We Are Part of the Solution
A recap of the CELIN@Asia Society Panel Discussion on July 31, 2021
Chinese language programs, educators, and parents have recently found themselves in a challenging situation, with an atmosphere of mistrust and increasing anti-Asian sentiment embracing our nation. On July 31, 2021, Asia Society held an online panel discussion and invited a group of experienced educators in the Chinese language field to discuss challenges, analyze the complex factors of the current socio-political-cultural climate, and offer insights, strategies, and resources on how to survive and thrive in this critical time.
The 90-minute discussion was packed with insightful thinking from the panelists and participants alike. Some of the thought-provoking ideas are highlighted here. We also invite you to watch the recording below. Let’s keep exploring and practicing the strategies described in our daily work, and let’s continue the conversation.
Opening up, reaching out, and becoming part of the solution
Looking at the historical context of Chinese language education in the United States, Jeff Bissel (Head of School, Chinese American International School) pointed out that as educators, we play a powerful role in countering ignorance and hate. Now is not the time to be afraid. Instead, it's the time to charge forward, with courage and positivity, and to redouble our efforts at making Chinese learning a motivating and engaging experience. We are actually part of the solution.
Several panelists positioned Chinese language learning within the broader context of language learning and cultural engagement, across languages and cultures. Marty Chen, a Chinese language immersion teacher in Utah, raised an inspiring angle that teachers should not see themselves as victims. We shouldn't tell students that we need to stand up for certain groups and not for others. This stance in itself is not inclusive. Instead, if a teacher can show compassion and love to everyone, students will also feel the love that is shared and learn to love and embrace other groups and their cultures as well. We can show our students that we deeply care about all human beings.
Chris Livaccari (Head of School, Presidio Knolls School) suggests that we should not become narrowly focused on only Chinese but instead go out and learn from other language programs and work with colleagues teaching other languages and subjects. We are part of a broader effort to teach Americans the value of global competency and multilingualism. We need to continue to open up, see ourselves as part of a larger field, and emphasize the roles that we can play in people-to-people exchanges. It's essential that we continue making efforts to construct these relationships and keep them in meaningful ways.
Not only should we take a step back and look at trends in history, immersing ourselves in a broader context, but we also need to check the reality of our current American society. Cleopatra Wise (Director, Asia Society's Center for Global Education, China Learning Initiatives) emphasized that the Chinese language is not just a global language; it's also a local language in the United States in the same way that Spanish is in our communities. Not many people learn Spanish in the United States for the purpose of going to Spain or Mexico. They learn it because they think it's important and essential for their work and life in the United States. So is Chinese. We need to do a better job of reaching out to local resources and communities when teaching the language. We need to engage students with the local Chinese community. Creating local authentic engagement for students is extremely important. They don’t have to go to China to be exposed to the Chinese culture; it is just around the corner in our daily lives.
Robert Davis (Global CEO, Mandarin Matrix) seconds Wise’s point. Even though some of our students are not culturally or ethnically Chinese, we are all part of the Chinese language diaspora. We need to explain to our students that “this is not something you are separate from; instead, you find yourself in this. There's a place for you in the global Chinese language community. You are part of it, and you are part of the conversation instead of being standers-by who watch it on the sidelines. You can stay in your own town, use Chinese, find your place, and make your voice heard.”
By studying other languages, cultures, and people, we understand ourselves better
Issues of diversity, equity, inclusion, and social-emotional learning were also broadly discussed by the panelists.
“I think that learning and engaging with a foreign language and culture or a world language and culture requires humility, curiosity, empathy, connection, and a true appreciation of difference,” said Bissel, “and the attitudes and the competencies that world language students gain go much further than simply the mastery of the language and specific cultural knowledge about a country. They prepare students to engage respectfully with a whole host of diverse people. World language education is a tool or a path for fostering these attitudes.”
Shuhan Wang (Director of Asia Society's CELIN Project) concurred with this point. She pointed out that through studying other languages, cultures, and people, we understand ourselves better and understand our language and our cultural values more deeply. And in that sort of comparative mode, learners are afforded the opportunity to forge and affirm identities as who they would like to claim to be, Americans and global citizens.
Studying Chinese is a gateway to learning about Asian cultures and the world
Despite the tensions among governments, policies, and media, people are actually the majority, although they are largely silent. Frank Tang (Research Professor of Foreign Language Education, Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, New York University) emphasized the importance of establishing understanding among people. Americans are not well known for their understanding of the world, not to mention of a country like China, which has a totally different system. However, language teachers should not just teach the language. We want to generate communication among people.
In a similar vein, Wang said that, because Social Studies curricula in the United States tend to be Euro-centric, many American people do not have a comprehensive and balanced worldview. They often rely on mass or social media for information about China, Asian countries, and the world. A well-designed Chinese language curriculum will provide windows for students to learn about different parts of the world that are not adequately addressed in the K–12 school curriculum.
Rethink and rebrand Chinese language curriculum
Chinese culture is deep and rich, with a long history behind it. But it's also an incredibly modern culture, Davis emphasized. If we look at South Korea and Japan, they have done a tremendous job at finding fun, modern ways to engage young people and getting young people interested in their cultures, which drives them to learn the language and be more engaged. As Chinese language educators, we need to make Chinese more relevant and appealing to students. We should sit down and ask our students: What brought you to Chinese? What made you interested in Chinese? What are you interested in learning and doing? And then let’s build from there.
Many panelists agreed with this point. Wise gave an example from Asia Society: a new social media platform called Chinosity, which gets students interested in Chinese culture from a modern perspective. You can follow Chinosity on Instagram at @ChinosityNews. (If you'd like to collaborate on this project, write to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
As a former Japanese and Chinese teacher and now a school leader, Livaccari shared insights about what motivates students to learn Korean, Japanese, or Chinese. They are drawn to different languages by their interests such as anime, manga, pop culture, or martial arts. While adults may argue about politics and big, hot-button issues—which are very important—at the end of the day, the success of Chinese language programs goes back to students’ learning experiences. What really sparks their interest in and motivation to learn Chinese? What's the Chinese equivalent of K-pop or anime? It's an important topic to be pursued by all of us. And all of us know that student success translates to parent satisfaction, and parents are going to be our biggest supporters.
Recognize that parents are our biggest supporters
Speaking of parent engagement, Eddie Park (former principal, Adobe Bluffs Elementary School and Barnard Mandarin Magnet School) shared some great examples that have been successful in San Diego. Foreign Language for Elementary Parents (FLEP) is one of the new programs that they created for parents on Friday mornings, to show what their children are learning and how rigorous and rich the program is.
Chen, a Chinese immersion teacher, pointed out that parents need to be educated, but that the school and district also need to step up to help teachers do their jobs so the whole community can come together. While teachers host Chinese cultural events, they can make the events more inclusive by inviting all students and all parents to join, regardless of whether the students are studying Chinese. This delivers the message that this culture is here for everybody to learn and enjoy, and the entire school community can appreciate the cultures of Chinese and English.
Park used himself as an example of how to support students, despite the fact that he is not a speaker of Chinese. He said that having a vision for the Chinese language program and a passion for the Chinese culture can help ease parents’ minds, especially if they're anxious because they don't know enough Chinese to help their children. The school, on the other hand, has to go the extra mile to help parents. The FLEP program mentioned earlier is a good example of providing concrete support for parents. Promoting open communication among all stakeholders—teachers, students, parents, and administrators—is another key to ensuring the sustainability of the program.
Value and support Chinese language teachers
From the perspective of teacher development, Tang advised that we prepare our teachers not just to focus on language teaching pedagogy and methodology. Chinese language teachers need to focus beyond the classroom. They need to go out and reach out, to have their voice and needs heard by their departments and school leaders. Chinese language teachers need to understand that we are not just teaching language; we are also working with students, parents, colleagues, and people in the community.
All panelists agreed that an urgent task for the United States is to prepare, recruit, and retain more home-grown Chinese language teachers, and also remove the barriers for bringing in more highly qualified international teachers. There needs to be more dialogue among teacher education programs and K–12 schools about the needs of teachers, students, schools, and school districts. The Chinese language field is in dire need of more bilingual administrators and leaders to advance its growth.
On this point, Davis encouraged teachers to pursue leadership roles in the field. The message that “you can become school leaders. You can become district leaders so that your voices are heard and you will have a greater platform” is important to aspiring teachers. We all want and need to be engaged in helping the next generation of teachers to grow and become leaders is critical.
Toward the end of the discussion, all panelists shared one big piece of advice or a “WOW” statement with the audience. Please check out the recording above to hear these for yourself!
Participant Commentary in the Chat (not necessarily representative of the panelists' views)
Challenges with current interest in learning Chinese
- In the most recent MLA statistics, the only languages that were still increasing in enrollments in higher education were Japanese and Korean. For the former, that's at least partly due to the "pipeline" in K–12 that was being developed in the 1980s and 1990s.
Valuing cultural diversity
- Chinese culture is vastly diverse! There isn’t ONE culture.
- We shouldn’t teach Chinese culture only through “celebration”. We need to teach a more WHOLE culture by talking about Chinese diversity and highlighting marginalized voices and stories. We especially want to support mixed culture and race students. I have mixed children, they’re not half Chinese and half Guyanese, they’re FULL Chinese and FULL Guyanese. They have such unique voices and cultures, and that should be highlighted.
- That is a very interesting point about the attractive entry point of any given culture! I think that what my Chinese students have been interested in are: 汉服Han robes, Chinese mythology and historic battles (西游记，山海经，三国/三国杀游戏, fashion and art 工艺美术（蓝印布，玉器, and period drama古装剧）。
- There are many famous Chinese singers who learned to integrate elements from K-pop and recreate Chinese pop culture. There are many Chinese pop singers and rappers who are so popular among Chinese youngsters and redefine our understanding about Chinese history and culture.
- Chinese rap and hip hop are super popular among my Chinese students. Can Asian Society supervise friendly Chinese pop song or dance competitions, such as New York Chinese Rap or Hip Hop Contests, or talent shows in Asian languages like Japanese, Korean?
- This is the era of short videos or TikTok. Is there anything we could do to promote Chinese culture by making short regular videos on Asia Society or at colleges or schools sites?
- Can Zoom help to bring these cross-national collaborations and celebrations, which have happened before, back? With performers from Chinese-speaking countries coming to our schools via Zoom?
- Definitely take advantage of the technology. People are really curious about people and life in China. I have been offering free cultural and language sessions through personal stories (about one-child policy, Hukou, household registration system, Chinese educational system, marriage customs, etc.) on Duolingo online events (language learning platform), and many people have signed up for it. The audiences are from all around the globe. A lot of them have thanked me and mentioned that there are few places to learn about things like this.
- I wonder if there are any agencies that are collecting statistics about Americans who are bilingual/bicultural and how beneficial learning a second language has been in their careers. Numbers speak loudly and are far more convincing to parents.
Bringing in and developing teachers
- Many of the districts in Los Angeles, California have a big problem with teacher recruitment.
- Many districts and administrators don’t know very much about Mandarin programs.
- There is a lack of gender diversity in administration; not just a lack of racial diversity.
- Many administrators are monolingual and have NEVER experienced learning a 2nd language.
- An average high school Chinese teachers have 4–5 preps!!! Definitely more compensation!
- One of the major problems is that we don’t have veteran teachers leading young teachers. When we leave the young teachers in a sink or swim situation, how can we expect to produce high-quality teachers? In this context, no wonder it’s rare to find good administrators.
- My concern is that the burden of building bridges with communities rests on Chinese language teachers and brings burnout. I wonder if there are ways that schools can take on some of this burden, and by doing so, showing the school community the school’s commitment to supporting communities.
- I can imagine how isolated and voiceless some teachers feel. It has to come from the top! I’d like to see MORE teachers reach for the top and get into administration!
Ways to address these challenges:
- All teachers should be anti-racist, inclusive, and humble.
- We teachers should not think we are just language teachers. We are teaching students transferable skills: passion about learning, SEL skills, and problem-solving skills.
- Mandarin teachers should give ourselves more credit for what we are doing. Tomorrow will be better.
- I would be interested in learning about cognitive-based activities for new teachers. I am a new teacher at my school, and I want to create engaging activities for students, but I feel like I lack the resources.
- We, Mandarin teachers, need to pay attention to our own social/emotional learning and to balancing work and life.
- It's good to describe teachers as teacher leaders and to have a mentor for each teacher who will help to lead them into a leadership role and to understand themselves as a leader.
- Perhaps administrators can mentor teachers who’d like to become administrators. I have the desire to do MORE, but I am not sure where to start.
- ACTFL provides a teacher mentoring program, where teachers can find veteran teachers to work with you one on one.
- Changes are also needed in our teacher training programs. Teachers need to know how to look for resources.
- Different school districts need to come together and brainstorm how to better assist teachers.
- In the 2000s, the Families with Children from China (FCC)—mostly adoptions of young girls—were very much supported by the Chinese community schools—and the vast majority of those adopting parents were neither Chinese nor proficient in Chinese. Maybe there are some lessons to be learned from their experience.
- Maybe State Education Departments could revisit the teacher certification requirements for world language teachers.
- American Councils is still running the Teachers of Critical Language Program (TCLP), funded by the Department of State, that brings about a dozen Chinese and a half dozen Arabic teachers into K–12 schools throughout the U.S. I's not a full-blown teacher education program, but they do a three-week workshop to prep teachers for the American K–12 environment. I've been doing a half-day workshop on the National Standards/5Cs for them every year for about the past decade. It's a drop in the language teacher bucket, but with people like Dan Davidson and Marjorie Hall Haley working on the sessions, it's pretty good quality.
- This event made me want to shed tears of happiness. I don’t feel lonely anymore, because I know that our community will always be here to support us. Thank you all for the encouragement and motivation. I will move on with positivity and spread it to my students.
- Can we keep each other accountable and have continued conversations and share stories? I wonder if we can have regular quarterly meetings online?
- Chinese Early Language and Immersion Network (CELIN) at Asia Society
- CELIN Brief: Cultivating Teacher Leaders to Advance the Field of Chinese Language and Culture Education
- CELIN Webinars
- Courageous Dialogues with Chinese Educators
- NFLC Guide for Basic Chinese Language Programs: for program administrators, on what it takes to create a sustainable Chinese K–12 program
- Social/Emotional Learning
- Yellow Whistle Project