Mandatory Mandarin at Ross

China’s booming economy has East Hampton school looking to Asia

    An e-mailed letter to Ross School parents on Aug. 8 announced the addition of Mandarin Chinese as part of the lower-school curriculum, something that was welcomed by parents as a further step in Ross’s mission of creating “global citizens.”
    But it was the next letter from Michele Claeys, head of school, announcing that Mandarin would be required in grades kindergarten through 12, and a degree of fluency would be necessary for graduation — with Spanish relegated to before or after school lessons for K through 8 — that had some parents seeing red.
    At a lower school parents’ meeting last Friday, some of the parents were quite vocal about their opposition to this change in curriculum. Some brought up the importance of the Romance languages to the history of art and music, others felt that Spanish was simply more useful for Americans.
    “Mandarin has been offered at Ross since 1998,” Ms. Claeys said yesterday. “We’ve been closely examining our whole curriculum, and we’ve been getting some really good feedback.”
    The decision for students to engage in 12 years of Mandarin study coincides with the school’s determination that “M-term” — a three-week intensive study that has included many trips abroad to exotic places — will offer China as its sole international choice this year, along with other studies at the school and trips to locations in the United States.
    “The school started in Japan and China 20 years ago,” said Courtney Sale Ross, the school’s founder. “This is a way of honoring and celebrating our 20th anniversary.”
    M-terms next year will again include ventures to other ports, Mrs. Ross said. “If a faculty member had a great idea this year to go to Cuba, that’s great, hold that idea,” she said. “Cuba will still be there next year.”
    Both Ms. Claeys and Mrs. Ross were clear that Mandarin was a language that children needed to begin studying as soon as possible in elementary school, since “Mandarin takes significantly longer to learn,” Ms. Claeys said. “We want to give our students the highest levels of fluency possible.”
    “Americans are monolinguistic,” Mrs. Ross said. “We are geographically handicapped. European schools require you to speak two languages in addition to your home language by the time of graduation.”
    Why Chinese? “It’s not a secret that China’s economy is booming,” said Mrs. Ross. “It’s predicted that their economy will surpass ours in 10 years. And it’s many people’s opinion — not just mine, but the State Department, the leaders of this country — that students with a degree of fluency in Mandarin will possess a skill set that is highly valued.”
    She was also quick to point out that it is not just about the future, but also about the past. “China is historically rich,” she said. “It’s not just the language, it’s the culture.”
    Spanish will still be part of the schedule for the high school, and possibly the middle school. “It was a scheduling problem this year to keep Spanish class as part of the regular school day for the lower grades with this new initiative,” Mrs. Ross said, adding that parents who feel that they want their children to continue with Spanish are offered the opportunity, free of charge, before school begins, or an afternoon class for a fee.
    Ms. Claeys said that while fluency is hoped for by graduation, each student would be viewed individually, so that the years they have spent studying Mandarin would be taken into account for the final exam. “We’re phasing it in in the upper school to see what fluency can be achieved,” she said.
    “I Skyped last night with some of our Mainland Chinese boarders,” Mrs. Ross said. “I asked them what they would want for their U.S. colleagues going to China this year for M-term.”
    “One lovely girl from Hong Chou said she would be interested in service work, since people view China as an economic power, but service work there is very important.” Mrs. Ross also said she hoped some of the Chinese students at Ross would consider going back to their homeland for M-term to help the American students fully enjoy their experience.
    “My desire has always been to give these students grounding to be global citizens,” Mrs. Ross said. “The writing is on the wall — it’s going to be important in their lifetime to have a grasp of Mandarin Chinese.”
    “They will be able to build bridges with other nations as a result,” she said.
    As to the concerned parents, Mrs. Ross said, “I think it’s a bit of a tempest in a teapot. Most parents and faculty are really excited, and somehow it got twisted. I’m taking a stand on Chinese to create global citizens. It’s in keeping with the mission of the school.”


china is in an economic slowdown like the rest of the world, is responsible for commodity prices spiraling out of control due to demand, and has one of the worst human rights records in the world. china supports north korea, oversees tibetan monks suicides . what an enlightening class trip that should be.
I wish to address the previous comment. All of these points may well be true, but I believe this is a very politicized way of viewing the issue. China's government has violated human rights, has manipulated domestic currency to affect export prices, etc. None of these actions of the state should suprpass what is really important - there are many PEOPLE in the world that speak mandarin, many of whom live in our community, and who must be considered as PEOPLE rather than being lumped into the actions of their state. Mandarin speakers are a growing demographic in the United States. We can all benefit from having more linguistically and culturally competant citizens at home, and abroad, and need to realize that people, culture, history and the state are all intertwined, but should not be so lumped together that we devalue teaching kids a major world language, and ensuring they have perspective on an ancient and valuable culture. I take offense at the idea that encouraging students to visit another country - any country - or learn another language - any language - could possibly be a bad idea.
are you courtney ross?
This is obviously a Progressive (commie) elitist private school. Parents have the CHOICE not to send their children there. There's nothing wrong with learning Mandarin. However, mandating it for ALL is rather UN-American, wouldn't you say?
courtney will do what she wants. doesn't care that the real local community thinks of her as a joke. frittering away her dead husbands empire on things like her recent ex - trophy husbands music career. or lawyers trying to squelch the truth about the ross school. how many of those under privileged scholarship kids made it to college? she gets federal funds for tuition scholarships. $23,000 or more a year per student. not to sound racist, but i see these scholarship kids back on the reservation selling cigarettes. why? because they went to ross and received a make believe education. they have to go back to the real world. while their rich classmates continue their make believe lives. she doesn't care that her teachers hang out and get high with the students. in fact, she went out of her way to re - hire him at least 3 time. put the HR director under oath and ask her. any one remember the case of the pedophile teacher? or the former head of the school with sado-masochistic gay porn on his desktop computer? of course not. my cousin's daughter once told me this: "Friends don't let friend's go to Ross." She went to Southampton High and is now attending a prominent Ivy League school.
I would like to weigh in on the original story, as it hints at a problem that many in the Ross community have concerns about. But the comments above are so filled with vitriol and nonsense that what I have to say will no doubt be seen in an unhelpful context. If possible, please consider what I suggest in the hopeful light I intend. The Ross School is an amazing place for learning. Many of the teachers are beyond top notch. They are passionate about the material, and they are passionate about teaching. They work very hard to adapt to what are, for many, whole new areas of scholarship, and to teach it to their students as they learn it themselves. The curriculum is fantastic, and offers a lot to every student. But, Ross has raised concerns in the past over what often seem like whimsical maneuvers, like replacing the head of school on a regular basis. The good news for the last couple of years has been that Ross has been led by very capable and respectful people who were allowed to do their jobs without too much interference. Michele Claeys and Bill O'Hearn are great leaders, and they have worked hard to demonstrate that Ross isn't a slapdash operation. Unfortunately, The Ross Institute failed in New York City. It's new charter school was the worst performing school in the entire NYC school system. Now, Jennifer Chidsey, the leader of the failed Institute, has been brought back to Ross. And now, out of nowhere, the respect that is one of the Ross School's guiding principles, is gone. Now, it's a "tempest in a teapot" that makes people who reasonably expected the same opportunities for travel and study as Ross has offered for years angry and disillusioned. But we are not comfortable with this lack of respect, and neither are the many teachers who worked hard preparing for trips and studies that now, "can wait for next year.". And this is why? Because rather than offering a Chinese focus and additional travel opportunities, we are told from on high that this makes perfect sense because the Ross family started the school on a trip there twenty years ago.
I agree with "Ross Parent": calling parents' opinions a 'tempest in a teapot' does not seem to rhyme with Respect (one of the core values of Ross School). Today's China has just as much to do with its capitalist communist present than with its ancient past: it is certainly not "green" (another core value of Ross School) and it openly disregards Intellectual Property rights. The Chinese educational system encourages competition over cooperation (another Ross core value), and the typical Chinese toddler learns more about military discipline than about empathy... of course exceptions are ever present and massacres are indeed solely based on political decisions -- yet how can we, and "Ross Alum" (see comment no 2) ignore the fact that learning a language also means learning about a culture? What would you call the core values of contemporary China? Learning Chinese is no doubt good for business purposes. Some of the parents may consider this a top priority, and they would surely welcome Chinese as an optional choice. Yet choosing a language involves a wide range of factors other than CV building: immersion in any language means developing relationships with natives, embracing a culture, spending time in the country -- any foreign language we immerse in inevitably shapes our identity... and every parent should ask him/herself whether he/she wants his/her child to spend not only weeks, but potentially years or decades of his/her career in a faraway country such as China. This is why choosing a language for our children should be a highly personal choice. This is why Ross School should respect the concerns of primary caregivers' by making Mandarin optional -- this is also what all the New York City private schools do.
how does a private school get 23,000 per scholarship student? please explain this to me
amazing that no parents would give their names- goes with character of school- non-existent
Northwestwoods, Your hostility to what you are unfamiliar with is palpable, but that's no business of mine. There are many good reasons for sharing in this type of forum anonymously, but you are entitled to unrelated ad hominum attacks and opinions if it pleases you. I see you kept your own name private as well. Did that strike you as somehow different? If you are interested in education, I'd recommend you check into what is on offer at Ross. Our concerns with the administration of the school have nothing to do with the truly remarkable things that happen in the classrooms, labs, and even on the tennis courts. The senior project presentations are open to the public, and if you want to be inspired, I'd suggest you check them out in the new year. The trips are no longer paid for by the school, but they are often life-changing in their scope and ambition. I won't fault your character, as I don't know you. The Ross School isn't perfect, and it's become expensive. But it teaches the importance of certain core values, even as its leaders sometimes fail to live up to them. Along with the importance of coherent writing skills, and a clear sense of the place of individuals in larger contexts, they also teach practical life skills, art, music, and cultural history in often exciting and innovative ways . Do you have a problem with any of these things, or my listing them without making the discussion personal by giving my name?
As a parent who was looking for an examplary education, Ross was a joke...the lack of respect for parents is shocking. Children are allowed so much time off, it's a wonder if they learn anything. With only a handful of adequate teachers, and other administration who have "questionable" education that impede adequate learning, if anyone from the New York Board of Education came to visit, they would be appalled. If parents really knew what they were getting into, they would run. It is too bad that Asian parents of their children who are visiting boarders have no idea what they are getting their children into. Spending what one would spend on any top college, for Ross, is a travesty. There is no one where one can air grievances and get an actual is reminisant of the Truman Show. It all looks barely acceptable on the surface, but there is nothing underneath and no where to go when you find your child at the other end of unfair practices....buyers beware!!!!!