Tag Archives: propaganda

China’s Propaganda Arm on U.S. Campuses

More than 100 U.S. colleges and universities have allowed Confucian Institutes on their campuses. These institutes, sponsored and paid for by the Chinese government, yield a good deal of sway to  China over the curriculum and hiring of teachers, sometimes outsourcing control. As a result, several universities, including the University of Chicago, have closed their Confucian Institutes, and the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and the National Association of Scholars (NAS) have urged that they all be shut down.

In April, NAS issued a report on Confucian Institutes in NY and NJ, Outsourced to China: Confucius Institutes and Soft Power in American Higher Education, and this week two NAS officials—president Peter Wood and director of research projects Rachelle Peterson–sent letters to the Trustees of the SUNY system asking for the “soonest” closing of CIs at SUNY’s six institutions that have them: Stony Brook University, the University at Albany, the SUNY Global Center in New York City, Binghamton University, the University at Buffalo, and the State College of Optometry.

The letter said:

“An agency affiliated with the Chinese Ministry of Education, known as the Hanban, oversees all Confucius Institutes worldwide. The Hanban’s governing council consists of the heads of twelve Chinese government agencies, including the State Press and Publications Administration (which handles state-run media and propaganda) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Hanban’s executive director, Xu Lin, is also a Counselor in the State Council, the 35-member top-ranking administrative arm of the People’s Republic of China….

“While each university selects a professor or administrator who serves as the American director of the Confucius Institute, and who then serves as the immediate supervisor of all teachers and classes, a significant amount of authority remains in the hands of the Hanban.

These measures permit the Chinese government an unparalleled degree of access to the college classroom. Many nations send teachers abroad to promote their language and culture. But most build separate, stand-alone institutions, such as France’s Alliance Française or Germany’s Goethe-Institut.  China is unique in insisting its cultural ambassadors are located at colleges and universities. Such direct influence on a college campus by a foreign government is alarming.

“The Hanban itself considers the Confucius Institutes to be key parts of the government’s propaganda initiative directed against Western societies. In 2009, Li Changchun, then the head of propaganda for the Chinese Communist Party and a member of the party’s Politburo Standing Committee, called the Confucius Institutes “an important part of China’s overseas propaganda setup.”

Oliver Stone’s “History” as Propaganda

oliver_stone_untold_history_of_the_united_states.jpg

The 1997 film Good
Will Hunting
features Matt Damon’s character in a conversation with Harvard
students, touting Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States as a way to better understand the American past. The scene was cringe-worthy for at least two reasons. First, there was something more than a little off-putting about a movie whose lead character demonstrated raw intellectual ability celebrating what amounted to a work of propaganda. Second, Damon’s subsequent insinuation of college students’ unfamiliarity with Zinn’s arguments was ridiculous, given the ubiquity of Zinn’s book on 1980s and 1990s history course reading lists.

I suppose it might be seen as a sign of progress that
this generation’s equivalent of the Zinn book, Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick’s The Untold History of the United States, will likely not have much of an impact on campus: apart from Middle East Studies departments, unabashed propaganda is out of fashion in the contemporary academy. Moreover, Stone and Kuznick spend most of their book attacking U.S. foreign policy, asking questions that–despite their far-left, fact-challenged approach–don’t conform to the race/class/gender paradigm that dominates the study of the United States in most U.S. history departments.

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The Propaganda in Our Ed Schools

Paulo_Freire.jpgRadical Math held its third annual conference in New York last weekend. Four hundred high school math teachers and education professors attended the conference on “Creating Balance in an Unjust World: Math Education and Social Justice.” At thirty-two workshops on Long Island University’s Brooklyn campus and in half a dozen city public schools, math teachers demonstrated classroom lessons to help students understand society from a “liberatory,” anti-capitalist perspective. For example, one workshop demonstrated how student math projects could be used to “explore the distribution of wealth in the United States and imagine more socially just alternatives.” Another showed how math problems could be structured to “empower and inspire students to change their world. This workshop will examine the Personal Proof Project, connecting Geometric proofs and activism.” At the Radical Math conference I attended three years ago, University of Massachusetts Professor Marilyn Frankenstein proposed that elementary school teachers who truly care about social justice should instruct their students that in a “just society,” food would “be as free as breathing the air.”
The Radical Math conference can be viewed as a demonstration of Freirism in action. The organization faithfully follows the doctrines of Paulo Freire, the late Brazilian Marxist and “critical pedagogy” theorist. The official program for the conference I attended was emblazoned with this passage from The Pedagogy of The Oppressed, Freire’s seminal work: “There is no such thing as a neutral education process. Education either functions as an instrument which is used to bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of our world.”
In The Critical Pedagogy Reader, a widely used text in education school courses, Robert Peterson writes about how he plumbed The Pedagogy of the Oppressed as a young elementary school teacher in inner-city Milwaukee, looking for ways to apply Freire’s theories to his own fifth-grade classroom. Peterson realized that he had to jettison what Freire dismisses as the prevailing “banking method” of education, in which “the teacher and the curricular texts have the ‘right answers’ and which the students are expected to regurgitate periodically.” Instead, Peterson switched to Freire’s “liberating” pedagogical approach, which “relies on the experience of the student. . . . It means challenging the students to reflect on the social nature of knowledge and the curriculum.” Peterson seems to have succeeded, turning his fifth-graders into critical theorists and junior scholars of the Frankfurt School.

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