Representative Richardson: China trip part 3

Part III. China – Oregon World Class Education Opportunity
This is the third and final installment in my report on last month’s 2009 Oregon Legislative Delegation to China.
By State Representative Dennis Richardson,

As you may recall, Part I, “Forest and Timber Management: Challenge and Opportunity,” dealt with the prospects for productive and environmentally sound forest management issues for Oregon and our Sister-State in China, the heavily forested Province of Fujian. Hopefully, Fujian can benefit from Oregon’s experience, and Oregon can learn from its mistakes. (To read Part I, click here.)

Part II, “China Bullet Trains and Oregon Amtrak,” described China’s high speed trains and why it is not economically feasible to build bullet trains in Oregon. It also gave a brief analysis of our high state and national unemployment rates, and why neither Oregon nor the USA will recover the number of jobs lost since 2007 until at least 2014. (To read Part II, click here.)
Part III examines how Oregon schools can prepare our students for the 21st century global economy by offering first class instruction in Chinese language and culture, at very little cost to Oregon schools.

Let me begin with a personal story. My wife, Cathy, and I support learning foreign languages and learning about foreign cultures. We have one son and eight daughters. They are all grown now, but when they were young, we lovingly encouraged them to pay us back for providing a good home by doing their chores, learning to speak Spanish and to play the piano.

To help promote learning Spanish we accepted the opportunity for a Mexican girl, Ana Monasterio, to live with us for a semester. Ana was 12 years old and our twins, Jennifer and Valerie, were 11. The three of them were like close sisters. After only a few months in our home, Ana was speaking English fluently, and even started dreaming in English.

When the school year ended, Ana returned to her home in Mexico. She missed our twins so much her family invited Jen and Val to come live in their Mexico City home, attend school and learn Spanish. It was difficult for us to let our 12 year olds leave the nest, but Cathy and I felt like the Monasterio’s home would be a safe place. Eventually we agreed for the twins to fly to Mexico. After four months Jen and Val returned home with exciting stories of their experiences while living in Mexico. For our family there was no turning back–new horizons had been opened for the rest of our other girls and most of them were determined to have their own foreign adventures.
Six of our daughters were able to spend 3-4 months living in Mexico with Mexican families and attending Mexican schools. I can assure you, there were no English speaking teachers assigned to our American students in the Mexican schools. In addition to the six who lived in Mexico, our youngest daughter lived with an older sister’s family in Egypt for a semester””that too was an unforgettable experience for all of them.

Although being alone in a foreign land as a young teen-ager sounded exciting to our girls, all of them soon learned how difficult it was to be suddenly thrust into a foreign culture with people who spoke a language they could not understand. Like Ana in our home, it was total immersion and, although challenging, it was a great educational experience. The experience would have been better if the girls had learned to speak Spanish before living and studying in Mexico.

Learning a foreign language and experiencing a foreign culture can be life changing. Our daughters who did so learned a great deal about themselves, about life, and about how fortunate they are to live in America. In differing degrees, most of them also learned to speak Spanish and to love the Mexican people and culture. (Years later when Val was earning money for college as a waitress at El Azteca, customers were amazed to hear this young, blond, blue-eyed Gringa speaking Spanish like a Mexican with her co-workers””and it enabled her to earn a lot of tips.)

There’s a reason why I have shared with you the story of my daughters living in foreign lands. As a result of their experiences in other countries and cultures, my children are more compassionate to those who are less fortunate, and have a greater appreciation for the blessings of living in America. As I consider what is happening in our world, and what the rest of the 21st century will be like, I believe the world’s future and Oregon’s future will be brighter if as many students as possible learn a foreign language and experience foreign culture. A generation ago, in our family it was Spanish. Today it would be Chinese. Spanish may be a good language to know, but Chinese will be the global language of the 21st century.

Think about it. China. What will China’s impact be on Oregon’s economy and on the lives of Oregon students and residents over the next fifty years? Whether today’s students are doing business with China, cooperating with China, competing with China or even conflicting with China, it’s impact on Oregon will be enormous. All of today’s students””whether they become doctors, lawyers, teachers, artists, farmers, dentists, computer programmers, high tech engineers or business people””will be dealing every day with or affected by China.

In short, China will be a dominant force for economic development, for national security, and for peace. If the enormity of China’s impact on Oregon, on America and on the world is destined to be a hallmark of the 21st century, Oregon students should be given every opportunity and encouragement to learn the Chinese language and experience China’s culture, society and economic communities. This message was first delivered in a seventeen page proposal submitted by Dave Porter, my Portland friend and fellow-advocate for Chinese language instruction, and myself to the Oregon Business Council in 2006. (To read the proposal Click here.) Our proposal had everything except the funding necessary to implement it.

Today, I am excited to say the funding hurdle of providing first class instruction in Chinese language and culture has been eliminated. While in Beijing, our delegation was fully briefed at the headquarters of an international organization that is sending experienced Chinese teachers, at the organization’s expense, to 88 countries around the world. The organization is the Council of the Confucius Institute, and it works in conjunction with Hanban, a division of China’s Ministry of Education.

Confucius Institute. The Council of the Confucius Institute has a Board of Directors composed of members from several foreign nations. Its goals are to enhance the learning of the Mandarin language and to promote a greater understanding of Chinese culture. It is accomplishing these goals by partnering with Hanban and educational institutions around the world, to establish “Confucius Institutes” and “Confucius Classrooms” in every nation that desires to learn about Chinese language, history and culture.

Today, there are more than 400 Confucius Institutes located in 88 countries. Sixty-four already are operating in the U.S.– two are located in Oregon””one at Portland State University and the other at the University of Oregon. In fact, the Confucius Institute at the U of O was announced only a week ago by University of Oregon President Richard Lariviere. (Click here.)

Oregon also has one Confucius Classroom. It is at St. Mary’s School in Medford. When our delegation met at Beijing’s Council of the Confucius Institute Headquarters, I was especially interested in learning about the Confucius Classroom at St. Mary’s School. They were quite pleased with their partnership with St. Mary’s School; there was even a display board describing it.

I have first hand experience with the Confucius Classroom at St. Mary’s School. Last year, Cathy and I enrolled in a free night school class “Introduction to Mandarin” at St. Mary’s. After a few Chinese classes, many hours listening to language C.D.’s and studying “Rocket-Chinese” on the internet, I can assure you it is better to learn Chinese while a young student than an old legislator.

For educators and parents interested in having their schools offer Chinese language classes, here are the facts on Confucius Classrooms, Confucius Institutes and Hanban:

A. Confucius Classrooms are applied for by any school interested in providing its students with opportunities to learn Chinese.
B. After an application has been submitted and approved,

–The Confucius Institute Headquarters or Hanban:

1. Provides one or more qualified, English speaking Chinese language teachers with at least three years teaching experience;
2. Pays teacher transportation costs, to and from Oregon;
3. Pays the teacher’s salary of $1,000 per month to cover living expenses, etc.;
4. Provides learning materials for the teachers and the students;
5. Provides $30,000 seed-money for use by the Confucius Classroom host school;
6. Provides the teacher’s American visa for one – three years, obtained through I.I.E. (Institute of International Education) as the sponsoring organization. Presently, the IIE has 100% visa approval success for obtaining American visas for the Chinese teachers.

–The Host School that becomes a Confucius Classroom agrees to:

1. Provide housing for the teacher or teachers””either an apartment or in the home of an Oregon host family;
2. Provide transportation between home and school;
3. Encourage a desire in students to learn more about Chinese culture and language””there are no threshold requirements for how many students would be willing to enroll in the Mandarin class.

C. Confucius Institutes are for larger organizations than those who apply under the Confucius Classroom program. Organizations accepted as Confucius Institutes are provided substantial seed-money to get the program off the ground. (The U of O received $150,000.) Once again, and the hosting organization provides facilities, supporting staff, etc.

D. In addition to the Confucius Institute and Classroom programs, Hanban sponsors a less rigid program for teaching Chinese in Oregon schools. It is called the College Board Guest Teacher Program. It uses experienced Chinese teachers who volunteer to come to an applying school, live with a local host family and teach Chinese language and culture to those interested in learning it. Similar to the Confucius Classroom program, in the Guest Teacher Program the host school’s commitment is to provide a classroom, housing and transportation to and from school. In the Guest Teacher Program medical coverage may need to be provided for the volunteer teacher while living here. Currently, there are 183 Guest Teacher Programs in 25 states. Last year Oregon had one, in Estacada.

Information and the applications to become a Confucius Institute, a Confucius Classroom or to participate in the College Board Guest Teacher Program are all available on-line. For more information, whether in Oregon or anywhere in the world, go to

I know this is a lengthy newsletter, but the information is complex and the opportunities discussed here are important.

There are many reasons for Oregon schools to apply to become a Confucius Institute or a Confucius Classroom, or to invite a volunteer Chinese Teacher to come and teach as part of the Guest Teacher Program. Think of the motivation for our students to gain a certain level of fluency in Chinese if it would qualify them to receive scholarships to travel, live and learn in China. This is already being done at PSU. (Click here.) As a starting point, PSU’s Confucius Institute is awarding Certificates of Competency to all participants who pass the fluency exam. In addition, the top scoring student in each section will be awarded a one-month scholarship for Chinese language study in China.

Is Oregon willing to grasp this excellent opportunity? Time will tell. Too often those in charge of Oregon’s education and schools fail to have vision. Too often our leaders are slow to accept change, quick to find fault, slow to take action, and quick to find reasons to stay the same. This is no longer acceptable. When it comes to educating the next generation and those that follow, mediocrity must not be an acceptable alternative. We as parents, as grandparents, and as concerned, committed Oregonians must require progress. Some Oregon schools are already embracing Chinese language study. (Click here.) These Oregon schools are setting a good example and raising the bar for the rest of Oregon. If your school is not included on the list, you can do something about it.

From our proposal, Mr. Porter and I would have you consider the following:
–What price will Oregon pay for ignoring the need for Chinese speaking Americans who will be prepared to communicate with Chinese business men and women in the decades to come?

–What Oregon-China business ideas, investments, ventures and other opportunities will be lost that could have had dramatic benefits to Oregon’s workers, families and Oregon’s economy, because we could not speak Chinese?
–Is there any good reason for not taking advantage of opportunities to provide Chinese language instruction to Oregon students across the state?
–Does it make sense to encourage dedicated students to learn Chinese with incentives for those who study hard and gain fluency in the Mandarin language? Such incentives could include scholarships to live, learn and travel in China, once they have reached a certain age and have gained testable levels of fluency. PSU’s Confucius Institute is leading the way with such incentives.

There will always be naysayers. There are those who say learning Chinese is not important, that English will always be the language of international business and the dollar the currency of international business. To them I recommend there is wisdom in preparing for possible changes in the future. Besides, learning a foreign language is good training for students; Learning at least one foreign language is an established practice and basic to education in most countries around the world. The benefits in the job market are obvious. Additionally, it just makes good sense. People respect and want to do business with those who can converse with them in their own language. This is certainly true with the Chinese.

In addition to the benefits to Oregon for our students to become fluent in Chinese language and culture, there are global ramifications if America fails to understand China.

What cost might our society pay if we do not gain a broad and deep understanding of China that could help build world political stability throughout the 21st century?

America was the global power of the 20th century and currently has the largest economy in the world, but there are no guarantees for what will happen in the future. One thing is certain, China is a powerhouse economy and Oregon has the potential to become America’s gateway to the Orient. This can happen if we have the vision, the language and cultural competency, and the determination to grasp this opportunity without delay.

If we fail to take action now, I am convinced Oregon will be missing a great opportunity. This concern also applies to America. Our action or inaction relating to China could affect the future of world peace and stability.

Oregon cannot do everything, but we can do something. We can enable our students and our citizens to learn about the Chinese culture, its history and its language. Much is at stake and we should learn from history the consequences of failing to understand the culture and language of a powerful, distant nation.

What can we each do? We can call, write and email our local school principals and school district superintendents. Feel free to send this newsletter to them. We can organize a small group of likeminded neighbors and get the issue of Chinese language study on the agenda of the next school board meeting agenda. Ask the school board to apply to make your local school a Confucius Classroom host school. Offer to be a host family for a Chinese teacher who is sent to teach in your community.

If we take advantage of the programs offered by Hanban and the Confucius Institute Headquarters, we can give Oregon students the opportunities, responsibilities and adventures of their lifetimes. It is up to us to make certain our schools provide for our students the opportunity to enable them to have this vital, international preparation. Gaining foreign language skills and experiencing foreign cultures was an important part of my children’s education. It has helped them become self-confident adults and productive, patriotic citizens. Chinese language study does not replace other important components of a world class education; it enhances them. All Oregon students deserve such opportunities.


Dennis Richardson
State Representative