Parents Defending Education’s new report, “Little Red Classrooms,” offers some worrisome information about China’s reach in U.S. K-12 schools through so-called Confucius Classrooms.
The report notes that Parents Defending Education “uncovered contracts that show Confucius Classrooms, or other Chinese government-backed programming, are still in operation” in a number of schools throughout the U.S., including Tulsa Public Schools in Oklahoma.
“On July 11, 2022, the Tulsa Public Schools board of education approved entering into an agreement with the Confucius Classroom Coordination Offices, which [operate] out of the International Leadership of Texas Global nonprofit,” the report says. “The Chinese International Education Foundation would cover the cost of the program. Carver Middle School offers students a ‘Confucius Connection’ through its ‘Global Awareness’ programming.”
Ryan Walters, Oklahoma state superintendent of public instruction, says, “What we did is, we—immediately upon finding this out—we have required the district to turn over any contracts, any curriculum, anything that’s been handed out through this course.”
“So, we are actively compiling that from the district right now to do a deep dive into, ‘Hey, what was the Chinese government trying to get in this classroom? What were the teachers discussing in these classes?’” Walters says, adding:
So that’s what we’ve required of the district right now. So, we are going to be looking for that information to have a better understanding of what was being funneled into these classrooms.
Walters joins today’s episode of “The Daily Signal Podcast” to discuss the Parents Defending Education report, whether he has spoken with any teachers, parents, or students at Tulsa’s Carver Middle School, and Tulsa Public Schools’ response to his Twitter video, “China will not be allowed in Oklahoma schools.”
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript:
Samantha Aschieris: Ryan Walters is joining today’s episode of “The Daily Signal Podcast.” Ryan is the Oklahoma state superintendent and previously served as the Oklahoma education secretary. Ryan, thanks so much for joining us.
Ryan Walters: Absolutely. Thanks for having me on.
Aschieris: Now, just recently, Parents Defending Education, which describes itself as “a national grassroots organization working to reclaim our schools from activists promoting harmful agendas,” released a report titled “Little Red Classrooms.” The report itself offered some rather interesting and disturbing information about the reach and influence of the Chinese Communist Party in U.S. K-12 schools.
Now, Tulsa Public Schools is listed in the report. Just last week you tweeted a video about this with the caption, “China will not be allowed in Oklahoma schools.” Can you first tell us a little bit more about what’s going on here?
Walters: Absolutely. So what you’ve seen here is the Chinese Communist government started funneling money into our universities and schools over a decade ago, and what it is, it is a way to undermine American heritage, undermine American institutions by under the veil of, “This is about Chinese culture. This is kind of this path to just understand China better.”
What we’ve seen is we’ve seen information coming out of the Chinese government that it’s clear what this is about. This is about undermining American value, setting up this defense of communism and undermining America’s institutions.
So most colleges—the U.S. Congress did a deep dive into this. There are several reports out there. And so most colleges, universities went away from this, and yet we kind of thought this went away. What happened instead was the Chinese government started laundering this money through some nonprofits, one particularly in Texas, and then giving it to the schools.
So immediately upon, when we called them out, Tulsa Public Schools response, it says, “Oh, this is a lie. We don’t get money from the Chinese government.” And guys, this is typical of what we see from the Left. And now you’re actually seeing it from a foreign government of laundering it through a nonprofit and then claiming, “Well, this didn’t come from the Chinese government.”
Well, that’s just ridiculous. It is. I cannot believe that we’re dealing with this issue still. This absolutely has no place in our schools.
Aschieris: And just to talk a little bit more about the report, it says that “on July 11th, 2022, the Tulsa Public Schools board of education approved entering into an agreement with the Confucius Classroom Coordination Offices, which operates out of the International Leadership of Texas Global nonprofit. The Chinese International Education Foundation would cover the cost of the program. Carver Middle School offers students a ‘Confucius Connection’ through its ‘Global Awareness’ programming.” Are you aware of what’s reportedly being taught at Carver Middle School?
Walters: That’s a great question. What we did is we immediately, upon finding this out, we have required the district to turn over any contracts, any curriculum, anything that’s been handed out through this course.
So we are actively compiling that from the district right now to do a deep dive into, hey, what was the Chinese government trying to get in this classroom? What were the teachers discussing in these classes?
So that’s what we’ve required of the district right now. So we are going to be looking for that information to have a better understanding of what was being funneled into these classrooms.
Aschieris: And just speaking of teachers, have you talked to anyone at Carver Middle School, any teachers, any parents, students?
Walters: No. We’re still working on the information-gathering stage. This broke hard last week, and so we’ve been trying to, first of all, get the documentation. We do have our hands on evidence of these contracts.
So the board, and we had the board chair and the superintendent of Tulsa, comes out and says, “Oh, this is a lie. This hasn’t happened.” Well, of course it’s happened. This is condescending to pretend like this wasn’t a program coming from the Chinese government.
And so right now we’re still in the stages of trying to get our hands around, how large was it? What was the information that they were pushing in the classroom? What was the curriculum? Those are still some of the things. How many kids were in these classes? How many teachers were involved?
I mean, these are all the questions that we’re trying to get to the bottom of because, again, we’ve got a district here that’s just denying what’s the obvious. And so we’re trying to ensure that we have full accountability over that district and ensure that we know what was going on.
Aschieris: Absolutely. And as we’ve been talking about with this report, I want to just take a little bit deeper of a dive into its findings and why they’re so both important to be aware of what’s going on, obviously, in schools in America and also, why they’re so concerning and what parents should be aware of.
Walters: Right. So one of the things we’ve seen—and just, let’s walk through this progression. We knew 20 or 30 years ago in our schools that kids weren’t getting taught American history.
I’m a history teacher, it’s my background. I began to see as I was getting in the profession there’s less around the founding era. There’s less explanation of American exceptionalism. There’s less of an emphasis toward primary sources.
And I want to flag that the reason that’s so important is, if you’re not reading the Constitution and the Federalist Papers, but instead you’re reading what a 1970s professor says about the Constitution, it’s easy to indoctrinate. It’s easy to not explain to kids the importance of those documents and see them through a liberal lens.
Well, we’ve gone from that to continuing to push things like critical race theory where it’s literally undermining everything. All of our institutions saying that, actually, we didn’t believe all these things, all these core principles, we were actually a country built in racism.
So those lies have been pushed in academia.
Well, now, with this latest discovery, what you’ve seen is not only have we not taught American history, not only have we taught things that are ahistorical, lies that say America was based in racism and that America is a terrible place, we have gone so far as to allow the Chinese government to come into our schools and teach our kids and undermine America, promote communism.
It is unbelievable, the transition we have seen in our education system in the last few decades. We absolutely have to fight back to get these things out.
And what we’re doing in Oklahoma is we’ve got to bring back an emphasis to those founding documents, understanding of American exceptionalism and understanding of what the Founders actually said, and let’s do a deep dive into that so that kids can understand what makes this country great.
Aschieris: And as you brought this up earlier with the response from Tulsa Public Schools, they have responded to your video in a statement. It was reported by The Oklahoman, saying it “does not receive money from the Chinese government, as Superintendent Walters alleged without evidence.”
The statement also said, “At a time when our state faces catastrophic shortages in certified teachers and school funding, Superintendent Walters has chosen to focus on a Chinese language professional development opportunity for a single teacher.” And that “contrary to Superintendent Walters accusations, the district takes no funds from the Chinese government.”
What are your thoughts on the district’s response? And just tell us your response.
Walters: You see this a lot in education. Unfortunately, we have allowed administrators, we have allowed through school board elections people that are just union activists into these positions that they lie. They lie and they distract.
By the way, what they don’t want to talk about is Tulsa is one of our lowest-performing districts in the state. They have over 14 of their elementary schools that are reading at less than 5% on grade level and reading—less than 5% in 14 of their elementary schools.
And yet, guess what their focus is? “How do we get money from China? We get it through a nonprofit so we can make the argument it’s not technically from China.”
It’s absurd. They should be ashamed of themselves for making these type of arguments. They are doing all they can to focus on these left-wing activist issues and push indoctrination in the classroom rather than getting kids to read, getting kids proficient in math.
And folks, we’ve seen this—and this is where parents have awakened. Parents are so sick and tired of it. That’s why we’ve seen school choice. We have the biggest school choice initiative in state history that goes into effect this year. We’re so proud of that.
We have parent rights rules that we put in place through my board of education to ensure there’s no pornography in classrooms and that parents are involved in any kind of conversation about sexuality, that that’s not going on behind their backs.
And parents are tired of this nonsense from these woke administrators that just lie. They continue to mislead. They continue to cover up what’s going on in their districts.
The reality is, these are taxpayer dollars going into our schools. These are our kids. These are our communities. There is absolutely no reason that schools shouldn’t be high-performing, our kids shouldn’t know the basics, our kids shouldn’t understand American exceptionalism.
And so, it is time that this education system is brought back to where it used to be, where we have the focus on where it needs to be, our kids’ academic successes.
Aschieris: And in addition to Tulsa Public Schools, the report from Parents Defending Education found that other schools, including Seattle Public Schools, Sisters School District in Oregon, Highland Park Independent School District in Texas, just to name a few, also were included in this report, having either contracts or other Chinese-backed programming that are still in operation.
What do you think is at stake if we aren’t able to kind of undo this influence that we’re seeing in these schools, reportedly?
Walters: OK, so, I’ll be real direct with this. What I think we’re seeing here is, if we do not act on these situations where you have Chinese influence into our schools, I don’t know what the future’s going to hold for the country as we continue to allow not only parents to be pushed aside, bureaucrats to control schools, and now Chinese Communist government influence into our schools and control.
This is the fear, if kids don’t understand what makes this country great, where are we headed? You know what I mean? It is one of those things—as a history teacher, I think about World War II. I look at the letters from the soldiers. You read them, and they knew what they were fighting for. They were fighting for this incredible country. They were fighting for these core principles, by the way, they believe came from God.
That’s the other thing, that literally our schools, our institutions want to eliminate any reference to faith whatsoever. Even though it’s historical, that’s what they believe. That’s what the Founders believed our rights came from. They thought it was crucial to a republic-style of government that the people had morality and their faith was an important key in that. That’s why they protected religious liberties.
But they want to take all of this out. They want to create atheism as a state religion. So that’s the only thing that can be practiced in schools, is atheism. And it’s practiced and pushed by the state apparatus.
And if you continue down this line, how do kids even understand, first of all, would they ever fight for this country? No. 1. No. 2, do they respect and appreciate anything about this country and what so many before us held dear?
We’re here today in this great country because those that came before us understood that when we live up to those core principles, we are that shining city on a hill for the rest of the world.
But if you don’t even understand what those principles are, you don’t understand our history, there is no future for this country. …
I mean, this is an easy one. It should be. The Chinese government has no role in our classrooms. They should be run out of town. There shouldn’t be any place for China in our schools.
And then No. 2, we have got to get back on track of ensuring when our kids are taught American history, they are taught that exceptionalism. They are taught what our Founders believed.
And folks, this is an existential crisis for this country. The media is controlled by the Left. So the media right there, all your news organizations, your big corporate system there, pop culture is controlled by the Left. You see it with TV, with movies, all that.
And if we give up education—these are the three biggest fears of influence that we’ve seen in America largely. If we give those three over, this next generation is never going to be able to continue on this great work that is America.
Aschieris: And just along the lines of education, something you brought up earlier was school choice initiative. I just wanted to give you the opportunity to talk more about that and what that will look like for this new school year.
Walters: Yeah, it’s a game-changer for us. We have largely championed charter schools here in the state. We’ve got some of our highest-performing schools are our charter schools, but that’s not enough. You have to continue going.
That’s where we have a full school choice program that was launched this year, so that every parent can attend a private school of their choice. They can use their money for homeschooling if they so choose.
We’re also very proud. We’re the first state to approve a religious charter school. We want more charter schools. It’s a Catholic chartered school. Again, we want more options for parents. We want parents to be able to attend a private school if they choose. We want more charter schools in our state.
And what this is going to do is create an environment here in Oklahoma where not only can kids be aligned to the school that best meets their needs, we’re going to actually have a free market system that will cause constant improvement.
And folks, you guys hear this and it’s always amazing to me to listen to people in education try to claim that the free market principles don’t work in education. Oh, they absolutely work in education. The free market core principles are built on human nature and the way that humans respond to incentives.
When you have a state that fully embraces school choice, not only will kids be aligned to those better institutions, the institutions improve. We’ve seen this in every other industry. We’ve seen it in states like Arizona and Florida that have leaned into school choice early on. And so this isn’t theoretical. We’ve seen it play out.
We are very excited and, again, we are going to do more for school choice in Oklahoma than any other state. We’re very proud of that first religious charter school. We’re going to keep pushing to get as many folks involved in our kids’ education as possible because that means more options, that means a more free market system, and it means better student achievement.
Aschieris: Ryan, just before we go, I believe a number of school districts in Oklahoma are getting underway into their school year, I believe this week, actually. And I wanted to get your thoughts on just final question, as both a former teacher and also a parent, given your role as a state school superintendent, some ways that parents can be better informed about what their children are learning, how they can be more active or involved in what their kids are learning in their education.
Walters: Yeah. I love this time of the year. I’m a former teacher. I’ve got four little kids. Three are going to our local public school here, starting the school year off, so they’re all excited. I got “meet the teacher” tomorrow night. We’re really excited about all these things.
But for parents, what I would say is get involved in your school. Get involved in every level. So when I say every level, talk to your teacher. Ask your teacher that you want to see what’s going on in the classroom. You want to be a part of what your kids are learning. You want to see that.
No. 2, I would go even further. Talk to the school administrators. Talk to the school board. Tell them that you want to see—you’re very active, you want to be involved, you want full transparency around where money is spent, but also the curriculum.
Again, I’m amazed that the Left has taken on the position that what your kids are taught doesn’t matter. The curriculum doesn’t matter. That genderqueer and flamer are on the same academic value level as the Bible and the Constitution. I mean, the absurdity of that.
We have always known, going back hundreds of years, what you put in front of your kids is important. OK. What they’re reading is important. What is entering into their mind is important. Of course, everything in a school should have academic value.
And so, as parents, ask what the kids are learning, look at the material. Let your school board and let your principals know you’re looking at these things. Ask them for a focus on things with high academic value. I’m a huge believer in teaching the classics, classical learning. The kids need to understand there’s academic value to “Huckleberry Finn.” There’s academic value to “The Great Gatsby.” There’s a reason why we’ve all read these novels for so long, because there’s a lot of benefit there.
I love “The Book of Virtues.” I always hand it out to administrators when I meet them, of, hey, William Bennett did a great service as secretary of education by saying, “Look, let’s make sure kids can read, but let’s make sure they’re also reading things that back up values.”
And so I think, as parents, continue to push, look at curriculum, look at where money is spent.
The other thing is, here in Oklahoma, districts have record amounts of money. Where’s the money going? Are they actually spending it in the classroom, on your kids, or are they growing bureaucracy? It drives me absolutely nuts to see how much money is spent creating more administrative positions rather than bringing in great teachers and getting them the curriculum and resources that they need.
And again, if you are not being listened to, go to those board meetings. Speak out. I’m telling you right now, one of the most optimistic movements I’ve seen are groups like Moms for Liberty, these groups that say, “Listen, we’re going to show up at the board meetings and ask questions.”
And again, school districts that want to be high-performing should welcome the fact that their communities are so involved and engaged that they actually come to their school board meetings.
When I first started as a teacher, that was one of the things that I kept hearing from my colleagues, is … more people [used to] show up to these things, and now no one comes. Well, now we’re at a stage where we’ve got groups that do show up, do ask questions. Don’t lose that. They’re going to attack you. The Left is going to try to bully you and intimidate you.
Movements like these parent groups are going to be what gets our schools back on track, which will get our communities back on track, which will eventually get our country back on track. So don’t lose faith. The momentum is in your favor. We are going to get this education system back on track.
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