Charter School Chain that Teaches Falun Gong Applies to Open in New York
CHINATOWN — The woman who led a failed attempt to establish a controversial bilingual charter school for Chinese immigrants in Queens last year is now aiming to open six schools in Chinatown and Flushing in 2014.
Dr. Lotus King Weiss is hoping to open the Confucius Teachings Charter School chain, including two elementary, two middle and two high schools, which could all include instruction in martial arts and Falun Gong meditation.
The schools, with their philosophy grounded in the teaching of Confucius, would use bilingual teachers to allow mostly Chinese immigrant students to hold on to the language and culture of their homeland, while becoming completely integrated into American society.
"We are going to preserve 5,000 years of culture and help them to systematically enter mainstream America," Weiss said.
Last year's bid, submitted under the name Whole Elephant Charter School, was rejected by the state Department of Education, which cited an incomplete application, according to Weiss.
She is the lead organizer of the schools, along with Xiaomin Xu, an educator in Chinese culture, and Ruthui Huang, who Weiss described as a Chinatown mother and local resident.
Confucius Teachings Charter School submitted a letter of intent for the schools last week to the State University of New York Charter Schools Institute. The plan would have to go through a public hearing and approvals process.
If approved, the schools — split between District 30 in Queens and District 1 in Manhattan — would enroll a total of 280 students for the first year before growing to 1,380 within five years.
Confucius Teachings Charter is planning to begin with a first-year class at each school, such as kindergarten, before adding a grade each year until the schools are full.
The language and cultural barriers for Chinese immigrants in the city's school system create huge boundaries for true integration, Weiss said, a problem she hopes to solve through Confucius Teachings Charter.
"They [parents] don’t go to PTA meetings. Their children stay at home and are very isolated," she said.
Weiss, whose former name is Dr. Tongwen Wang, moved from China 25 years ago and is a Harvard-trained doctor and American Cancer Society Scholar. Weiss also runs a nonprofit in Flushing — the Whole Elephant Institute — that promotes traditional Chinese culture.
While Weiss said Xu, Huang and she are still working out the details of the school, Confucius Teachings Charter could include an option for students to practice Falun Gong, a meditation method outlawed in China.
"They will turn into excellent students," she said. "If they want to participate in Falun Gong in this country, let them do it.”
Weiss claims she became the target of persecution by the Chinese Communist government when, in 1999, she began to research the health benefits of Falun Gong, which is also known as Falun Dafa.
If Confucius Teachings Charter classrooms become a reality, bilingual instructors will teach regular subjects such as science and math mostly in Chinese.
"They are able to speak to the children in their own language," Weiss said.
Children would also learn English with the explanations and instruction spoken in Chinese.
Weiss is also banking that non-Chinese parents will be attracted to the school for its ability to offer immersion in Chinese language and culture.
"More and more Americans want their children to learn Chinese," Weiss said. She is also looking to hire trilingual teachers to assist Spanish and Korean-speaking immigrants.
The school's values and philosophy will be based on Confucius' teachings, a philosophy that states children's education should be holistic — encompassing mind, body and spirit — according to Weiss.
"The entire teaching and philosophy will be the central feature of the school and will be integrated into every aspect of teaching," she said.
Along with a focus on students becoming leaders to bring "peace and prosperity to the world," they will be taught to hold elders in high esteem, Weiss said.
"The students show total respect to the teacher," she said.