Although the Chinese state news media has cited concerns recently that the United States is indoctrinating Chinese students by including its founding documents upholding freedom and human rights in the SAT, teachers and parents don’t seem to be too alarmed.
As American universities become a popular choice among affluent Chinese who want their children to receive top-quality higher education, hundreds of thousands of Chinese students are taking the SAT college admission test every year. Last year, nearly 200,000 Chinese students went to universities in the United States, the state-run news agency Xinhuareported.
The growing number of young Chinese who are eager to attend American universities has spawned a large number of companies vowing to help students ace the test, forming a lucrative industry for SAT test preparation across the country.
An English-language newspaper in Hong Kong, The South China Morning Post, published a column last month by Kelly Yang, a local SAT tutor, who asserted that the SAT redesign scheduled for 2016 would be “the first time America is able to systematically shape the views, beliefs and ideologies of hundreds of thousands of Chinese students.”
The Beijing Youth Daily reported recently that some Chinese were worried that the minds of the country’s young would be “forcibly infiltrated with American values.” The report, which was distributed by Xinhua, was paired with a cartoon of Uncle Sam holding a hamburger and a movie reel on one side while, with another hand, thrusting forward a piece of paper that says, “SAT ideology and politics.”
The College Board, the organization that administers the SAT, in March announced a broad SAT overhaulthat will be implemented in 2016 in response to criticisms in the United States. Among the changes is a new evidence-based reading and writing section, which will contain a passage from one of America’s founding documents — including the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Federalist Papers — or from a text inspired by the documents, like the Gettysburg Address.
Despite the state media criticism of the overhaul, some teachers and parents say they believe that studying the American documents can better prepare Chinese students for life abroad.
“This has already been a highly diversified society,” said Ju Jinrong, an SAT tutor at New Oriental, a large, private education company in China. “Young people get exposed to such Western values all the time through the Internet and Hollywood movies. It’s not that they can only come to know the values through SAT,” she said.
Ms. Ju says she doubts that the United States is intentionally exporting its ideologies through the test, which is the same for Americans and students from other countries.
“The majority taking the SAT are still American students. If America wants to export its ideology, why don’t they redesign TOEFL?” she asked, referring to the Test of English as a Foreign Language, which all students from non-English-speaking countries must take to apply to universities in the United States.
Mr. Yu, who gave only his surname, is the father of a Beijing student who is to take the SAT next year. He said he would not be concerned even if his son were to take the test in 2016 and believes it is good for his son to understand different political systems.
“Even if he doesn’t learn such Western ideologies in the test, he will be exposed to them throughout the four years in college anyway,” he said. “I don’t think learning Western ideologies will completely change his mind. People of his generation are able to think independently and see merits in every system.”
Li Zhou, who is in charge of the elite Beijing No.4 High School’s special program for students seeking to apply to American universities, believes that studying such historical documents before students leave for the United States will serve them well.
“Only through studying extensively can we develop critical thinking,” he said.
“Asking students to read those documents and learn world history is in no way brainwashing. Nothing to fear,” Mr. Li said. “Only Chinese think education means brainwashing.”
He said the redesign was a “positive change” because it “forces” Chinese students to understand American society beforehand.
Dong Yuxiu, an SAT tutor at FocusEdu, which specializes in SAT test preparation, agrees.
“Understanding how American history and politics has developed will definitely help students better adjust to the new environment and integrate into American society,” she said.
Ms. Dong believes the redesign will not put Chinese students at a severe disadvantage so long as they have overcome the language barrier. She said SAT preparation companies could also easily cope with the change by providing students with more reading material about American history and politics.
“I think as long as a student has strong English, plus a little bit of common sense, she should be able to cope,” she said, adding that her company will start to tweak its curriculum in 2015 for the new test.
A 16-year-old student at a prestigious Beijing high school agreed. She will take the test in 2016 and says she is not troubled by the redesign. She asked not to be named.
“Of course it will be harder for us Chinese students because we never studied the documents before, but we can from now on read more about American history and politics to get fully prepared,” she said.
Asked whether she realized she would be studying ideologies drastically different from the ones she has been instilled with, she said: “There is no way to skirt the political stuff. It will be part of our life sooner or later.”
By VANESSA PIAO September 8, 2014 in The New York Times