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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

US public education challenge—oppose student's brain-washed with biased views of history and foreign affairs

It shouldn't surprise anyone that an article for school children published by The New York Times is biased against communism and for capitalism. But that doesn't mean we can't expose such bias and try to find ways to counter it in America's class room.
The article in question is called "10 Things You Need To Know About China," by Patricia Smith and it is published in a school-oriented teen magazine called Upfront.
It is typical of the kind of biased slant would have come to expect from The New York Times and other mainstream publications.

Near the front of Smith's article we see this statement:

"Officially, China has been a Communist country since 1949, when Mao Zedong's Communist forces won a civil war and founded the Peoples Republic of China. By the time Mao died in 1976,  China's economy was in ruins. His successor, Deng Xiaoping, introduced free-market reforms in 1978 that allowed private business and foreign investment—and led to three decades of explosive growth."

First off, there is no explanation as to why this new government chose to embrace communism, in 1949. Communism is simply portrayed as "authoritarian," "strict limits on people's rights" and Smith mentions there are 500,000 political prisoners in China. There is no mention at all of attempts to end poverty, the goal of a classless society, the push to feed, educate and provide healthcare to a population that had little or non of these things before the revolution. There is no background to explain the difficulties of reforming a feudal society where peasants and poor people were treated as little more than slaves.

Smith outright lied that the Chinese economy under Mao "was in ruins." As reported in the newspaper Revolution (or Revolutionary Worker):

" You've been lied to. In reality, China's industrial economy under Mao grew impressively--at an average rate of 10 percent per year, even during the Cultural Revolution. China, the former "sick man of Asia," transformed itself into a major industrial power in the quarter century between 1949 and 1976--a rate of development comparable only to the greatest surges of growth in history.[1] And it achieved this without relying on exploitation or foreign assistance, and in the face of a hostile international environment."

While this newspaper is pro-Maoist, there are other sources and some are listed in this article. There were some ups and downs to China's Maoist economy, but over all, the economy worked. If it had not, how would the nation have survived from 1949 through 1977? That is about 30 years and no country could last that long with a ruined economy.

Again in Smith's article:

"Thirty years ago, China was a poor country. The streets were full of bicycles because almost no one could afford a car. People needed ration coupons to buy cooking oil or clothes. Today, China's booming cities are clogged with traffic. The country boasts more than 400 billionaires and 9 of the world's tallest buildings."

While China may have been a relatively poor country under Mao, it had a maintenance economy. It functioned and met the needs of the people. Most people had bicycles and few people had cars. What Deng did was to open up the country to foreign investment to create a consumer culture. That meant that there would be more consumer goods, such as all the technological toys people in this country have come to believe they are entitle to. But there was no effort to make sure that ALL the people take part in this culture. There is still a lot of poverty in China and attempts to improve the situation had not gotten better under Deng. He had done what capitalist-consumer economies always do—They create a large enough middle class that they can ignore those left out who live in poverty.
For example, while most people had bicycles during the Maoist years, lots of people in China don't own cars today.

According to The World Post:

"China is the biggest car market in the world by number of vehicles sold. But it still lags far behind developed markets in terms of the ratio of cars to people. In 2010 in China, only 31 per 1,000 people owned a car, compared with 424 per 1,000 people in the United States, said IHS analyst Namrita Chow."

So many people are left out of China's free-market. At the same time the number of cars in China has led to severe problems of pollution. If most people had cars in China it is hard to imagine that their environment would be livable. The World Post:

"While burning of coal for power plants is a major source of air pollution across China, vehicle emissions are the single biggest source of PM2.5 – a secondary pollutant that forms in the air and is tiny enough to enter deep into the lungs – in Beijing, according to the capital's former vice mayor, Hong Feng."

Smith gives us a report of glowing praise by the Chinese for the "reforms" of the last 30 years:

"Most Chinese have applauded the economic reforms: 76 percent say they're better off under a free-market economy, according to a recent Pew poll."

After 30 years we can assume most of the people, especially the youth, have no memory of living in the Mao years. So what where they asked to compare to the so called "free-market" reforms? We know little about this poll and in this context it seems misleading.

Another miss-leading statement Smith gives:

"The conventional wisdom has long been that people earning middle-class wages and participating in a free-market economy will demand and eventually get political freedoms."

What does she mean by "conventional wisdom?" Who believes this and where does it come from?
For years US pundits were predicting that a well developed (consumer oriented) economy in South Korea would encourage western style democracy. From the end of the Korean War, in 1953, to the late 1980s or early 1990s South Korea was a dictatorship. So why does a successful and "free-market" economy lead to democracy and freedom? Actually it doesn't.
From 1973 to 1990 Chile was led by a military government. Free-marketeer Augusto Pinochet had overthrown the Marxist president Salvador Allende. Pinochet ended democracy and almost all civil liberties. Allende respected his country's elections and civil liberties. There are many examples of authoritarian free-market governments in the world, both past and present.  
While our US pundits and journalists harp about human rights abuses in countries like China, they overlook the many undemocratic trends in the US in recent years. Right-wing political leaders have expanded the rights of businesses and curtailed the rights of common citizens.
Why does the US have the highest percentage of its people in prison? Why are the rights of union workers being rolled back and the rights of unions to take part in politics being suppressed? Why are Republicans successfully able to cut back on some people's voting rights? And how democratic is a system that allows $billionaires to buy politicians and elections —leaving most voters out of the actual process of selecting candidates?
In other words maybe this country could use some democratic reforms of its own.
The real issue now is how to provide students in middle and high schools with alternative views on history and foreign affairs. Most students will never be exposed to anything other than pro-western, pro-capitalist, pro-US propaganda. By the time they graduate they will have no exposure to Marxist views of any kind. They are raised to believe they live in a country were there is "a Market place of ideas." They have been given a pro-western education telling them that all beliefs that conflict with the system of capitalism, that they have been raised in, is the best and that is presented as "fact."
In education we have a great challenge today to find ways to reach school children with exposure to ideas they have been told can't work.
For those of us who want to challenge the system, countering US propaganda in the form of "education" is one of our most difficult challenges.
-សតិវ អតុ

[1]  See S. Ishikawa, "China's Economic Growth Since 1949," China Quarterly, June 1983, Table 1; Raymond Lotta, "The Theory and Practice of Maoist Planning," in Raymond Lotta, ed., Maoist Economics and the Revolutionary Road to Communism (New York: Banner, 1994); Carl Riskin, "Judging Economic Development: The Case of China," Economic and Political Weekly, 8 October 1977.

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