It’s hard to understand another culture, to really get inside the mind of people who have grown up with completely different assumptions about life, the world, priorities, values, principles. But in order to bring genuine and lasting change, it’s important to take time to learn and identify not just the immediate needs, but the deeper things which form barriers to development.
One of the aspects of local culture here which forms such a barrier is the lasting impact of the Soviet Union on education, specifically on people’s ability to think. There are plenty of clever people here, but it’s not about intelligence; it’s more the assumption that people carry, largely formed through a dry and dictatorial education system, which says that what I’m told is how it is, and there’s no reason to question that.
As we work with local young people who are learning English, many with aspirations for new opportunities that their parents never had, we want their world to get bigger in a healthy way, and part of that is teaching a new way of thinking – not to reject everything I’m told, but to challenge it, test it, to think for myself and establish a fuller perspective.
One of our teachers, Sarah from the UK, has developed a new Critical Thinking course at Salem, which is already in its second semester. Recently she was able to explain the principles of this ground-breaking course at the ZhasCamp ’17 conference which was hosted by the Social Village.
“A person who has learned to think critically is always active, calling into question facts and opinions they encounter, assessing the world for themselves,” says Sarah as she explains this new concept. “Becoming a person who thinks for himself is important, giving you the chance to take on more new information and make good decisions.”
“Throughout my lessons, I constantly ask my students, ‘Why?’ I want to teach them to ask themselves that question, not just when I ask it. Ask yourself, do you really think independently, or do you just accept what someone else has told you? Are your assumptions about life really valid?” For students here, that’s a challenging question, but the indications already are that it’s an important one that they’re learning to really grapple with. And when that happens, a whole new opportunity for development begins to open up.