State education officials issued an alert Tuesday warning of potential influence from the Chinese Communist Party in New Hampshire schools through the Confucius Classrooms program.
The U.S. State Department recently designated the Confucius Institute U.S. Center as a foreign mission of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). In a letter from U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, officials urge school officials to examine their use of Confucius Classrooms materials, and ensure that visiting teachers from the PRC are not working under conditions inconsistent with American constitutional protections.
The Confucius Institutes offer educational programs, mostly Chinese language classes, for higher education students, as well as K-12 students in some communities. The group also hosts cultural events on campuses, and helps coordinate programs for students to study abroad in China.
The letter reads in part:
“On August 13, the State Department designated the Confucius Institute U.S. Center (CIUS) in Washington, D.C., as a foreign mission of the PRC. While the CIUS designation does not directly affect Confucius Classrooms at schools around the country, we seek to shine a light on CIUS and its relationship to Confucius Classrooms operating in U.S. schools. This designation will provide much-needed transparency by requiring CIUS to provide information about its operations to the State Department, including regarding its relationship with individual Confucius Classrooms across the United States. As a result, U.S. stakeholders, including primary and secondary schools, will be able to make more informed choices about PRC government influence being exerted on their communities.”
The letter also warns “that approval from an institution affiliated with the PRC’s Ministry of Education is generally required when filling teaching positions associated with Confucius Classrooms.”
In the letter, Pompeo and DeVos claim teachers in Confucius Classrooms engage in censorship to avoid criticizing the Chinese government.
“Classroom students have described their teachers’ repeated avoidance of topics perceived to be ‘sensitive’ to or critical of the PRC,” wrote Pompeo and DeVos. “Particularly at the high school level, this creates a troubling deficit of information in a setting supposedly focused on the study of Chinese language and culture. At any grade level, the presence in U.S. classrooms of instructors supported by an authoritarian regime poses risks to our democratic values.”
“New Hampshire schools have control over their own curriculum, and we trust local school boards to make the best decisions for their communities,” said New Hampshire Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut in a statement. “To do so, they need the best information possible, and this alert gives local officials good reason to be cautious in using Confucius Classroom materials in their schools.”
In 2019 the University of New Hampshire renewed a long-term contract with Confucius Institutes. The first Institute was established in the U.S. in 2004 at the University of Maryland, while the Confucius Institute at UNH launched in 2010.
Attempts to reach a UNH spokesperson Tuesday for comment on the NH DOE’s alert were unsuccessful.