Friday, November 17, 2006

The Fourth "A" - Asia

Several years ago I proposed that, as a society concerned about educational quality, we should do away with the “three Rs” and replace them with the “three As.” I proposed this for several reasons: one, only one of the three R’s is an R; two, there is so much more to basic learning than reading, writing, and arithmetic; and three, schools who want to sacrifice the arts on the budgetary altar don’t need the added incentive implied by not mentioning them in the three R’s.

My mantra for the past eight years has been for schools to develop learning plans for their districts, schools, and individual students that focus on Academics, Athletics, and the Arts. A school that places appropriate emphasis on the knowledge of and appreciation for excellence in academic pursuits, athletic pursuits, and artistic pursuits will, I believe, consistently churn out better rounded citizens than those that don’t.

But lately I’ve been curious about what else might be done to create an optimal learning environment in our schools and for lack of any originality on my part, have come up with a fourth “A.”

Asia. Okay, I’m stretching things a bit. What I’m really talking about is China, but “three As and a C” doesn’t roll off my tongue as easily as “the Four As.” So for the sake of argument, let the fourth A equal C.

Besides several million Chinese-Americans who live in some of our more populated cities, how many Americans know anything about China other than what they have read on the menu at the local Chinese restaurant? How many of us know how much of our debt China now owns, or how many of the consumer goods we wear, drive, listen to, or talk into, are made in China?

If you’re like me, you know next to nothing about China, and since the purpose of this essay is to tie it back to educational opportunities in Vermont, here’s an idea:

We should find a way to encourage school systems in the state to develop K-12 programs that immerse children in the Chinese language and, as language skills reach appropriate levels, starts teaching other subjects (like reading, writing, arithmetic and—yes—art!) in Chinese!

Oh sure, our educational bureaucracy would never stand for such a thing, but bear with me for a moment. Think of the possibilities. First, regarding our under-populated school system, think of the interested parents from out-of-state who would move here in order to have their children exposed to this kind of learning environment. Second, think of the university matriculation rates of Vermont high school graduates who just happened to speak and write Chinese. Think of the employment opportunities for those high school graduates with such skills.

And on a bigger picture, imagine how much greater world understanding there would be if an ever-growing population of young Americans—Vermonters all—were to reach out across the Pacific, reach out across what is right now an enormous cultural divide, and learn the language(s) of what is still the most populous country in the world—the country that owns almost as much of our debt as Japan, the country that makes the computers I write these essays on.

If this model works for you, but you don’t want to pursue Chinese, then feel free to apply the same approach to Spanish, or Arabic, or any other of the worlds great languages! For the moment, however, I’m sticking with Chinese. Here’s why.

On November 28 and 29, 2006 the Chinese Ambassador to the United States, His Excellency Zhou Wenzhong, will visit Vermont on a trip sponsored by the Vermont Chamber and the Vermont Council on World Affairs. The Vermont Youth Orchestra (planning a tour of China next summer) will play at a special Culture and Arts Breakfast. I plan to be there and meet His Excellency. I’m curious about him. I’m curious about his country. I’m curious for me. And I’m curious for my children.

I also like the symmetry of the Four As.

No comments: