3/7 – “Kuzu Zangpo!”

“Kuzu Zangpo!”  Teacher Training at Samtse College of Education, Bhutan

Today I began the first day of this two-day training with 289 students who are just beginning their final year of college in teacher education; next year they will be spread out across the country, mostly in rural areas, teaching primary or secondary school.  Even with the national mandate to integrate media literacy into the curriculum, they had had no introduction to media literacy at all – I was it.

I had learned one Bhutanese phrase in Dzongkha – “Kuzu Zangpo” (welcome, may you be blessed) – which I used to start my presentation in the morning and afternoon, and that led to delight and a resounding response from the students.  Throughout my work with them, the students have been attentive and mostly quiet – hesitant to raise their hands in response to questions – but whenever they became engaged in a question or issue under discussion (which happened increasingly as the day went on), there was a “buzz” of conversation and vigorous nodding or shaking of heads.

We started by talking about what we mean by “media” – and I included examples of a wide range of traditional Bhutanese media (thangkas, architecture, festivals, banners, prayer flags, etc.), and led a media decoding of money from 6 African countries, from the U.S., and from Bhutan. I ended by showing the new 169-foot Buddha statue, the “Wheel of Existence” thangka that Chris used last month, and the official royal photograph of the King and Queen.  Because of the feedback I had gotten from the DOIM folks, I cautioned the students to probably NOT decode these images in the classroom, given their complexity, and noted that it might be inappropriate – from a religious or government perspective – to have students analyze the authorship, purpose, meaning, etc. of those images.  Interestingly, the students disagreed – and we ended by discussing whether it might work better to show those types of images in a broader media context that would provide a different framework for the discussion – as in the use of the royal photograph in this shop window or in discussing why the U.S. news media chose to emphasize the picture of the King kissing his new queen rather than the royal photograph itself.

We sped through a lot of material – what we mean by “media literacy” and “critical thinking,” and spent much of the morning on decoding some basic media documents.   They were very engaged in decoding the paintings “Discovery of the Mississippi by DeSoto” and “The Last Supper,” and also in the decodings of two clips from the fictional film “Travelers and Magicians” in comparison with one clip from a documentary about Bhutan.  But what they loved the most was the decoding of the Nepali TV commercial for “Fair and Lovely,” a product that will make a woman’s skin softer and whiter.  This raised many issues for the students, including  who benefits from – and who might be harmed by – messages like this.

We spent the afternoon talking about ways to integrate media literacy into specific subject areas, and before the afternoon tea break I divided the whole group in half to analyze the messages and meaning of a popular Korean music video based on the KISS song “Because I’m a Girl.”  Half of the students left the auditorium to work in pairs decoding the printed lyrics of the song, while the other half worked in pairs to analyze the visual music video itself (without the sound or subtitles).   Bringing the two groups together 20 minutes later, we had the first real vigorous discussion in which students volunteered to make individual comments about the messages in the song.  Thos with the printed lyrics concluded that the messages were that girls fall in love easily and often get their hearts broken, while boys (men) don’t really care and treat poorly.  Several male students asked why I had chosen this song to decode – was it because I was a woman myself?  That led to a good laugh, and a great conversation about the choices we make as educators about what media examples to decode.  This was especially rich, since the students who saw only the video itself (without the lyrics) had come to completely different conclusions about the meaning of the story – seeing it as a sad tale of lost love, where the man sacrificed his eyesight to help restore the sight of the woman he loved.  What a great session!

How do your opinions and biases influence the choices you make as an educator about media documents to analyze and discuss?

At the end of the afternoon, following a presentation and discussion about media effects and media violence, I decided to try doing “take a stand” with the whole group of 280+ students – asking those who felt that the introduction of television and the internet had been largely bad for Bhutan to stand on one side of the room, those who felt they had been largely good for Bhutan to stand on the other side, and those who had mixed feelings to find the place in the middle that best represented their opinion.  While there were a few people on the “bad for Bhutan” side, most people lined up somewhere between the middle and the “good for Bhutan” side.  I checked in with people who were standing in different places, and there was a little shifting in attitudes as people made different statements – and a lot of interest in this as an activity that they could do with their students for topics in which there was a range of opinions.  It was a powerful way to end the day.

How could you use “take a stand” in your classroom?

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