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Parents Push to Add Chinese to Curriculum

Group of Farmington residents gathers support in asking the school district to bring Mandarin to the classroom.

When Steven Wu moved to Farmington several years ago, he was surprised to find the district did not have a Chinese language program. He made polite calls to then-superintendent Robert Villanova offering data on the importance of Chinese in the global economy and asking that a program be developed.

Years passed. He kept making phone calls. Villanova retired and Kathleen Greider moved into the superintendent role. And Greider, Wu said, seemed receptive to the idea but cautioned that it would take time to develop a complete program and that in a difficult economy, there would be no room for new positions.

But when Wu read that Greider had proposed adding the equivalent of nine new teaching positions and restoring the Latin program, Wu’s patience ran out. 

“They talk about factoring in less practical things like French and restoring the Latin program, adding more teachers at the high school but at that time never mentioned anything about adding Chinese in our town,” Wu said at the Saturday morning Board of Education budget workshop. “Many parents and I talk about it and we feel we are being ignored by the town for many years.”

In the past few weeks, Wu made more phone calls, this time to fellow Noah Wallace parents and Chinese language supporters. He brought petitions to the Farmington Library’s Chinese New Year event. By the end of the week, there was an organized group and 256 names on the petition.

Several members presented their case before the Board of Education Saturday morning. Seven, mostly Farmington parents, spoke.

“Mandarin Chinese is the most commonly spoken language around the globe,” said Dan Witt, a psychologist for the New Britain Consolidated School District and a Farmington parent. “Anyone who’s picked up a newspaper can tell you that global connections between the U.S. and China have just exploded." 

He pointed to numerous surrounding districts that offer Chinese, including Granby, East Hartland, West Hartford, Glastonbury and Windham.

Jen Lin shared her experience teaching Chinese in Glastonbury schools over the past seven years. Learning the language has also given her students an insight into Chinese culture, she said.

“The language itself is not phonetical but visual and that helps the kids to have another perspective of learning — that is why they find it so interesting,” Lin said.

She pointed out that while 300 million Chinese students are readying for the global market by learning English, few American students are learning Chinese.

Board Chairman Mary Grace Reed thanked the group for the articulate presentation and Greider said administrators had been looking into offering a virtual Chinese class. So far, a class has not been found that would meet Farmington High School graduation criteria.

Tight budget years have been a factor, Greider said. Farmington’s four-year language requirement also makes the situation more complicated, she said.

“It’s not that we are not in support of the expansion but we have a four-year language requirement so when we build a program, we must build it very carefully – with a pathway to proficiency at the high school level.”

Wu and other members of the group are determined to see change.

“We have been waiting long enough,” Wu said. “We need an answer and a solution now."

Ann C. Jett February 15, 2012 at 01:04 PM
Mrs. Deschaneau, thank you for adding real life perspective to the debate. The input of educators such as yourself is invaluable.
Gene Singleton February 16, 2012 at 03:11 AM
Well, there is public education AND private education. You don't have to wait for public education to kick in. You can just pay enough to go to a boarding school to learn Mandarin Chinese. You just cannot wait and wasting time waiting for public schools to take over. There are many other ways for kids to learn Mandarin Chinese. Take for example, my son in senior high are doing well in learning Mandarin Chinese. Together with his teammates, they have won several Chinese speech competitions since last summer. The reason is they have learned a lot from watching Mandarin Chinese dubbed movies. Their coach suggested learning from Chinese dubbed "The Pursuit of Happyness", an American movie (Will Smith) dubbed in Mandarin Chinese. Such movies have great vocabularies for real use. Movies such as "The Day After Tomorrow", "Toy Story", "Chronicle of Narnia", are just a few examples of Mandarin Chinese dubbed movies from http://www.ChineseDubbed.com, and a few other stores. Be creative, and don't sit idle waiting for public school. You can start now and be ahead in this thing.
Rudy List February 16, 2012 at 05:08 PM
A couple years of high school Chinese will probably be worthless from the point of view of enhancing competitiveness in the global market place, especially given the expectations of the US education system. To learn Chinese one must learn two entirely separate things: 1) speaking and 2) reading/writing. Learning to speak Chinese is about the same as learning to speak any other language, easier, in fact than many (in my opinion). Because Chinese has no alphabet, learning to read and write, on the other hand, is extremely time-consuming, requiring an enormous amount of repetitive memory work. The ideographs are organized into categories, but mastering that organizational system is much more difficult than mastering an alphabet. Ideally Chinese should be taught in elementary school, when kids don't object to large amounts of repetitive rote memory. And it should be taught every day. To think the US education system will go any distance toward getting high school kids proficient is probably delusional. A program teaching Chinese 2 hours a day would make progress, but that's not going to happen. It’s true that China is advancing as an economic power. It’s also true that the Chinese are learning English. That they have to speak English won't stop them from doing business with the US. They are concerned with technology. If the best comes US, they will deal with the US. If it comes from Germany, they will deal with Germans, using English.
Jack R. February 16, 2012 at 09:16 PM
Wouldn't that be true of any language Rudy? No one should expect students to be proficient in any language solely based on taking high school world language. A real life exposure to the language is required. Gene's points are well made. If you want a student to learn Spanish, you have the student watch television in Spanish and converse with other Spanish speakers. Immersion is the best teaching tool for learning a new language. High school world languages courses do, however, provide the basics for proper grammar, reading and writing skills along with tone and annunciation. Exposure to cultures is another important element. The courses also spark interest to continue studying the language and to become proficient.
Tseng Jr-Shi April 19, 2012 at 02:59 PM
After reading all comments above, I can understand Mr. Wu's worry about learning Chinese. I am living in Taiwan. As a native speaker, I don't have to spend much efforts to ask my boys to learn Chinese. However, my business is helping younger students to learn more about the wisdom of Chinese classics through a digital storytelling website.(www.5qchannel.com) The website has become supporting materials of Chinese class in many countries. I have been travel to several countries in the past few years. Yes. Many people have same worry like Mr. Wu. Chinese is difinitely an important world language for sure. I'd like to invite you to visit our website. If you feel our website is helpful to your children and they like it, I am happy to offer them a chance to read all contents on our website. I can guarantee they will have big improve on Chinese before you have Chinese program. God helps those who help themselves.

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