2/2: Media Literacy

Thursday – Day 3 of the training

Today the undercurrent of concerns about the cultural implications of teaching critical thinking took center stage.  A number of participants, with my encouragement, shared their concerns that critical thinking will undermine traditional authority. A number of participants (all male) feared aloud that media decoding would lead to questioning religious traditions that privilege men over women (although there was agreement that women deserved political equality).  Ultimately we reached consensus on the importance of teaching critical thinking and media literacy despite these concerns.  The debate, I think appropriately, will become focused on the specifics of what to question and how to lead the questioning .   One of the participants who is a Dzonka (Buthan’s language) teacher and a Buddhist monk, expressed exasperation that the classroom analysis of the Thangka (painting) we were examining would inevitably trivialize the complex meaning of the image.  Tomorrow he will deliver a practice session decoding a religious sculpture. It will provide an opportunity to continue the discussion of whether or not it is appropriate to decode/analyze Buddhist media.

Despite spirited debate over these issues, the group was unanimous in its desire to develop a comprehensive plan for the integration of media literacy throughout the K-10 formal curriculum of Bhutan.  I was impressed by the attentive listening by the high level administrators to the concerns and views of the teachers.  This work has allowed me to witness and participate in Bhutan’s genuine democratic debate about modernization.  Many of the participants have already developed creative and comprehensive plans that will use the decoding strategies we practiced this week to teach critical thinking skills.  Because its educational system is relatively new, and because of the consensus on the need to counter the influx of global media, Bhutan has a unique opportunity to truly infuse media literacy into multiple disciplines at all grade levels.  The obstacles are huge but the optimism, activism and determination are equally impressive.


Click on image to enlarge

The farmhouses are amazing; huge elaborately decorated wooden structures with the occasional painted penis.  Despite the romantic beauty of this rural land of happiness, there is a mass migration from Bhutan’s countryside to the cities, particularly Thimphu.  While it is still the only capital city in the world without a traffic light (they went back to police to direct traffic after a 5 year experiment with “impersonal” electronic devices), Thimpu displays many of the ailments of modern cities in the developing world.  So why are so many Bhutanese, particularly the young, fleeing from these scenic rural scenes?



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