Monday, March 15, 2021

Anti-China cold warriors threaten pandemic recovery and progressive ed

“I made clear the US will defend our national interests, stand up for our democratic values, and hold Beijing accountable for its abuses of the international system.” --
Sec. of State Tony Blinken

It shouldn't take fear of China's economic power to jumpstart our post-pandemic economy or adequately fund our public schools. But that is the logic of the cold warriors and regime changers who play leading roles in Biden's State Department and in many foreign policy think tanks. 

The current revival of cold-war nationalism, following in the wake of Trump's racist "Kung-flu" fear-mongering and white-supremacist populism, presents formidable threats to post-pandemic recovery. It's also responsible for the spike in anti-Asian racism and violence since the start of the pandemic.

Escalating tensions with China could also negatively influence educational priorities the way they did with the Obama administration's so-called Race To The Top. 

Yesterday's WaPo opinion piece by columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. asks the question: Will China get our country moving again?

Our response to this fear does not have to descend into warmongering, and it shouldn’t mean abruptly cutting off cooperation with China in areas where, as on climate action, partnership is necessary...But the danger China poses could fundamentally reorder U.S. attitudes toward government’s role in domestic economic growth, research and development in ways that leave the United States stronger. 

That all depends on what you mean by "stronger".  

For example, while competition for the vaccine market this past year did lead to some great achievements in the field of medicine, vaccine nationalism also caused a widening of the gap between the vaccine haves and have-nots (read: rich and poor countries), leaving the latter with collapsed economies and with millions suffering and dying needlessly from disease, child poverty, and hunger. We can only imagine the possibilities offered by a multi-national effort in the war to defeat Covid. 

Do we really think we are safe from this horrendous disease that has already killed 2.6 million worldwide, when millions more are dying in other countries? Do we really think we can successfully rebuild our own shattered economy if the economy of more than half the world remains in tatters?

Even in China, where the virus has been under control for months, a variant strain entering the country on a visitor or in a shipment of food, could force the entire country into another lockdown. The same is true for this country. 

Big-power confrontation and competition for global supremacy is nothing new and we've come to expect it as normal. It's not only embedded in the new globalism, it's been a function of imperialism since the turn of the last century. It's what led to the start of both world wars as well as the rise of the military-industrial complex, and the economic imbalance caused by the militarization of our society. 

During the Trump years, it was represented by the Republicans' America-First demagogy which precipitated the MAGA attack on the Capitol on January 6th. I'm still hopeful that the Democrats' victory will bring about a turn away from MAGAism. 

But recent threatening statements by Pres. Biden, and his appointed Sec. of State Tony Blinken, are discouraging. The Biden administration has an opportunity to tone down the Trumpian rhetoric and reach new trade and anti-COVID agreements with China for the sake of world peace, health, and stability. 

As for education... the perceived China threat also impacts the conduct and content of schooling. 

As Dionne points out:

When the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first artificial Earth satellite, it set off a national panic...One result was the 1958 National Defense Education Act, as Congress “began searching for ways to produce scientists and engineers who would equal Russia’s.” Another, of course, was the space program.
Cold warriors at that time raised the chilling specter of Soviet missiles raining down on American cities from outer space and blamed "failing" public schools for our lag in the race into space, or as it became known during the Obama administration, "the race to the top."

One result was the rise of heavily-tracked mega high schools and an over-reliance on high-stakes, standardized testing. This is nothing new. During the Obama administration, then Sec. of Education Arne Duncan used the fear of U.S. students lagging behind China to impose a regimen of punitive high-stakes testing on the nation's schools and teachers. Obama even called it "our Sputnik moment."

Now, schools and educators are again forced to confront the question of educational purpose. Is it the schools' purpose to train a new army of anti-China cold-warriors? Or rather, to prepare a generation of critical thinkers with the skills and habits of mind necessary to build a democratic society? I'll go with the latter. 

To participate in an ongoing discussion on post-pandemic schooling, follow @Smallschools on Twitter. 

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