Willamette Week’s current issue (1/20/10) has an article “Measure for Measure”(here) by Nigel Jaquiss looking ahead to the special legislative session in February. He highlights two bills that are “smart bills” and two bills that are “silly bills.” He thinks “HB 3628” is a silly bill. HB 3628 would help develop more Mandarin programs in Oregon (here). He, evidently, thinks responding to China’s rise with more Mandarin programs in Oregon is “silly.”
He writes of HB 3628:
Why it is a bad bill: Clem, 38, briefly explored running for governor last year. He came back from a legislative trip last fall to China with an offer from Chinese authorities to send Mandarin teachers to Oregon if local districts cover housing and travel. We know China is important. But with all the challenges facing the state and all the unmet needs in the K-12 educational system, this bill seems more of a résumé builder than a policy solution. Clem agrees it’s not vital. “This bill is not critical,” he says. “We could have probably waited two years or the department would have done it administratively.”
Jaquiss, as I interpret this paragraph, thinks that Oregon has greater “challenges” than responding to China’s rise and higher priority “unmet needs” in our K-12 educational system than developing more Mandarin programs. Let me disagree. He’s wrong on both points.
First, the global economy is changing. If we want jobs in Oregon and sustained economic growth into the future, we need to improve our abilities to sell our goods and services abroad. I don’t know what Jaquiss thinks is a greater economic challenge, but I put growing our international trade as number one. And China, specifically, is the biggest foreign market there is. A Carnegie Endowment for International Peace forecast put China’s economy as becoming as large as the US economy in 2035 and twice as large in 2050. It makes sense to increase the percentage of our K-12 public school students studying Mandarin from the current around 1% to something substantially larger. What “unmet need” in our K-12 educational system is greater than that.
Second, there is no greater national security challenge for the US than figuring out how to accommodate China’s rise to power. China already has one of the world’s largest militaries. It already has nuclear weapons. And, as its economy grows and becomes more technologically sophisticated, so will its military. China may by the end of the 21st century be the most powerful nation on earth. Does it not make sense to engage China peacefully by teaching more of our students Mandarin and sending them to study abroad in China, rather than keeping our next generations somewhat ignorant of China and the Chinese? At some profound levels, our national survival and world peace are at stake. What “challenges” or “unmet needs” are greater than that.
As to sorting out what’s important, I think it is often useful to ask what will future historians write about in 100 years or more. Will they write about Jaquiss’ two smart bills (Including banks and insurance companies in Oregon’s Unfair Trade Practices Act or Limiting employers’ ability to use a job applicant’s credit history) or Oregon’s initial efforts to respond to China’s rise in importance to our future? I think they will be writing about China’s rise, the US response, and how relations between the two have played out. I would like for Oregon and its leaders to be in those history books as a leader in developing the educational programs that help sustain peaceful relations and mutual economic growth between China and the US.
HB 3628 does not come out of nowhere. For the past two regular sessions there have been a series of bills to develop more Mandarin and study abroad in China programs for Oregon students before the legislature. None have passed. The legislators then, perhaps like Jaquiss now, did not think such bills were a priority. They were wrong then, too. Some legislators now, having visited China, see the need for more Mandarin programs. Bravo for Representative Clem!!!