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The Chinese Communist Party Has Weaseled Its Way Into America’s Kindergarten Classrooms

The CCP learned from Mao’s Cultural Revolution that to destroy a society’s culture and values, one must first destroy schools. 

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American parents who have children enrolled in K-12 schools already have plenty to worry about: how to keep their kids safe, shield their innocence from over-sexualized books, and prevent woke school districts from dumbing down math curriculums, to name a few. A new investigative report by Parents Defending Education adds another concern: how to prevent the Chinese Communist Party’s propaganda from infiltrating American classrooms. 

In the last two decades, besides building up the Chinese military, the CCP has focused on developing soft power by spreading its propaganda overseas through myriad methods, including taking advantage of the academic freedom in overseas educational institutions to shape favorable narratives about China and suppress unfavorable views. One of the CCP’s well-known influence operations is establishing overseas Confucius Institutes. 

The Chinese government fully funds and manages these CIs, including supplying teachers and teaching materials, with the stated goal of teaching in K-12 schools and universities. CIs also sponsor international conferences and research papers on China-related topics. In truth, CIs are the CCP’s propaganda machines on foreign campuses disguised as education centers.  

Li Changchun, a standing member of the Politburo who came up with the idea of establishing CIs abroad, called them an “important part of China’s overseas propaganda set-up.” China’s current dictator, Xi Jinping, increased funding for oversea influence operations such as CIs because he regarded them as effective vehicles to “give a good Chinese narrative, and better communicate China’s message to the world.”  

Since launching in 2004, CIs have quickly expanded their worldwide presence. As of 2020, there were about 1,000 Confucius Institutes in dozens of countries on six continents, including more than 100 on American college campuses.  

The Chinese government has also infiltrated America’s K-12 schools through Confucius Classrooms — an offshoot program of CI — sister school partnerships, and other programs since 2009. According to Parents Defending Education, about 143 schools across 34 states and Washington, D.C., have had some form of CI-affiliated programs. 

As the overseas Confucius Institutes grew, so did the complaints against them. Most critics focused on the management of CIs on college campuses and the restrictions they put on academic freedom and free speech. CIs have been noted to present students with only the CCP-sanctioned version of Chinese history, which omits the CCP’s human rights violations, including persecutions of Christians and Muslims, and to avoid certain political events such as the Great Chinese Famine, the Cultural Revolution, and the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre. In 2020, the U.S. State Department officially designated CI “the Chinese Communist Party’s overseas propaganda and influence operation.” 

While CIs on college campuses have attracted the most media attention and alarmed Congress, the American public paid little attention to the CCP’s expansion of similar programs in K-12 schools. Thus, Parents Defending Education performed a valuable public service by publishing its investigative report titled “Little Red Classrooms: China’s Infiltration In American K–12 Schools.” 

The PDE report uncovers some very troubling facts. Between 2009 and 2023, the CCP provided over $17 million to fund various Confucius Institute-affiliated programs in 143 K-12 schools in the U.S., including top high schools such as Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJ) in Virginia and 20 school districts near U.S. military bases. The report found that at least seven schools still operate Confucius Classrooms or similar programs.  

The “Financial exchanges between K-12 schools and the Chinese government range from a few thousand dollars to, in Thomas Jefferson High School’s case, more than a million dollars.” Furthermore, the PDE report unearthed TJ’s ties to Tsinghua University High School — the high school affiliated with one of China’s top military schools, Tsinghua University, the alma mater of the CCP’s current leader, Xi Jinping.  

The report found that CCP-affiliated programming and funding vary by school district and demonstrated how sophisticated and persistent the CCP’s influence campaigns have become. Hanban, a Chinese Ministry of Education subdivision, managed CI and affiliated programs until 2021. Some schools, such as Carver Middle School, became “Confucius Schools” by working directly with Hanban. 

Some school districts partnered with Confucius Institutes on college campuses nearby. For example, the Confucius Institute at St. Cloud University in Minnesota provided $65,000 in grants, equipment, books, and curriculum to support the Confucius Classrooms at the St. Cloud Area School District. Other districts “mask Chinese government funding through third-party nonprofit entities.” For instance, Highland Park Independent School District in Texas received funding from the International Leadership of Texas Global, a nonprofit organization, to facilitate its “Chinese core curriculum.” 

Two U.S.-based organizations, the College Board and Asia Society, worked directly with Hanban to bring Confucius programs to American universities and K-12 schools. The PDE’s report noted that Asia Society was a key participant in establishing Confucius Institutes and Confucius Classrooms until its relationship with the programs ended in June 2021.  

Regardless of the outward variety of these CI-affiliated programs, they share one thing in common: They are CCP-funded foreign influence operation beachheads in our society. A Senate report estimates that since 2006, “China has directly provided over $158 million in funding to U.S. schools for Confucius Institutes.”

The CCP is willing to invest so heavily in CIs because it seeks to indoctrinate young minds with CCP propaganda and cast doubt on values we hold dear, such as free speech and the rule of law. The CCP learned from Mao’s Cultural Revolution that to destroy a society’s culture and values, one must first destroy schools.  

The backlash against CIs in recent years has led many colleges and school districts to shut down CIs and affiliated programs. As of June this year, the National Association of Scholars reports that 111 CIs have closed or are in the process of closing, and only 10 CIs remain open in the U.S. Amid all the controversies surrounding CIs, Hanban rebranded itself and became the Center for Language Education and Cooperation in 2021 but has continued to offer CI-like programs under different names.  

Some American universities and school districts couldn’t resist CCP’s money either, even with all the risk it entails. The National Association of Scholars found at least “28 American universities have replaced their CIs with a similar program, and 58 have maintained close relationships with their former Confucius Institute partner.”  

Some schools’ inability to say no to the CCP’s money and influence and the CCP’s willingness and ability to continue to promote CI-like programs in disguise present a consistent challenge to American policymakers and parents. We must remain vigilant and demand that schools, universities, and nonprofit organizations involved in education disclose funding sources for foreign language and cultural programs. 

When necessary, lawmakers must hold accountable schools that fail to report their foreign funding sources by withholding federal and state funding. Meanwhile, parents must closely examine curriculums and textbooks providing “cultural and language” immersion programs and push back against overt and covert political indoctrination.  

We as a society must be willing to devote considerable time and resources to protect our education system from the CCP’s infiltration. Make no mistake, the CCP is playing the long game and won’t give up easily.


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