1993 / 7月
Cheng Yuan-ching /photos courtesy of Cheng Yuan-ching /tr. by Jonathan Barnard
Chinese Americans are always hoping that their children can have greater contact with traditional Chinese culture, but the children wonder if it's necessary to study Chinese language and culture in American society. On this question, there's no common ground, and the parents' hopes are often unrealized.
Starting next year, those who studied Chinese in high school will be able take an achievement test in the subject. Since three such tests are required for admittance to most universities and colleges, this development should raise the willingness of young Chinese Americans to study Chinese.
In June at the Irvine Chinese School of Orange County, California, a teacher asks Susan Hsia, "In ancient times, what was the name of the daughter who fought on behalf of her father?" She hesitates for a moment, listening for benevolent whispering from a neighbor, before saying "Hua Mu-lan."
After flipping through her book to find out how to write out these three characters, she goes up and scrawls them on the blackboard.
Hsia is 18, and though her Chinese isn't impressive, she was an excellent student in high school, with a grade point average of 4.1. From among some 13,000 applicants, she is one of only 1100 students to enroll for the freshman class next fall at West Point. Now she is taking a six-week basic training course.
But this just goes to show how knowledge of Chinese has little bearing on the success of young ethnic Chinese in American society.
In fact, it isn't that Chinese American parents don't understand this reality; it's just that they feel that since their children have Chinese blood flowing through their veins, they shouldn't be ignorant of Chinese culture, and hence they coax their children to go to Chinese schools in addition to their normal schools.Studying Chinese on holidays:
In the United States, the so-called "Chinese schools" are like the pushihbans (private cram schools or foreign language schools) in Taiwan.
Currently in southern California and Arizona, two places with high concentrations of ethnic Chinese, there are a total of 92 such schools, with enrollments running from a little over a hundred to nearly 1000. Their numbers are increasing every year, with 13 established last year alone. The Southern Caliornia Council of Chinese Schools, organized by these schools, is the largest organization of Chinese schools in North America.
All of those working for the council are volunteers, and the council is a non-profit institution focusing on solving the problems of all of its members and fighting for their rights.
President Theresa H. Chao left Taiwan to go study in America in the sixties, majoring in biology. After earning her degree, she settled down in the States.
She points out that the schools collectively enroll 17,000 students. The schools either hold classes after regular school from 330 to 6:00 or hold them on the weekends. Only about 15 percent of the students study under the former method, and most of these come from families where both parents work. This is a kind of after-school care. The fees are higher and the schools managed more professionally. Most of the students go to the weekend schools, which are largely staffed by volunteers.
Except for those sponsored by other Chinese institutions, such as the Chinese Confucius Temple of Los Angeles, the vast majority of Chinese schools make use of the classrooms in their local schools. On the weekends, the roads thereabout get jammed with parents driving by to let their kids off or pick them up.
It's not expensive to rent out classrooms for Chinese class. Sometimes they're even rent free, but it's necessary to provide teaching materials for the school's own program in Chinese.Relying on the parents:
The method of operation of these Chinese schools is rather unusual. The schools' staffs are entirely made up of the parents, and in most cases one volunteers for a year without salary. A few of the teachers are parents who have had experience teaching in Taiwan or Hong Kong, but most are from outside of the teaching profession and take only small hourly wages, which come from the registration fees of the students.
But in the Chinese schools that hold class in the afternoons or are supported by institutions, the teachers receive regular salaries since they go to teach every day.
Parents view attending schools as the one way to give their children some contact with Chinese culture, and so they all work hard to keep them going. To this end, most of the schools have developed a system of service points.
Bin H. Yang, the president of the Irvine Chinese school, explains that among any group of people those at the extremes who take the initiative to get involved themselves or who are completely unwilling to work are very few--most occupy "a middle ground" of being willing to work if pushed to action. Left to their own devices, those doing the work will be just a small group of enthusiasts.
In order to spread out the work more evenly and to move the parents to get fully involved, when the students register the school asks parents to fill out forms of preferred service, so that the school can immediately find support from the parents when in need. Currently, each parent has to work about 20 hours per term. (Other schools have requirements of about 10 hours). If one does not meet the quota, one makes up the difference with cash. The officers of the school have to do a lot more. Usually before summer vacation, they will complete registration for the next year. After the number of students and classes are all figured out, the school will plan its curriculum, find teachers and make the school calendar. While students are happily on vacation, there is a bunch of people hard at work.
The Chinese school is a do-it-yourself kind of place. If you're at the Irvine Chinese School, don't be surprised to find Maw-Ron Chin, the doctorate holding proctor of the school, running around shaking a hand-held bell to announce the beginning and end of class.Starting from self-recognition:
To get parents and children to participate together, some schools have established groups for the parents. While the children are in class studying Chinese, the parents are participating in these groups' activities and making new friends. The best thing about these groups is that they encourage better understanding of the school and more active participation in it.
Situated in communities, these Chinese schools naturally ought to build bridges to the community. Take the Arcadia Chinese School, for instance, which prepares lots of activities and is often invited to perform for the community.
As for their attitude about teaching, most Chinese schools aim to cultivate in their students an understanding of Chinese culture and acknowledgment of their own Chinese. They don't place high demands on language proficiency.
Truthfully speaking, to do even this is no easy task. Children that grow up in the American environment frequently have doubts about the value of studying things Chinese. China's five thousand years of history and once preeminent position in Asia are far removed from these children. What they hear about and see are the weakness and decrepitude of China after the Opium War.
Chinese schools want to help students bolster their self-esteem about being Chinese. Theresa H. Chao says it's best to teach the students that they shouldn't be ashamed of being Chinese Americans. They'll only be looked down upon if they have nothing to say when others look at their yellow skin and ask about things Chinese.The fruits of their labor:
She believes that drawing comparisons between Chinese history and the current social situation in America so as to make it overlap with the children's experience is the best way to attract the students' interest.
Last year, during the school's summer camp, there were posters all over the school proclaiming "Say No to Drugs." From a discussion about rampant drug abuse in the United States, she delved into modern Chinese history, examining how China lost power and was humiliated after the Opium War. Using a biography of Lin Tze-hsu as supplementary educational material, she was able to capture the students' interest. Then the class turned its gaze back to the greatness of China during the Han and the Tang Dynasties. The results were surprisingly good. Besides studying Chinese, the students also have extracurricular activities. In the Arcadia Chinese School, for instance, they engage in such traditional Chinese folk activities as playing with a diabol.
After many years of hard work by parents and teachers, currently 22Chinese school in southern California have been accredited by the local educational authorities to award actual high school credits. This accreditation has greatly encouraged the students and teachers at these Chinese schools and directly helped to promote the study of ChineseDirect encouragement:
What's more beginning next year, high school students can take the achievement, test in Chinese.
Will these institutional changes cause more Chinese American students to enter Chinese schools? Judging from the 13such schools established just last year, the answer is affirmative. And students may become more active in their pursuit of a mastery of the language.
After the decision was made to implement these changes, the reaction of most students at Chinese schools was good. They were probably all like San Marino's Lin Ching-heng, feeling that they have greater options available to them.
Students whose first language Chinese are at a linguistic disadvantage when taking achievement tests in history or natural science, and so the Chinese achievement test has become the ideal choice for them.
San Marino's Ma Ching-tsun looks at the decision from the larger perspective of greater respect for Chinese saying that it demonstrates that American society is really considering their needs.
And most teachers and principals think that the test is a shot in the arm for Chinese instruction in America.
Whose characters are prettier? Generally speaking, young Chinese abroad don't often write Chinese, and so their characters aren't very neat.
To meet the level of the students' Chinese, the Southern California Council of Chinese Schools spends great energy in finding suitable supplementary teaching materials.
"Chinese Computers" is a popular course.
The school proctor rings the bell. In these Chinese schools, parents play major roles.
Virtually every Chinese school has extracurricular activities relating to Chinese culture.
As soon as the weekend rolls around, the Chinese schools are jam packed with Chinese kids.
To meet parents' needs,the schools have established many groups that give parents a way to make friends and get them involved in the operation of the schools.
When children are being driven to or from these Chinese schools, the traffic can jam neighboring streets