In Macon schools, Mandarin is mandatory

With lots of poor students and low graduation rates, public schools in Macon, Georgia and surrounding Bibb County face lots of problems, reports NPR.  Haitian-born superintendent Romain Dallemand’s “Macon Miracle” has brought longer school days, year-round instruction and mandatory Mandarin Chinese instruction for every student, pre-K through 12th grade.

“Students who are in elementary school today, by 2050 they’ll be at the pinnacle of their career,” Dallemand says. “They will live in a world where China and India will have 50 percent of the world GDP. They will live in a world where, if they cannot function successfully in the Asian culture, they will pay a heavy price.”

This school year, Dallemand is rolling out Mandarin in stages, a few sessions a week, with the youngest kids starting first. In three years, it will be at every grade level.

A Mandarin teacher costs the district only $16,000 a year, because they’re subsidized by the Confucius Institute, which is partially funded by the Chinese government.

Some parents are dubious.

“Bibb County is not known for producing the highest-achieving graduates,” says Macon resident Dina McDonald. “You’ll see that many of them can’t even speak basic English.”

McDonald herself has a ninth-grader in the public schools and says she can imagine some students going into fields where Mandarin could be useful, like international business, technology or law. But with lower achievers, she says, “Do you want to teach them how to say, ‘Do you want fries with that?’ in Mandarin?”

The superintendent says children will rise to high expectations.

A friend of mine helped start a multilingual magnet school in Detroit in the ’80s. Black parents who worked in the auto industry lined up to get their kids into Japanese language classes, thinking that it was the language of the future.

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  1. This is stupid. What fraction of the American workforce needs to know Mandarin? Many American workers could use a better grasp of English. Work on that.

    I suggest reading the online essay, “Why Chinese Is So Damn Hard” by David Moser.

  2. We’ll know whether or not it’s stupid in 2050. It might have been incredibly forward thinking; or a complete waste of time. We’ll have to wait and see.

    • Based on the school’s results so far, I expect the result will be many graduates who are functionally illiterate and grammatically-challenged in two languages, or three for the Hispanics.

  3. Stacy in NJ says:

    Another waste of resources. They should give every student who wants it a one year membership at Kumons instead. It cost $80 per student per month in New Jersey. But, that would be an practical use of tax payer resources and give the kids useful practice at a necessary life skill. Who would want to do that?

  4. I do agree that they should be learning basic English (including English Literature), basic Math, basic Science (introdcutory Biology, Astronomy/Earth Science, Physics, and Chemistry), and basic Social Studies (U.S. & World Geography, U.S. & World History, State & U.S. Government, Introductory Economics) at a level appropriate to the grades in question BEFORE they start worrying abour foreign languages, Visual Arts, etc.

  5. I live in Macon. I don’t mind teaching a foreign language in our schools there are actually scientific studies showing it has benefits. Many parts of the Macon Miracle plan ideas are based on science. The problem is that the system is dysfunctional & the rot in the public schools goes much deeper. The schools don’t have math text books because they are switching to Common Core and they don’t have textbooks yet. Even worse is the discipline in the schools and the rot lies mostly in the administration. See this Sunday’s articles in the local paper: See also the links to these stories on the same page:
    Permanent expulsions eliminated from Bibb School System
    How The Telegraph reported the school discipline stories
    Discrepancies in discipline data can be explained, school system says
    Bibb teachers unable to control students under current rules

    I feel sorry for the kids and teachers. For some though there is a thriving private school ecosystem that values an education and school discipline.

  6. My school district has many kids taking French and Spanish, but not many kids seem to be actually learning those languages. If you can’t reliably teach large numbers of kids to speak, read, and write Spanish, can you teach them Mandarin?

    • That is a very good point. And with French and Spanish, I as a parent would have some sort of clue what my child was managing to take in. With Mandarin, I’d have absolutely no idea. (Of course, there are native-speaker Chinese families who’d be in the opposite situation.)

  7. We lived in a district that had a very succesful French immersion program; full immersion in k-6, with daily advanced French classes at the 6-9 MS. I knew a couple of kids from the program and they were fluent speakers, readers and writers. However, the school/town population was very advantaged kids from affluent, highly-educated families. With a school population of disadvanted kids whose English skills are sub-standard, even in terms of spoken language, I would make standard English the priority and forget ES foreign language.