The Forest Park Middle School, Proviso East and Triton all teach Spanish as a foreign language. It’s an acknowledgment that the demographics of our township have changed. Triton even offers courses on Polish. Good for them.
None of our schools, however, teach students how to speak Chinese.
Is that a problem? In the short run, no. Globe trotters will tell you that countries around the world know where the money comes from and therefore include English in the signage they place in airports, restaurants and along their highways. China now requires every one of its students to study English, the lingua franca of our day.
When I was a boy, Red China, as we called it, was very ideological. We’d see pictures of Chinese students lifting up Mao Tse Tung’s red book en masse. Facts never got in the way of what they believed.
Today’s China is very pragmatic. Government ownership of property didn’t work, so they introduced large doses of the free market and private property. English right now is the way people in a shrinking world communicate, so every Chinese student learns English.
In many ways the Chinese might be more progressive than us Americans. We tend not to think of them in that way, but maybe it’s because we are using outdated maps to help us negotiate this new global highway system we are traveling.
Remember Copernicus? In the 1500s, the Polish born astronomer caught a lot of flack for suggesting the Earth was not the center of the universe. It was more an issue of the way people thought of themselves than it was an astronomical question. A friend of mine has an upside down map of the planet in which Africa is in the center and at the top and North America is stuck in the lower left corner. Looking at the map is disorienting, and maybe that’s a good thing.
As revealed by the maps we produce, North Americans have a tendency to think of ourselves as living in the center of the world. Great Britain in Queen Victoria’s day used to think of itself in that way. The sun never sets on the British Empire and all of that. And now? The Brits have had to do a lot of reorienting.
To my way of thinking, it’s not unpatriotic at all to predict that one day China will be more powerful and influential than the United States. I love my kids not because they’re smarter or more successful than your kids, but simply because they’re mine. Norwegians and Namibians and Nepalese are patriotic and love their countries for the same reason. They have no delusions about being the biggest or smartest kid on the playground.
So, do we all need to sign a petition urging the superintendent and the school board to institute courses on Chinese language and culture by the fall semester of 2010? My suspicion is that if they did, no one would take them, because the classes would be too hard and they wouldn’t see the point.
And that’s my point. We need our own little Copernican revolution. The sooner we let go of the assumption that we have to be the center of the universe to be OK, the better.
Tom Holmes has worked in Forest Park since 1982 as a pastor and as a writer. He is grateful that his children grew up in this town and finds inspiration in the personal relationships he has developed with so many.