts as well as through the different news articles I have referenced, it is clear that China’s presence worldwide cannot be ignored. Although I do not believe China to be a threat to replace the U.S. as the preeminent world power, I do think their possibility to impact the global landscape is formidable.

In a recent New York Times article it was reported that the number of middle and high schools offering Chinese grew by 4%. While thousands of schools have ceased offering foreign languages at all, more and more are considering Chinese to be a top priority over the likes of both Spanish and German. The Chinese government is actually subsidizing Chinese language programs in America, and according to the article, since 2006 China has sent 325 guest teachers to the U.S. to work in schools. It is not a huge number, but it is indicative of the increasing emphasis on learning Chinese.

I am a proponent of teaching kids a secondary language at a young age, and continuously through their academic careers. The benefits, which include an enhanced ability to communicate with a variety of peoples, as well as a broader cultural understanding, are obvious. Knowing more than one language affords one the opportunity to succeed in a variety of places rather than just the U.S. So with this being said, the question then becomes: what language should schools require and offer?

In my mind there is no clear answer. As mentioned above, China’s prevalence on the world scene is growing at a rapid rate, but over 44 million people in the U.S. currently speak Spanish of some form. Spanish has been the most taught language in U.S. schools, and according to many government bureaus and studies, the language’s presence in America will only continue to grow. Knowing this, I conclude that schools should either offer Chinese or Spanish in some capacity. These are the two languages that are most likely to affect Americans in both the near and distant future. Similarly the overall goal of offering these languages is to prepare students for future challenges, which it does well. By providing either of these languages, students will be gaining valuable knowledge on a least one of the two major U.S. global influences. The reality however, is that providing these languages and allowing students to choose is quite an expensive endeavor. The most pragmatic solution in which students could choose which language they want to learn, involves school districts encouraging some schools to offer Spanish, and others Chinese. If either a way to allow students to take classes at more than one location, or after-school-programs is implemented, students would have the opportunity to choose which language (of the two) they wanted to learn.

When it comes down to it, the best solution is one that requires students to learn either Chinese or Spanish, but have a say in which one they pursue. If schools can somehow find a way to offer both languages in some form, the benefits would far extend what they would if only one language was available.

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Voice Suppression

I mentioned in my post “Innovation Deprivation” a few weeks ago that I found it hard to believe China would be able to topple the U.S. as a world power as long as its communist government practiced violence and oppression towards its citizens on a regular basis. As each day passes it is becoming clearer and clearer that China is facing serious issues in regards to human rights, and there is no telling how the overall situation might play out.

In a February 20th Wall Street Journal article entitled “Call for Protest Unnerves China,” it is described in great depth that the censorship and overall control stemming from the government is not looked favorably upon by Chinese citizens. The most recent display of oppression can be seen in the Chinese government’s issuance of police officers to stifle the “Jasmine Revolution,” a pro-democracy protest (originating in Middle East) among 13 different Chinese cities. In response to these demonstrations, the Chinese government blocked the word “Jasmine” in all search engines, confined at least 100 individuals that publicly supported the movement to house arrest, and publicly arrested supporters of the cause. The most recent showing of this was when man laid down several Jasmine flower petals, and tried to take pictures of them on his cell phone. Chinese authorities immediately detained him.

Chinese Authorities Intervene in "Jasmine Revolution" Protest

Although this issue of human rights is only one element of a nation, it is certainly an important one. One of the greatest triumphs in American history was the signing of the constitution, which allowed individuals to freely voice their opinion government without repercussion. Ultimately, this has given Americans an opportunity to have their voices heard, thus giving those who do make the rules an opportunity to mend policies for citizens’ benefit. How could that possible in a country such as China where people’s opinions are not only disrespected, but silenced?

Sure, the Chinese economy may be growing at a rapid rate, and its cities are experiencing commendable growth. In the human rights department however, it seems as though the country is digging a deep hole to nowhere.

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Exploration of Imagination

“Chinese parents believe that they know what is best for their children and therefore override all of their children’s own desires and preferences”

–Amy Chua, “Battle Hymn of a Tiger Mom”

On January 8th, Amy Chua, a professor at the Yale Law School, wrote an opinion article in the Wall Street Journal titled “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior.” In her piece, Chua claims that first and second generation Asian mothers are better parents than their U.S. counterparts. She elaborated on many practices Chinese and Chinese-American mothers implement on their children, such as disallowing play dates, sleepovers and participating in the school play. She even mentioned that food is sometimes withheld from kids in order to gain better performance.  After explaining all of these approaches to raising children, Chua then goes on to say that Asian children should still love their parents and have a smooth relationship. As I read her article, which is actually an excerpt from her book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” I could not help but wonder…wow, the United States methodology is so different.

I know everyone is probably wondering how this relates to globalization in regards to China and the United States, but I believe that Chua’s article highlights some very important cultural differences between the two nations. As I alluded to in my post last week, what makes the U.S. special is the fact that its innovation has withstood the test of time. What I did not talk about was what allows that innovation to come about. Sure, I mentioned enrichment programs and emphasis on funding innovate-friendly programs, but I did not mention from a mental aspect what spawns creativity. When it comes down to it, innovation is not something that is forced; rather it’s something that exists as a result of freedom of the mind. Although to many, building a tent out of sheets, or spending the night with a bunch of kids at a friend’s house seems counter productive to learning, these activities are actually some of best ways for a kid to explore imagination. This in turn leads to the ability to think outside of the box, which is what defines innovation. These experiences are what make America special.

This article was useful in that it brings to light that what allows America to continue exploring creativity is imagination. How can innovation exist if one can never take advantage of that freedom as a kid? Quite simply, it cannot. It is that U.S. youth is not stifled by expectations and a rigid schedule, but is rather allowed to experience independence of the mind at the youngest of ages. Although to an Asian parent allowing one’s kid to pretend to be a spaceman, or play laser tag with friends might seem worthless, the truth is that those are some of the most beneficial out-of-classroom experiences. They allow children to think creatively. It is not surprising that the U.S. has been able to out-innovate China for so long.

I’m not saying that the Chinese are wrong in their parenting styles, for success is found often in both China, and among Chinese-Americans. What I am saying however is that although the “Tiger Mom” may think she has parenting down cold, play dates, sleepovers, food fights and camping trips, might be what her kids are missing to be truly successful.

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Innovation Deprivation?

“We need to out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world.”

-U.S. President Barack Obama during 2011 State of the Union

In the eyes of many including Barack Obama, the U.S is facing serious issues. The economy is unstable, healthcare reform is troublesome, and of course, international politics are not so simple. (See the Middle East) However, while elaborating on all these things in his recent State of the Union speech, President Obama spent serious time discussing a different crisis; a decline in American innovation. Why does this scare him, and so many people others around the United States? Because to those individuals, a lack of U.S. innovation signals a greater problem—lost ground to China, the United States’ top competitor. There is no doubt that the U.S. should forge ahead with programs to boost innovation capabilities, however is it time to panic just yet?

The real answer is no. The U.S. is the world’s leader in education, business, human rights, as well as several other important domains. Take Duke University for example: It is home to a host of students from different ethnicities and nationalities. Duke produces leaders in wide variety of realms, and affords its students a top-notch education. Duke demonstrates the United States’ strength in that it is one of several institutions that operate at this high level.  According to a US News and World Report, 31 of the top 100 universities in the world are located in the U.S. whereas China only has 2. In regards to lost innovation in business, if one simply reflects back to U.S. accomplishments over the past 10 years, it is clear that there is no deprivation of creativity. Facebook, twitter, and Google are the products of American individuals and companies, and they are just a few of the several companies that have been immensely successful and changed the quality of life. China, although creating ingenious products like the Toyota Prius, has not experienced the same success. Lastly, China cannot compare to the U.S. to cultural acceptance and human rights. The easiest way to illustrate this is through the fact that in 1989 the events at Tiananmen Square occurred, but still to this day, Chinese individuals do not have access to information regarding what happened. Their Internet is censored, and their ability to search freely, and voice your opinion is heavily limited. In the U.S., freedom of speech and ability to browse is practically a given.

Do not take everything said to mean that U.S. does not have several things to address. Although both citizens of the U.S. as well as the government need not to panic, there is validity in the claim that heavy emphasis should be placed on growing innovative capabilities within the states. China has rolled out a program that includes both big investments in national industries as well as patent laws that favor Chinese companies. Similarly, the Chinese government is requiring that all foreign companies transfer their technology to China before selling their products in that market. Without taking the appropriate steps, complacency would be troublesome for America. However, if handled correctly, the U.S. should, and will remain on top.

The question then becomes, how can the U.S. address this issue? It’s a loaded answer, but for starters, it’s an absolute necessity that the United States begins incentivizing innovation. Companies should be rewarded for creating cutting edge products, and individuals should want to create new things. The U.S. government could attempt a subsidy program, or better yet for large corporations, tax breaks. Or perhaps award scholarships to those students who are able to come up with beneficial ideas. Things such as this will have the effect of instilling a drive in these groups to enhance research and development, which in the end produces results. I am aware it is much easier said than done to install programs, however there are several viable options that could yield positive results.

When it comes down to it, the U.S. was founded on the notion of creativity and innovation. It is what allowed the forefathers to create such a unique and successful nation. Without the consistent presence of new products and ideas, the U.S. would not have sustained over time. In order to last another 200 years as the preeminent world power, America needs to dig deep and explore its creative side. Although now is not the time to sound the alarm, that day could come down the line, if the issue of innovation is not addressed.

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Filed under Economy, Politics

Inaugural Post

A few weeks ago I received an email from Duke’s Office of Media Communications. It contained an inquiry in regards to British Broadcasting Corporation’s (BBC) visit to Durham. Matt Frei, a lead anchor for “BBC Americas World News”, a program directed towards a U.S. audience covering global headlines, was coming to Duke to speak with a few students about their perspective on American global competitiveness. The emphasis of the discussion was placed on China as an economic and political threat to the United States in the foreseeable future, and the students were to debate their point of view on camera. Periodically Matt Frei would ask provocative questions to stir the conversation. Five individuals were chosen to take part in this event, and although I was not originally one of the students chosen, the bad weather in the Northeastern U.S. led me to step in as the alternate.

As far as I can remember I’ve never been chosen to take part in something filmed for an actual audience.  So when I had an opportunity to be on BBC, one of the world’s largest news networks, I gladly accepted the invitation. Upon taking a class in globalization and competitiveness last fall, I had some understanding of the topic and was aware that the U.S. frequently receives a bad reputation in relation to its global policies. I thus promised myself I would do my best to make sure the U.S. was cast in a fair light during the discussion. As our discussion progressed it lead both me and the other individuals to discuss the U.S. position on a global setting, as well as China’s. However even more importantly, it led me to thinking that the topic at hand was definitely worth exploring even further.

My English 109 professor asks his students to create a blog. Coming off taking part in the BBC discussion, what better way for me to explore the issues of American competitiveness in comparison to China? Politically, economically, and culturally, the two countries could not be more different, and I plan on looking at current trends and previous events to highlight those contrasting elements. Similarly, I will weigh in with critiques and thoughts of my own. I’m excited to dig deeper into the issues that these countries currently face, because there is no doubt that any actions taken today by either nation, not only drastically affect themselves in the future, but also each other.

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