Dave Porter, Testimony, Oregon House Education Committee, 3/20/09
Chair Gelser and members of the House Education Committee,
I urge you to create a High School Study Abroad Program (here) and to spend $3 million to expand Mandarin and critical need foreign language programs for Oregon K-12 public school students.
The world’s economic and geo-political arrangements are undergoing rapid and sustained change.
Consider that improved transportation and communications together with the resulting global flow of financial investment funds are bringing distance economies into competition with each other, making the globe seem smaller and more interconnected; and
Consider that the global banking firm Goldman Sachs estimated that by 2050 the combined emerging economies of the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) could exceed the combined economies of the current richest countries of the world; and
Consider that during the next thirty years, two to three billion people (out of a global population of 6.4 billion and growing) may join the global middle class, bringing substantial new buying power into the global market; and
Consider that in the next few
decades roughly 80% of the world's economic growth will be found in emerging
Consider that the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace estimated (2008) that the economy of China will equal in size the US economy in 2035 and be twice as large in 2050.
This is the global economy that today’s students, our next generations, will have to compete in. To be successful they will need the skills and knowledge to innovate, design, produce, buy and sell in these emerging markets around the globe. I know you understand these international competitive pressures. And that you are working to improve our education system and to raise the skills of our next generations, with specific concerns for improving science and technology education and for raising the educational achievement levels of underperforming populations. But, for our next generations to survive and thrive in this future global economy, more of them will need foreign language skills, and at proficiency levels higher than we now usually produce. I urge you to invigorate the study of foreign languages in Oregon’s public schools. The Center for Applied Second Language Studies at the University of Oregon has developed a useful guide for needed reforms in its “Oregon Roadmap to Language Excellence.” The legislation before you today can be seen as a start, but only several first steps, on their roadmap.
This invigoration of the study of foreign languages in Oregon’s public schools needs your legislative leadership. Do not think that Oregon’s educational establishment on its own will make these changes. Do not wait for them to ask you. Educators need to hear from you that you consider foreign language programs a priority, that Oregon’s economic future is on the line, and, as I will get to, that the very lives of our next generations may be at stake.
Our economy will thrive to the extent that we can create new services and products and sell them in these growing global markets. For a student, nothing sparks the generation of new ideas like living in another culture and seeing the world and all its arrangements from a fresh perspective. We need to strengthen this capacity for innovation and the sense of adventure in our young. We need to send many more of our high school and college students to study abroad. Recognize that there are existing study abroad programs run by a variety of reputable, well-established organization that cost in some cases less than the average annual per students costs in our local school districts. So we could send many more students to study abroad all over the world at no additional costs to the state or to local school districts. In fact, most districts could save money by sending more students abroad. We just need to create the legal and administrative structure to do so. This is what HB 2719 begins to do.
While we need generally to invigorate the study of foreign languages and send high school students to study all over the globe, China, and its official language Mandarin, deserve top priority in our efforts. China is the biggest emerging market, and, for that economic reason alone, deserves special priority. But China is much, much more. As the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Institute for International Economics put it:
No relationship matters more – for
better of for worse – in resolving the enduring challenges of our time:
maintaining stability among great powers, sustaining global economic growth,
stemming dangerous weapons proliferation, countering terrorism, and confronting
new transnational threats of infectious disease, environmental degradation,
international crime, and failing states.
But even that sweeping statement does not capture China’s critical importance. China may become by the end of the 21st century the globe’s dominant superpower. It could become more powerful than the US. Our next generations may need to find a way to live peacefully with that reality or to take them on militarily. Currently, China spends about $70 billion on its military compared to $713 billion for the US, or just 10% of what the US spends, and China has roughly two dozen nuclear armed missiles. As a deterrent, their nuclear missiles are probably targeted at US cities. Probably, one of those nuclear missiles is usually targeted at Portland. This is not new, and should not raise any sudden alarms. Nuclear deterrence around the globe has proven to be quite stable. But consider further, as China’s economy grows this century to be more than twice the size of the US economy, and as its investments in education and research produce a very competitive high tech economy, they will have the capacity to considerably upgrade their military. What then?
What worries me long term, and what accounts for my passion on this Mandarin issue now, is the potential trajectory of China’s rising military power over this century and how the US may respond. University of California Berkeley Professor Brad DeLong wrote:
Think of it this way: Consider a world that contains one country that is a true superpower. It is preeminent--economically, technologically, politically, culturally, and militarily. But it lies at the east edge of a vast ocean. And across the ocean is another country--a country with more resources in the long-run, a country that looks likely to in the end supplant the current superpower. What should the superpower's long-run national security strategy be?
I think the answer is clear: if possible, the current superpower should embrace its possible successor. It should bind it as closely as possible with ties of blood, commerce, and culture--so that should the emerging superpower come to its full strength, it will to as great an extent possible share the world view of and regard itself as part of the same civilization as its predecessor: Romans to their Greeks.
Consider our own historical
experience, the US rose to global power as the British Empire declined. The
British mentored our rise to global power, and thus extended their influence on
the global system. We did come to their aid in two world wars. But in this case
both countries shared a common language, English, and much of the US political
and economic culture came from the British. Not so between the US and China. We
have very different languages and cultures. Yet, this is the big challenge for
our next generations. They simply are not now prepared. Today, many Chinese
students study English. Somewhere around one percent of Oregon’s public school
students are studying Mandarin. Some Chinese students come to Oregon, or to the
US more generally, to study. But very few Oregon students study abroad in
China. This situation is not in our long term national interest if we wish to
mentor China’s rise to power, avoid war, and to solve a whole range of global
In four funding bills, I am proposing that Oregon spend $3 million during the 2009-11 biennium to begin to develop and expand Mandarin programs. Given the strategic priority I give to this effort I would recommend spending even more, but I recognize that we are in tough economic times that put severe limits on what is possible. $3 million would be only 0.05% of a $6 billion educational budget. That does not seem to be too much for this priority.
Consider what a war with China would cost. Let us as a strategic funding priority maximize the opportunities for peace between our two countries. Big issues are in play.
Do recall that President Lincoln had hard, turbulent times during the American Civil War. Recall that President Lincoln and his Republican 37th Congress (1861-1863), while engaged in the Civil War, passed five visionary bills: the Homestead Act, the development of the transcontinental railroads, the creation of the system of land-grant colleges, the creation the first, single paper currency for the US, and the implementation of the first income tax. So I urge you in these hard times to take inspiration from Lincoln, look to the future.
Summary of funding proposed
HB 2763 (2007 session) again................... $350,000
5 Mandarin immersion start-ups.............. $1,600,000
“Critical need language” scholarships.......... $500,000
Summer Scholarship.................................. $550,000