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Hearing Recap: Confucius Classrooms Edition

WASHINGTON, D.C., September 19, 2023

Today’s Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education (ECESE) Subcommittee hearing, led by Chairman Aaron Bean (R-FL), investigated the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) efforts to infiltrate America’s K-12 schools.

In postsecondary education, the CCP exerts soft power on the American education system through cultural exchange outposts known as Confucius Institutes. The K-12 arms of this propaganda machine, called Confucius Classrooms, were under the microscope today for their potential malignant influence.

Chairman Bean opened the hearing by pointing out, “The risk posed by the proliferation of Confucius Classrooms is threefold, threatening America’s national, geopolitical, and academic interests.”

Expert witnesses testifying today included Mike Gonzalez, Senior Fellow at the Heritage Foundation; Nicole Neily, President of Parents Defending Education (PDE); and Ryan Walters, State Superintendent of Public Instruction at the Oklahoma State Department of Education.

The seminal report on Confucius Classrooms, and therefore the spark for congressional investigation, was led by Nicole Neily and PDE. In her opening testimony, Ms. Neily laid out the key findings of her organization’s report: “Our research found that over the past decade, over $17 million has been given to 143 school districts and private K-12 schools across 34 states (plus DC) – impacting over 170,000 students in 182 schools.” Furthermore, these classrooms were identified near 20 U.S. military bases, posing a potential national security threat.

As a state education officer, Mr. Walters offered a perspective on the impact of these donations in Oklahoma schools. After one of his school districts was named in the PDE report, Mr. Walters ordered a further investigation, which uncovered that, “Through a series of non-profits, that school district maintains an active connection with the CCP through a program called Confucius Classrooms, even after the Federal Government cracked down on similar programs in 2020.”

Tying together the evidence offered by other witnesses, Mr. Gonzalez offered a warning for the Committee: “By allowing the Institutes and the Classrooms to continue, the U.S. government is allowing not only a foreign government, but a communist party, to dictate what our children learn about an adversary.”

It is wise to be suspicious of any American institution receiving CCP dollars. Rep. G.T. Thompson (R-PA) made this point when asking for other examples in which Mr. Gonzalez has seen the CCP use soft power influence.

Mr. Gonzalez explained, “[China has] invested heavily in Hollywood studios, and what they say to the studios is … ‘If you want to show this movie in China you have to let us look at the script; we have to be involved from the very beginning.’”

World War Z, Call Me by Your Name, and Christopher Robin all met their demise at the Chinese box office due to CCP censors. Why should we think that teachers, administrators, or students are not under similar pressure from the communist regime?

“I think we all know how the CCP views education. They view education as being entirely subordinate to the party, to the message of socialism and communism,” shared Rep. Brandon Williams, drawing on his experience from visiting Beijing during the Tiananmen Square massacre. In his own district, Rep. Williams has seen 12 New York schools receive hundreds of thousands of dollars from the CCP or pass-through nonprofits.

Overt censorship, self-censorship, or any limitation on the free exchange of ideas is antithetical to American education, which is built on the principles of academic freedom. Our children’s future depends on maintaining these principles, and as Rep. Lisa McClain (R-MI) forcefully put it, “I’m here to represent our kids. The American children.”

Chairwoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC) punctuated the hearing with a closing note: “Someone listening to this hearing might come away thinking this is a partisan issue, but I actually suspect that parents on both sides of the aisle do not want foreign governments—especially communist powers—indoctrinating their children.”

The polling agrees. This is a parents’ rights issue—not a partisan issue. Hopefully, more well-deserved attention will be paid by governors, state legislators, and federal employees to the dangers of CCP influence in K-12 education.

Bottom Line: Committee Republicans are at the tip of the spear fighting CCP influence in American K-12 education.

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