Pompeo, DeVos Take Aim at Chinese Influence in American Schools

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos / Getty Images
October 15, 2020

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos took aim at Chinese Communist Party influence in the United States' K-12 education system in an open letter to state education commissioners.

The letter primarily warned educators about the potential harms of Confucius Classrooms, the K-12 partners of college-level Confucius Institutes. Confucius Classrooms are Beijing-funded initiatives for American schools that ostensibly support cultural exchange and competency—while subtly propping up a pro-Chinese Communist Party agenda.

"The presence of an authoritarian slant in curriculum and teaching has never been more concerning, nor more consequential," the letter reads. "At any grade level, the presence in U.S. classrooms of instructors supported by an authoritarian regime poses risks to our democratic values."

Participants in Confucius Classrooms have noted that the programs restrict academic freedom. Program instructors often avoid discussing topics showing Chinese Communist Party in a bad light, such as the regime's Uighur concentration camps and political abuses against Hong Kong.

Other countries have already banned Confucius Classrooms from their education systems. In 2019, many local governments in Canada and Australia stopped the program, citing many of the academic freedom and human rights concerns that Pompeo and DeVos point out in the letter.

Congress has also shown support for the Trump administration’s effort to root out Chinese propaganda in education. Like the secretaries' letter, the House China Task Force's recently released report identifies Confucius Classrooms as a serious threat to American academic freedom and offers proposals limiting Beijing's grip on American education.

Task force chairman Michael McCaul (R., Tex.) tweeted praise for Pompeo and DeVos's letter. 

"While it may come as a surprise that the #CCP has infiltrated US K-12 education, the threat is real & growing," McCaul wrote. "I applaud @SecPompeo & @BetsyDeVosED for taking steps to protect US classrooms & schoolchildren from the CCP's malign influence."

The American public appears to be taking notice of Chinese influence in education. A Thursday Washington Free Beacon report followed an ongoing movement to root out Chinese Communist Party influence at Tufts University.