Chinese Becomes New Language in the Classroom

Dan Harris on children learning Mandarin in affordable environments.
3:00 | 10/15/12

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Transcript for Chinese Becomes New Language in the Classroom
And toni we have a story about something going on in american classrooms across the country. A lot of parents want their children to learn to speak chinese, a lot of schools can't afford it. So what's been happening? Chinese teachers are coming in paid for by the chinese government. Abc's dan harris takes a look at the controversy. Reporter: It's wondrous and also completely adorable to see a room full of kindergartners in this struggling school district in macon, georgia, getting the opportunity to learn mandarin chinese. How do we say hello in chinese? Ni hao! Reporter: Can you count to five in chinese? Reporter: But language teachers are expensive. So how did this poor district make this happen? Here's the catch, macon is partnering with the chinese government, specifically an agency called the confucius institute whose mission it is to improve china's image abroad. The chinese train the teachers and pay half of their salaries. And this is not just happening in macon. According to the chinese government, they have set up shop at 75 universities around america and at nearly 300 primary and middle schools. The superintendent assured me that his american teachers are always in the room with the chinese instructors. But there was something he didn't know. Let me show you something because I want to see if this meets your standards. The video I'm about to show him on my phone is a cartoon from the "for kids" section of the confucius institute website which renames the korean war "the war to resist u.S. Aggression and aid korea." The institute recently pulled this video from its website. I don't know what this is but I can tell you that we are very much in charge of the curriculum that is delivered in our classroom. Reporter: Can you be sure they're not showing videos like this to our kids? We have all the curriculum that they deliver, so, yes. Reporter: So they run by you. Correct. Reporter: But does it worry you that they make a video like this at all? I don't get into politics. I'm an educator, I'm here to educate our kids. Reporter: Critics, including some top china experts and also some conservatives in congress worry that what begins as a simple language program could end up as a stealth pr campaign for a communist government with a terrible human rights record. You don't want other countries propagandizing your children. Reporter: We sent our beijing correspondent, abc's gloria riviera, to the headquarters of the confucius institute to get a response but she was turned away. The confucius institute has many prominent defenders including school officials in major cities like chicago, the college board and even the u.S. State department but here in make con a small group of parents have become vocal critics. Mandarin chinese is the number one language on the planet right now, so isn't it useful on some levels to teach children this language? I don't have a problem with the language itself, it's the way that it's being presented by the institute that leaves questions. Reporter: A heated debate and say, a dilemma. A program that presents children with a wonderful opportunity. But is it worth the trade-off? And dan is here, so, dan, is there evidence of any propagandaizing in the classroom. Short answer, no. They've been at it since 2006, the chinese government. We could find no hard evidence they've ever engaged in propaganda. How much money is the chinese government spending on this. We know it's millions of dollars a year. Experts say this is a vas amount of money compared to what other countries are doing, perhaps unprecedented. Is it going to grow and grow? How many classrooms, how many schools this this country are clamoring for it. The chinese are ambitious about this and say there's a lot of demand in america and plan to do a lot more in the future, not less. All right, a controversy in the classroom tonight, thank you, dan.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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