China Focus: SAT reform causes worry of ideology intrusion

2014-08-27 13:40:22 GMT2014-08-27 21:40:22(Beijing Time)  Xinhua English

BEIJING, Aug. 27 (Xinhua) -- Including content from America's founding documents in a revised US college entry exam has drawn attention in China, with worries the materials may impose the American values system on students.

Earlier this year, the US College Board announced a set of changes to the SATs, including passages selected from the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights in the reading section.

The move stirred heated debates in China as to whether it will turn out to be a new form of imperialism, following the exporting of American culture and ideology through Hollywood and fast food.

The debate started with an article published in the South China Morning Post on August 21, in which author Kelly Yang argued the new focus on American civil liberties may "change the mindset and world view of an entire generation of Chinese youth."

"If the new SAT succeeds, it will be the first time America is able to systematically shape the views, beliefs and ideologies of hundreds of thousands of Chinese students every year, not through a popular television show or a politician's speaking tour, but through what the Chinese care about most - exams."

Yang Rui, an English anchor from CCTV (China Central Television) wrote on Weibo it could be a continuation of the "peaceful evolution" policy that started in the 1950s.

Wang Enming, professor with Shanghai International Studies University, agreed the change of the exam could be seen as an attempt to spread American culture.

"But we should be aware that it is not tailor-made for Chinese students," Wang said. "Because [those who take the exam] are from all around the world."

America is a country of immigrants and its growing cultural pluralism has been fragmenting their culture and values, he said.

"Thus the American people themselves, especially immigrants, are also in need of a strengthened education of American values. A deepened understanding of the country's founding documents can help them form a better cultural identity ," he said.

There are around 50,000 registrations for the exam in the Chinese mainland every year. Total registrants surpass 1.6 million annually, according to Li Nannan, senior manager in Overseas Testing Management Center of New Oriental Group, a well-known English training agency in China.

Many believe the SAT reform should not be interpreted from a political point of view.

Zhang Jian, professor with Beijing Foreign Studies University, said, the reform is aimed at better evaluating a student's ability for analysis, critical thinking and problem solving.

The changes will not alter world views of Chinese students because they also study the founding documents when learning American history, he said.

Deng Hongfeng, retired Dean of the Confucius Institute at Texas A&M University, pointed out American values are not contradictory to Chinese values.

"What the Americans uphold, such as the notion of freedom and democracy, are also shared by Chinese," he said.

Learning about the founding documents of America can help the Chinese students foster a more profound understanding of the culture, which will be helpful for their life and study after entering American universities, Li of New Oriental English says.

Learning of the changes, Tang Anran, a 20-year-old Beijing woman studying at Ohio State University, says she feels lucky to have taken the SAT two years ago.

"The new SAT will add knowledge of American history and put emphasis on critical thinking and analyzing skills, which hits the weakness of Chinese students like me," she explained.

In Tang's eyes, people should never worry about whether it will change Chinese students' values.

"We have been studying in China for 12 years. Several months of test preparation will change nothing. We learn the knowledge just for the exam, and after that, we forget it," she said.

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