Douthat: A Case for Patriotic Education

More on capturing the “the good, the bad and the ugly” and finding a balance, along with age appropriateness for the negative parts:

I have my doubts about America. As a Catholic, my first loyalty is to a faith that predates and promises to outlast our Republic, that was disfavored for much of our history and may be headed into disfavor once again. American anti-Catholicism is far from the worst evil in this nation’s history, but it still instills a special obligation to take critiques of our Anglo-liberal-Protestant inheritance seriously, whether they come from radicals or traditionalists or both.

But when it comes to introducing American history to my own American children, none yet older than 10, I’ve realized that we’re giving them a pretty patriotic education: trips to the battlefield at Concord; books like “Johnny Tremain” and the d’Aulaires’ biographies of Lincoln and Franklin and Pocahontas; incantatory readings of “Paul Revere’s Ride.”

One of my son’s favorite books is an account of Lewis and Clark’s mission that pairs extracts from diaries with vivid illustrations. Laura Ingalls Wilder may have been canceled a few years ago, but she’s a dominant literary figure for our daughters. Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.” plays in our minivan, and when my eldest daughter tries to win arguments by declaring “I’m a free American!” I let the claim stand, rather than answering her with Catholic critiques of liberal individualism.

I should say that we also deliver doses of realism about slavery and segregation and the importance of seeing history from the perspective of the defeated, from the Tories to the Sioux. (Though many older texts contain those perspectives, however un-P.C. their form; tragic realism is not the exclusive province of the early 21st century.) And we are not home-schoolers; our patriotic education interacts with what our kids learn in school and pick up through osmosis in our progressive state and city.

But having written recently about the race-and-history wars, I think it’s worth talking about what makes patriotic education valuable, even if you ultimately want kids to have critical distance from the nation’s sins.

Here I want to disagree mildly with David French, the famous conservative critic of conservatism, who wrote for Time magazine recently chiding parents who are “afraid children will not love their country unless they are taught that their country is good.” The love for country we instill, he argued, shouldn’t rest on American innocence or greatness; rather we should love our country the way we love our family, which means “telling our full story, the good, the bad, and the ugly.”

To which I would say, yes, but … you probably want to feel a certain security in your children’s family bonds before you start telling them about every sin and scandal.

Admittedly there are families where that isn’t possible, as there are political contexts where young kids need to know dark truths upfront. But we aren’t living in Nazi-occupied France, and there is easily enough good in America, past and present, to lay a patriotic foundation, so that more adult forms of knowledge are shaped by a primary sense of loyalty and love.

Moreover, with families the people you’re supposed to love are usually there with you, and to some extent you can’t help loving them even in their sins. Whereas the nation’s past is more distant, words and names and complicated legacies, not flesh and blood. So if historical education doesn’t begin with what’s inspiring, a sense of real affection may never take root — risking not just patriotism but a basic interest in the past.

I encounter the latter problem a lot, talking to progressive-minded young people — a sense that history isn’t just unlovable but actually pretty boring, a grim slog through imperialism and cisheteropatriarchy.

Whereas if you teach kids first that the past is filled with people who did remarkable, admirable, courageous things — acts of endurance and creation that seem beyond our own capacity — then you can build the awareness of French’s bad-and-ugly organically, filling out the picture through middle and high school, leaving both a love of country and a fascination with the past intact.

And starting with heroism doesn’t just mean starting with white people: From Harriet Tubman to Martin Luther King Jr., the story of the African-American experience is the most straightforwardly heroic American narrative, the natural core of liberal patriotism — something liberalism understood at the time of Barack Obama’s election, but in its revolutionary and pessimistic mood seems in danger of forgetting.

This idea of a patriotic foundation hardly eliminates controversy. You still have to figure out at what age and in what way you introduce more detail and more darkness. This is as true for Catholic doubts as for radical critiques: I’m not sure exactly how to frame Roe v. Wade and abortion for my older kids.

In this sense French and others to his left are correct — there is no escape from hard historical truths, no simple way to raise educated Americans.

But still I feel no great difficulty letting my children begin, wherever their education takes them, with the old familiar poetry: Here once the embattled farmers stood / And fired the shot heard round the world.


Teachers need ongoing anti-Black racism training, not workshops, elective courses, experts say

Of note, both the specific context of anti-Black and broader context of anti-racism training in general. Challenge, of course, for teachers to integrate this into the existing curriculum rather than being another add-on along with other demands on their time:

Although her daughters, Savannah and Sahara, are in their first few years of elementary school, Cshandrika Bryan of Ajax, Ont., has already seen a wide range of examples in how the Black experience is reflected inside their classrooms.

At six-year-old Savannah’s former school, Bryan recalled, her teacher included Black voices in everyday lessons and helped guide fellow teaching staff in interactions with Black families.

Source: Teachers need ongoing anti-Black racism training, not workshops, elective courses, experts say

State GOP lawmakers try to limit teaching about race, racism

Of note (and of course, the states are preserving existing indoctrination):

Teachers and professors in Idaho will be prevented from “indoctrinating” students on race. Oklahoma teachers will be prohibited from saying certain people are inherently racist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously. Tennessee schools will risk losing state aid if their lessons include particular concepts about race and racism.

Governors and legislatures in Republican-controlled states across the country are moving to define what race-related ideas can be taught in public schools and colleges, a reaction to the nation’s racial reckoning after last year’s police killing of George Floyd. The measures have been signed into law in at least three states and are being considered in many more.

Educators and education groups are concerned that the proposals will have a chilling effect in the classroom and that students could be given a whitewashed version of the nation’s history. Teachers are also worried about possible repercussions if a student or parent complains.

“Once we remove the option of teachers incorporating all parts of history, we’re basically silencing the voices of those who already feel oppressed,” said Lakeisha Patterson, a third-grade English and social studies teacher who lives in Houston and worries about a bill under consideration in Texas.

At least 16 states are considering or have signed into law bills that would limit the teaching of certain ideas linked to “critical race theory,” which seeks to reframe the narrative of American history. Its proponents argue that federal law has preserved the unequal treatment of people on the basis of race and that the country was founded on the theft of land and labor.

Those states include Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Iowa, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia.

The latest state to implement a law is Tennessee, where the governor this past week signed a bill to ban the teaching of critical race theory in schools.

The legislative debate over that bill caused a stir earlier this month when a Republican lawmaker who supports it, state Rep. Justin Lafferty, wrongly declared that the Constitution’s original provision designating a slave as three-fifths of a person was adopted for “the purpose of ending slavery.” Historians largely agree that the compromise gave slaveholding states more political power.

Some other states have taken steps that fall short of legislative change.

After Utah’s Republican governor blocked a vote on a set of similar bills, the GOP-controlled Legislature passed a symbolic resolution recommending that the state review any curriculum that examines the ways in which race and racism influence American politics, culture and the law.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp wrote in a letter to state education board members that they should “take immediate steps to ensure that Critical Race Theory and its dangerous ideology do not take root in our state standards or curriculum.”

Montana’s attorney general issued a binding decision Thursday declaring that certain teachings violate the U.S. and state constitutions and that schools, local governments and public workplaces could lose state funding and be on the hook for damages stemming from lawsuits if they provide critical race theory training or activities.

The National Education Association and the National Council for the Social Studies oppose legislation to limit what ideas can be presented inside a classroom.

“It creates a very chilling atmosphere of distrust, educators not being able to be the professionals they are not only hired to be but are trained to be,” said Lawrence Paska, a former middle school social studies teacher in New York and executive director of the council.

Republicans have said concepts suggesting that people are inherently racist or that America was founded on racial oppression are divisive and have no place in the classroom.

Earlier this month, Republicans in the North Carolina House moved to prohibit teachers from promoting seven concepts that critically examine race and racism, including the belief that a person’s race or sex determines their moral character, that people bear responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex, and that they should feel guilty because of those two characteristics.

Rep. John Torbett, a Republican who leads North Carolina’s House education committee, said the legislation was intended to promote equality, not rewrite history.

“It ensures equity,” Torbett said during a hearing this month. “It ensures that all people in society are equitable. It has no mention of history.”

Kimberlé Crenshaw, executive director of the African American Policy Forum, was among those who helped popularize critical race theory in the 1970s and 1980s as a response to what she and others felt was a lack of progress following passage of civil rights legislation in the 1960s.

She said Republicans are twisting the concept to inflame racial tensions and motivate their base of mostly white supporters.

“This is a 2022 strategy to weaponize white insecurity, to mobilize ideas that have been mobilized again and again throughout history, using a concept or set of ideas that they can convince people is the new boogeyman,” Crenshaw said.

The boundary between teaching ideas and promoting them has stirred concern among teachers and racial justice scholars.

Uncertainty about that boundary could cause teachers to avoid difficult conversations about American history, said Cheryl Harris, a UCLA Law School professor who teaches a course on critical race theory.

“For anybody who’s ever taught in a classroom, the idea is to get the conversation flowing, and you can’t do that if you’re preoccupied with which side of the line are you going to be on,” Harris said. “That is a chilling effect, and that is every bit as offensive to the First Amendment as a direct ban.”

Opponents of the North Carolina bill say it’s a solution in search of a problem. Tamika Walker Kelly, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, said the bill’s promoters could not point to any school in the state where students were being indoctrinated in certain racial concepts.

That’s just one reason the bill faces an uphill climb. The press secretary for Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper said the governor believes instruction should be honest and accurate, and that students need to be taught to think critically.

The legislation also faces skepticism from the Republican leader of the state Senate, where it will be considered next.

“I don’t like making it illegal to teach a certain doctrine, as wrong as that doctrine may be, while saying the reason for that ban is freedom of thought,” Sen. Phil Berger said in a statement. “That strikes me as a contradiction.”

Source: State GOP lawmakers try to limit teaching about race, racism

USA: Do immigrants harm native students academically?

Interesting debunking:

Over the past 50 years, the United States has experienced the second-largest wave of immigration in its history. As a result, the share of recent immigrants (either foreign-born or children of foreign-born) in public schools reached 23% in 2015, with concentrations over 70% in several school districts in high-immigration states. These trends have generated a policy debate about the effects of immigration on public education and the perceived costs that immigrants may impose on public schools, local governments, and educational outcomes of the U.S.-born student population.

Better understanding the causal effects of immigrants on native students is therefore critical to inform these policy debates, yet there are two factors that complicate any effort to reveal this link. First, immigrant students are not randomly assigned to schools, and are more likely to enroll in schools educating students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Second, U.S.-born students, especially those from comparatively affluent families, may decide to leave when a large share of immigrant students move into their school district—a phenomenon commonly referred to as “native flight.” Both factors imply that simple correlations between immigrant exposure and native student outcomes will likely yield a more negative relationship than the true causal effect of immigrant exposure.

In a recent paper, we show how immigrant exposure affects the academic achievement of U.S.-born students. We do this with an analytical strategy that addresses both concerns above. We make use of rich, longitudinal education and health microdata from Florida. These data are exceptionally detailed. For example, they identify students’ siblings in school records, which enables us to use the within-family, across-sibling variation in immigrant exposure to study the effects of immigrants. In other words, we can compare the learning of U.S.-born siblings when one of those siblings happened to have more immigrants in their school cohort than the other sibling(s).

Figure 1, illustrating our main result, shows the relationship between immigrant exposure and native student math scores, and how this relationship changes when one accounts for native flight. We present the results for all U.S.-born students (black bars), along with the results for white (green bars) and Black students (blue bars) to demonstrate the effects for different student groups.

Estimated Effects of Immigrant Exposure on U.S.-Born Student Math Scores: Overall and by Race

The results on the left of the figure are from a common model that accounts for the non-random sorting of immigrants (by comparing U.S.-born students with their peers in the same school), yet does not address native flight. (That is, we compare the academic performance of native students with their peers in the same school who have different levels of exposure to immigrants because they are enrolled in different grades.) On the right of the figure, we present the results from our preferred model where we rely on sibling comparisons. Several findings are worth highlighting.

First, when we move from our baseline model to sibling comparisons that account for native flight, we see that the relationship between immigrant exposure and U.S.-born student test scores changes from negative to positive.

Second, we find that this trend is entirely driven by students from more advantaged backgrounds. For example, for white students, we find a negative relationship between immigrant exposure and math achievement in models that fail to account for native flight compared to a sizable positive relationship in our preferred model. In contrast, for Black students, the positive effect of immigrant exposure remains virtually unchanged between the two models. This is consistent with the expectation that native flight is a bigger issue when examining the effects of immigrants on students from more advantaged backgrounds who can afford alternative schooling options in the wake of an immigrant influx.

In summary, we find no adverse effects of immigrant students on the academic achievement of U.S.-born students. This is true even when the immigrants’ academic achievement is lower than the U.S.-born students. In fact, we find significant benefits of having immigrant peers on the test scores of native students, especially among students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

This does not necessarily mean that immigrant students do not require public resources initially as they acquire English proficiency and get accustomed to the school system and life in a new country, which could have adverse effects on native students in the short-term—especially in the aftermath of large migrant inflows. That said, our findings suggest that, in the long run, the benefits of exposure to recent-immigrant peers, who are typically higher performing academically and have higher educational aspirationscompared to more established immigrant generations, likely outweigh these potential short-term adverse effects.

Source: Do immigrants harm native students academically?

New [US] Data Highlight Disparities In Students Learning In Person

Useful study. Wonder how it compares in Canada (or at least in the largest provinces):

The U.S. Education Department has released the first in a series of school surveys intended to provide a national view of learning during the pandemic. It reveals that the percentage of students who are still attending school virtually may be higher than previously understood.

As of January and early February of this year, 44% of elementary students and 48% of middle school students in the survey remained fully remote. And the survey found large differences by race: 69% of Asian, 58% of Black and 57% of Hispanic fourth graders were learning entirely remotely, while just 27% of White students were.

Conversely, nearly half of white fourth-graders were learning full-time in person, compared with just 15% of Asian, 28% of Black and 33% of Hispanic fourth-graders. The remainder had hybrid schedules.

This disparity may be partly driven by where students live. City schools, the survey found, are less likely than rural schools to offer full-time, in-person classes. Full-time, in-person schooling dominated in the South and the Midwest, and was much less common in the West and Northeast.

The racial and ethnic gaps may also be driven in part by which families are choosing to stay remote, even where some in-person learning is offered. Three out of 4 districts around the country were offering some in-person learning as of January, the report says, with full-time, in person learning more common than hybrid schedules.

The Education Department created the survey in response to an executive action signed by President Biden on his first full day in office. To obtain results quickly, researchers used the existing infrastructure of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the testing program also known as “The Nation’s Report Card.”

More than a year after schools around the country first switched to virtual learning, this is the first attempt at federal data collection on the progress of school reopening. Although the Trump administration pushed for school reopening, it made no such efforts. “I’m not sure there’s a role at the department to collect and compile that research,” former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said last October.

This survey covers a nationally representative sample of around 7,000 schools, half of which were educating fourth-graders and the other half educating eighth-graders (those being grades included in The Nation’s Report Card testing).

New results will be reported monthly through at least July. The results are intended to provide context for The Nation’s Report Card in 2022, and state tests, which the Biden administration is requiring this year.

The survey is also intended to pinpoint inequities. For example, among the other key findings: More than 4 in 10 districts said they were giving priority to students with disabilities for in-person instruction. Yet in practice, 39% of elementary students with disabilities remained remote, compared with 44% overall. Many families of students with disabilities have said that their children receive limited benefit from virtual learning.

Finally, this pilot survey asked how many hours of live video instruction students were receiving when learning remotely. The majority of schools said they are offering more than three hours per day. But 10% of eighth-graders, and 5% of fourth-graders, are getting no live instruction at all when learning remotely. They may be working on other activities such as homework packets, or software, or watching pre-recorded lessons.

The response rate to this nationally representative survey varied around the country and was lowest in the Northeast. Notably, out of 27 large urban districts targeted in the survey, 16 declined to participate.

Previously, NPR has been citing school reopening data provided by an organization called Burbio. Burbio scrapes school district websites to find out whether school is being offered hybrid, full-time or all-virtual. Their data set — 1,200 school districts representing 35,000 schools and nearly half of the U.S. school population, is larger than that covered in this federal survey.

Source: New Data Highlight Disparities In Students Learning In Person

Fear and discomfort shouldn’t block anti-racism efforts in schools

Some interesting practical suggestions towards greater inclusivity:

In 1920, Duncan Campbell Scott, then-deputy superintendent of the Department of Indian Affairs is quoted for suggesting that his goal was to “get rid of the Indian problem.” Scott’s solution was to expand the residential school system forcing Indigenous people to assimilate. One hundred years later, the legacy of residential schools continues to impact Canada’s current school systems. Research shows that Indigenous children across the country continue to experience systemic racism by their peers, teachers and the larger community. Needless to say, shaming and assimilation persist today.

Over the past 16 years, I’ve worked in education in various roles as a teacher, board lead, university course director and now as a vice-principal. Throughout this time, I’ve noted many advancements in championing Indigenous education and narrowing the Indigenous achievement gap by increasing graduation rates. But time and time again, I’ve also noticed deep discomfort and fear among educators when it comes to addressing anti-Indigenous and anti-Black racism in schools.

“I don’t feel comfortable!”

For the most part, educators want to have a positive effect on their students. But when asked to participate in creating that change by addressing racism, I’ve witnessed some who squirm and say they prefer not to “rock the boat.” For systemic racism to be dismantled in Canadian schools, however, we need to address the discomfort and fear that some educators feel in disrupting anti-Indigenous and anti-Black racism in schools.

For example, during a staff meeting at a Scarborough school where I previously worked, an administrator asked staff members how racism was being spread at school. Was it the curriculum? Our choices of books? The way we speak to students? I thought these were excellent questions to ask to encourage self-reflection and to prompt discussion about potential areas for improvement. In response, however, there was a long silence.

By comparison, I asked colleagues at different schools if race-related conversations were also happening during their staff meetings. For example, looking at race-based data and examining in-school practices that might hinder Black and Indigenous students. Most said yes, but added that they were led largely by Indigenous, Black and racialized educators.

Why are some white educators so uncomfortable? Perhaps it’s fear that openly and honestly engaging in these critical conversations may result in being labelled “racist” or “insensitive.” That said, many racialized and white educators do want to speak up. They are on a journey towards unpacking their racist ideologies or internalized oppression – but they don’t know how and where to begin or what language to use. Sometimes, it helps if a critical friend engages them in discussion. But this responsibility usually falls on Indigenous, Black and racialized people, which is problematic because the work of becoming anti-racist is a personal journey that doesn’t involve others.

“ I do not feel safe”

This makes me wonder what the union’s role is in protecting racialized teachers from microaggressions and unintentionally or intentionally racist remarks. Whose safety matters when having these discussions? What role will the union play in dismantling racism at Canadian schools?I’ve witnessed colleagues respectfully correcting white educators for saying: “I do not think racism is that bad in our school…is it?” Unfortunately, some have complained to the teachers’ union that they “do not feel safe” or feel “attacked” whenever they’re corrected for making a racist or problematic statement.

There’s also significant discomfort among educators when it comes to using anti-racist language when teaching elementary students. I’ve consistently heard some say that children at this age have “tender minds” or are “too young” to learn, and that “we don’t want to instill fear” in them. Yet research suggests that kids begin to perceive racist ideologies from the age of two. That’s why anti-racist education shouldn’t be just one lesson or unit plan. Instead, it needs to be embedded in everyday practices, starting from kindergarten. And if a student uses the term “racist” incorrectly, teachers should take that as a learning opportunity to address the class.

“I have good intentions!”

There is no doubt that educators have good intentions for student safety when participating in school board-wide events, such as Orange Shirt Day, Remembrance Day and Treaty Week. But what happens when these events cause harm to students?

For example, the purpose of Orange Shirt Day is for educators to teach students about the cultural genocide committed against First Nations, Métis and Inuit children, so it’s an opportunity for the school community to unite in the spirit of reconciliation. Specifically, students learn that the RCMP forcefully removed Indigenous children from their families and communities, as the Canadian government’s goal was to “kill the Indian in the child.”

That’s why, on Sept. 30, they read about Phyllis, a residential school survivor from Northern Secwpemc in British Columbia. As the story goes, Phyllis’ grandmother bought her an orange shirt to wear to St. Joseph’s residential school, but when she arrived, school officials took her shirt away. As a 6-year-old, Phyllis expresses that she felt worthless and like no one cared about her.

Despite this focus on Phyllis and other Indigenous residential school survivors, though, their experiences are often decentered on Orange Shirt Day. How? I’ve seen students receive handouts with the sentence starter, “I matter because…” Students’ responses, which ranged from “I am lucky I have a safe school” to “I have a mom and a dad,” are all valid but the voices of Indigenous people are erased in the process. It’s essential that educators focus on Phyllis’ story because only then can Canadians move forward towards reconciliation. For example, educators can dive deeper into researching residential schools’ objectives, and then explain how they were wrongly informed by white supremacist ideologies.

Another board practice we need to reimagine is “spirit days” like Crazy Hair Day, which can be problematic if students choose to wear an Afro, cornrows or Native long braids as a costume. Students also learn that this type of hairstyle is “crazy,” which dehumanizes Indigenous and Black people for the sake of “making school fun” or “keeping old traditions.” What’s more, Sikh and Muslim students can’t participate in these activities because some wear a turban or hijab, so they’re automatically excluded.

Educators need to understand that some school traditions promote racism, sexism, classism and other forms of discrimination against marginalized groups. We can no longer say, “But we’ve always done it this way” or “It’s a school tradition.” For example, hold a spirit day when students identify acts of kindness among their peers and compliment them, or wear their favourite piece of clothing and share why it’s special to them. This would enable students to participate without having to assimilate or adhere to antiquated norms.

It’s time to involve students in critically rethinking past practices and reimagining new inclusive school traditions. Educators can no longer hide behind fear when Indigenous, Black and racialized students’ lives depend on it.

Source: Fear and discomfort shouldn’t block anti-racism efforts in schools

ICYMI: Hong Kong to teach elementary students about subversion and foreign interference

Yet another sign of the Chinese regime’s crackdown on Hong Kong:

Hong Kong has unveiled controversial guidelines for schools that include teaching students as young as six about colluding with foreign forces and subversion, as part of a new national security curriculum.

Beijing imposed a security law on Hong Kong in June 2020 in response to months of often violent anti-government and anti-China protests in 2019 that put the global financial hub more firmly on an authoritarian path.

The Education Bureau’s guidelines, released late on Thursday, show that Beijing’s plans for the semi-autonomous Hong Kong go beyond quashing dissent, and aim for a societal overhaul to bring its most restive city more in line with the Communist Party-ruled mainland.

Source: Hong Kong to teach elementary students about subversion and foreign interference

Move to curtail minority-language instruction in schools signals ongoing shift in China’s cultural policy

Of note:

Like many schools in China, the Yanji City Number 6 Middle School posts its school calendar on an outside wall. On the list are the usual subjects: language and literature, math, English, biology, politics, physics, history and sports.

Missing, however, is any reference to the Korean-language instruction that once defined this place. Like many other schools in the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture, Number 6 has long taught most courses in Korean.

Yanbian borders North Korea and counts 35 per cent of its population as ethnically Korean. But teaching Korean wasn’t just a nod to demographics or history – it was the law. For Koreans, local regulations mandated that courses could be taught in Chinese only with special permission.

Beginning this school year, that suddenly changed.

“Other than Korean class, subjects like math and science are all taught in Mandarin,” said one Korean man in Yanji. “Before, it was all taught in Korean.” A propaganda poster on the wall calls for those at the school to “build up the sense of unity of the Chinese nation.”

It “feels like the suppression of an ethnic minority – or possibly the cancellation of ethnic languages altogether,” the man said. Police closely followed a Globe and Mail reporter on a recent trip to Yanji, and The Globe is not identifying people interviewed there to shield them from retribution.

What happened in Yanji, however, was not accidental.

Last year, a commission under the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, the permanent body of China’s central legislature, examined rules that mandate use of local languages and found them unconstitutional, according to a disclosure made last week. The review takes aim at language policies nearly identical to those found in Yanbian and Inner Mongolia, where fierce protests and teacher strikes erupted last fall after officials halted most Mongolian-language instruction.

It is one of the strongest indications to date that what is taking place in classrooms on the distant fringes of the country reflects a major change in Beijing’s approach to those whose language and history differ from the dominant Han culture, which makes up more than 90 per cent of the country’s population.

The constitutional review appears to form “part of a concerted effort aimed at changing national policy towards minorities,” said Changhao Wei, a postdoctoral researcher at Yale Law School’s Paul Tsai China Center and the founder of NPC Observer, a website that tracks Chinese legislative development.

The broader Chinese ambition is about “Han supremacy. It’s a racial project of domination,” said Gerald Roche, an anthropologist who specializes in language politics at La Trobe University in Melbourne. “They want to be at a point where they are a nation united by language.”

From the early days of Communist Party rule, China has carved out a unique place for its minority populations. Following a Soviet model, it officially recognized 56 nationalities, categorizing people from the dominant Han to the Hezhe, which in 1964 numbered just 718 people. The Chinese Constitution guaranteed ethnic groups “the freedom to use and develop their own spoken and written languages and to preserve or reform their own traditions and customs.”

Though chairman Mao Zedong ultimately suppressed some ethnic policies, since 1949, China’s 55 minority groups have received benefits including government-backed language support, advantages in hiring and education and exemptions from the strictest family-planning policies.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, however, has overseen major changes. Across China, cities and provinces – including Yanbian – are stripping away the additional university placement exam points long awarded to ethnic minorities to improve their scores. Affirmative-action-style hiring policies are being reworked. Officials have rescinded lenient family planning policy for some minority groups, including the largely Muslim Uyghurs.

Mr. Xi has advocated the “forging of a communal consciousness of the Chinese nation,” calling for greater recognition of Chinese culture by people of all ethnic groups. Authorities must strengthen Chinese language education, emphasize patriotic education and “bury the seeds of loving China in every child’s heart,” Mr. Xi said in 2019.

Late last year, Beijing for the first time appointed a Han official to lead the National Ethnic Affairs Commission – Zhu Weiqun, one of China’s most prominent voices on ethnic affairs, has argued that China’s current ethnic policies are in need of replacement, saying recognition of minorities and preferential policies toward smaller ethnic groups fractures national unity.

Banishing minority-language instruction, Chinese authorities and scholars have said, is necessary to reduce poverty and create equal workplace opportunity.

Teaching Mandarin is the best way to “improve the quality of the next generation of ethnic minorities,” said Yang Wenhui, an ethnic studies scholar at Yunnan University. “They can’t afford to always be falling behind.”

The promotion of Mandarin began in earnest in 2001, with the adoption of a national language law. By 2009, half of China’s population was deemed competent in Mandarin. By last year, 80 per cent had reached that level.

Beijing’s insistence on Mandarin education, however, has been interwoven with efforts to suppress ethnic dissent. After riots in Tibet and Xinjiang in 2008 and 2009, a “more oppressive assimilatory dynamic really emerged,” said Prof. Roche, who spent eight years living in Qinghai and working with linguistic minority groups.

In 2017, authorities in Xinjiang placed teachers in intensive Mandarin-language summer instruction. Last year, a similar program was rolled out nationwide, with authorities pledging to increase teachers’ use of “excellent Chinese language and culture.”

In Yanji, the imposition of Mandarin instruction has support within the Korean community. “I went to Korean schools. I couldn’t keep up with my classmates at all when I entered the university,” one man said. “Mandarin was too difficult.” He has placed his own child in a Chinese kindergarten. “Our mother tongue is Korean. We can speak [it] at home if we really want to,” he said. Local bookstores, too, continue to stock large quantities of Korean-language titles.

Others, however, worry what’s happening in schools is a sign their own government has turned on them.

“Our mother tongue has been removed just because we are an ethnic minority group,” a Korean woman says. “We can see from places like Tibet and Xinjiang that for a minority to become too strong isn’t a good thing these days. It feels to me like oppression.”


Why the World Should Care About Language in Inner Mongolia

Yet another example of Chinese government repression and attempts at cultural genocide:

On August 26 China passed a law to sideline teaching in the Mongolian language in the region of Inner Mongolia (also referred to as Southern Mongolia). This measure, which sparked immediate protests, will create irreparable losses not just for ethnic Mongolians, but also for many cultures around the world.

What is at stake here is not just the spoken language, but an 800-year-old script with a multicultural lineage that emanated from the golden era of the Silk Route.

Mongolian, as a language, is still widely spoken in independent Mongolia, but the “Mongolian script” was largely lost after the Russians introduced Cyrillic in the 1940s, when Stalin sought to control the country as a buffer against China. This makes the Inner Mongolians, who are currently under Chinese rule, the last custodians of the script. For academics, historians, linguists, and cultural aficionados, the Mongolian script holds the key to historical links between cultures that were forged during the Silk Route era and earlier. Understanding this connection might help people realize that this is not Mongolia’s fight alone.

For decades, China’s ongoing efforts to assimilate its minorities had it cracking down harshly on the religions, and languages of Tibetans, Uyghurs, and Mongolians. These are all largely nomadic cultures that were propagators of multicultural exchanges at the height of the Silk Route era.

Like the Tibetans and the Uyghurs, who have been struggling against Chinese hegemony, Mongolians have been protesting since August, but punitive measures taken by the Chinese government leave Mongolians with little choice but to concede.

“This is the final blow to our culture,” said Enghebatu Togochog, director of the Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center.  “The world should know that it is not simply a language issue. This strikes at the very heart and existence of our national identity. If we lose our language we lose everything. We’ve already lost political autonomy, our nomadic way of life, and our environment. This is cultural genocide.”

Meanwhile, on the other side of the border, in the independent state of the Mongolian People’s Republic (MPR), a democratic revolution in 1990 pushed for a switch from Russian Cyrillic to the old Mongolian script. That idea, however, received little interest and gained no traction. Parents saw it as a hindrance to their children’s future prospects at the time. But the recent protests in the Inner Mongolian region have made Mongolians in the MPR realize what they failed to in 1990. The significance and threat to their cultural, intellectual, and literary heritage is now being viewed through a new lens.

“Public opinion in MPR has changed drastically since China’s crackdown on Inner Mongolia,” said Otgonsuren Jargaliin, an outer Mongolian teacher, linguist, and environmental activist. “Mongolians now see the urgent need to preserve and protect this ancient script and not take it for granted. They now appreciate that 80 years of Cyrillic is not on par with 800 years of a writing that is our lineage and ancestry.”

She pointed out that as recently as last week MPR National Television was now carrying subtitles not only in Cyrillic, but also in the old Mongolian script, which was a new development.

The Mongolian Script

The story of the Mongolian script starts with Genghis Khan. In 1204 he appointed the Uyghur scholar Tatatunga to develop a unifying script after he established his empire. The new Mongolian script was adapted from an old Uyghur script.

The Uyghurs today are Turkic-speaking Muslims, descended from the Uyghur Khaganate, a nomadic kingdom in Mongolia, which was predominantly Manichaean and then later Buddhist. It lasted from 744 to 840 CE. It was while they were Manicheans that the Uyghurs adopted their script from the Sogdians. By the 16 century, however, the Uyghurs had transitioned to the Arabic script and were no longer using their own.

The Sogdians, meanwhile, were the remnant traders of the ancient Achaemenid Persian Empire, who capitalized on economic opportunities along the Silk Route from the fourth to ninth centuries. Like many Silk Route traders, they exported not just material goods but fashion, culture, religion, arts, and language. Their script had its roots in Aramaic.

The Uyghurs replaced the Sogdians as custodians of the script from the eighth to the beginning of the 13th century, when Genghis Khan introduced it to his new empire, the largest contiguous one the world had ever seen. As the lingua franca of the Mongolian Empire, the script was used widely connecting east with west, the Pacific to the Mediterranean.

The history of the script, therefore, offers a well documented evolution of a writing that originated from the ancient Mesopotamian civilization, and traveled across time and cultures through the Silk Route. The script’s history tells us how people from vast geographical backgrounds were connected, often not out of choice, but nevertheless linked through trade and travel. It shows us how our ancestries and heritages are all interlinked and interconnected.

The indigenous nomadic tribes from different cultures, along with traders from different regions and countries, brought a broader understanding of a socio-cultural world through their free movement along the Silk Route. Unlike China’s nationalistic ideology, they were not confined to a specific religion, nationality, ethnicity, language, or geographical boundary. This was what promoted cultural connectivity and created an era of great cultural exchange.

Today China is trying to recreate its idea of a Silk Route through its “One Belt, One Road” foreign policy and economic strategy, also known as the Belt and Road Initiative. But what China fails to recognize is that the success of the original Silk Route was due to its recognition and acceptance of the many cultures it spanned and encountered. Cultural legacies were embraced and valued rather than wiped out along the way in the name of uniformity. The Belt and Road Initiative can’t replicate the success of the Silk Route if it persecutes the very people and cultures, like the Mongolians, that made the original routes last for centuries.

The irony is that, in trying to recreate the Silk Road through its nationalistic lens, China may once again end up with something that is just another “Made in China” imitation.

Source: Why the World Should Care About Language in Inner Mongolia

High anxiety: In Toronto’s immigrant-rich apartment towers, elevators and density keep many students at home

Yet another example of inequalities at work:

When the final bell rings at Thorncliffe Park Public School, Canada’s largest elementary school, dozens of children burst through the doors onto the schoolyard, immediately pulling their colourful masks below their mouths with the same relief that comes from undoing one’s top button after a big meal. In the apartments housed inside a cluster of highrises, the rest of the school population marks the end of the day more quietly, logging out of their online classrooms.

Most of those students live within a five-minute walk of the school, but their families, many of whom were deterred by the vertical commute, opted for remote learning this school year. In a survey conducted by community organizers in September, 75 per cent of parents in Thorncliffe and neighbouring highrise community Flemingdon Park – both COVID-19 hot spots – expressed worries about waiting for elevators and physical distancing on them.

Even before COVID-19 this was a struggle, and families, community leaders and teachers feared the crowding and wait might worsen without the ability to pack a dozen or more people in an elevator like they had in the past.

The school eliminated its late policy and parents were encouraged to pack lunches the night before for their children, but that still wasn’t enough to assuage fears. “I worried so much about the elevator. I couldn’t imagine them being at school on time,” said Saara Khota, who shares her two-bedroom 16th-floor apartment with her husband and four children.

She had big plans for the fall: For the first time in 13 years, she was going to go back to school to continue her education in computer science with hopes of finding work. Instead, over concerns about the elevators and her children’s abilities to wear masks properly, she signed three of her kids up for remote learning.Zoom/Pan

When school started, just 62 per cent of students returned to class at Thorncliffe Park Public School, which has a student body of 1,350. Later, even more made the switch and, this week, only about 56 per cent are registered to be in class, according to the Toronto District School Board.

It’s part of a larger trend of approximately 7,500 students across the board moving online in the weeks since school started as COVID-19 case counts have exponentially risen.

For decades, this neighbourhood has been a magnet for newcomers. Eight out of 10 residents are racialized (the majority are immigrants from South Asian countries) and the median household income is $46,595, about 30 per cent less than the city as a whole.

Toronto Public Health data show the coronavirus has disproportionately infected racialized and low-income people, who have also felt the virus’s secondary effects more acutely, logging higher rates of job losses, poverty and food-bank reliance.

School board data show families in areas with the highest COVID-19 case rates were more likely to select remote learning.

Keeping her children at home didn’t feel like a viable option for Sana Khan, a mother of two and a Pakistani immigrant.

Her children are in junior kindergarten and Grade 5 and she doesn’t feel equipped to parent and assist with their learning at home, so, with reservations, she sent them back to school.

“I’m always worried for the kids,” she said in the lobby of her building on a recent morning after school drop-off. “You don’t know who they’re coming across, who might make them sick.”

That afternoon after the pickup, she detoured to the nearby plaza after school – she needed to get groceries, but this is a common tactic neighbourhood parents use to avoid afternoon rush hour at the highrises.

A queue snaked out the door of Ms. Khan’s building until about 4:15 p.m. as one staffer played usher, managing the crowd and ensuring not too many crowded onto the elevators, while another deposited a squirt of hand sanitizer in every resident’s palm before they entered the lobby.

All the parents The Globe and Mail spoke to said they were pleasantly surprised by how smoothly things have gone with the elevators – they’ve made adjustments, as have the schools, but most importantly, far fewer students are actually leaving their buildings each day to get to school. The crowds have been so light that Ms. Khota decided to send her second eldest, who is in Grade 5, back to class this week.

Mehreen Ubaid, one of Ms. Khan’s neighbours, lives on the second floor of the building, but the elevator is still a part of her daily routine because she has a one-year-old who is usually transported by stroller. The risk of one of her three school-going children becoming infected with the coronavirus already felt high before school started: Her husband is a taxi driver.

Having arrived here from Pakistan in July, 2019, she is still learning English (she spoke to The Globe in Urdu through an interpreter), so assisting her children with anything they struggled with this school year would’ve been an impossibility.

Since the first day of school, a WhatsApp group for Thorncliffe parents who chose remote learning for their young children has lit up several times with inquiries about whether any neighbourhood teens might be available to tutor since the language barrier has left parents unable to assist their children with even simple assignments – 57.8 per cent of residents have a home language that isn’t English.

Shakhlo Sharipova, a member of that group, said the remote learners experienced a host of other problems as well. On the morning she assumed would be her daughter Khadija’s much-postponed first day of kindergarten at Fraser Mustard Early Learning Academy, which is beside Thorncliffe Park Public School, she couldn’t log into the online learning platform and learned she wasn’t the only one. Each morning for weeks she was greeted with a flurry of messages in the WhatsApp group: “Were you able to get into Brightspace?” “Has class started?” “Does your child have a teacher yet?”

Certain her daughter would not be able to wear a mask on the elevator ride for the journey from her apartment down to the lobby (let alone in class all day), Ms. Sharipova thought remote learning was the best option. But once classes finally began, Khadija was distracted and disengaged, especially as her teacher navigated WiFi issues, at one point clumsily reading a book to her virtual class while holding her cellphone out so they could see the pictures.

Ms. Sharipova found herself responsible for multiple hours of teaching each day, which she knew she couldn’t keep up after accepting a job at a local pop-up COVID-19 testing site. So she decided after a few days to send her daughter back to class – risks and all (about 3,000 other students have registered to do the same within the board). She says it’s a shame so many in her community don’t feel they have a true choice when it comes to how their children will be educated. “It’s disappointing and kind of unfair, you know?” she said.