Critical Thinking in Bhutan
Karin and I are on our way back to the states after a beautiful, challenging and thought provoking time in The Land of the Thunder Dragon. I come away buoyed by my Bhutanese colleagues appreciation for Project Look Sharp’s approach to integrating media literacy and moved by their traditions of honoring their teachers. For the first two days of the workshop I was surprised by how long they all lingered after the workshop was over before leaving. On both days participants came up and asked me if it was OK to leave. I did not learn till the third day that it was considered rude to leave before the teacher. And then I found out that the teacher is also supposed to eat first. No wonder it took them so long to get started on lunch.
The last day I had an important conversation with one of the participants concerning authority, decision making and change in Bhutan. Although I led a consensual decision making process with the educators, it was made clear by the administrators that the decisions about educational policy are made from the top and that they would be implemented quickly and decisively. It was also made clear by the participants that they counted on the authorities to legitimate and drive action. The educators I worked with this week are smart, thoughtful and accustomed to following benign if not beloved authority. If my perceptions are accurate, Bhutan may be able to integrate media literacy far quicker than in the US where a more contentious process slows systemic change.
The king, and then the government, the administrators and now the professional educators have all, in succession, embraced the move towards democracy – and with it the necessity of teaching critical thinking. It is odd to think of critical thinking as coming in a directive from above but this is just one more Bhutanese irony that makes this an interesting and unpredictable experience for me.
The government has mandated both democracy and the wearing of traditional clothing. Atsara or jesters make fun of overly serious monks as a part of the Tshechu festival that celebrates the revered Guru Rimpoche. During his teaching about the Samsara, the monk paused and suggested that we could not possibly understand the true meaning of the painting because it was infinitely complex, and then he went on with the teaching. The participants laughed uproariously and then went back to carefully taking notes. While I have been honored to share Project Look Sharp’s models in Bhutan, I am comforted knowing that this nation will integrate its own traditions of complex, creative and critical thinking into a unique Bhutanese version of media literacy.
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