TeachPaperless‘ Shelly Blake-Plock wrote an article here about filtering in China and in U.S. classrooms. It brought back memories to me of teaching English in China in 1999 during the ten year anniversary of the Tienanmen Massacre.
I was teaching English at a university in ShenYang, a heavy industry and mining city in Northeast China (think Cleveland or Pittsburgh). I remember we were using The JoyLuck Club in one of our classes and we had to cut out a part of the appendix because it mentioned Tienanmen Square and “that never happened” according to our Chinese overseerers.
If you remember in May 1999, NATO accidentally bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, Yugoslavia based on info. from the CIA. This tragedy was a wonderful opportunity for the Communist Party propaganda machine to distract the people from the anniversary by turning their anger against the U.S. The government-controlled CCTV did not immediately broadcast the news. Instead they waited until the evening news when all Chinese people would be watching (there are not a lot of choices on Chinese TV). Professors organized their students to protest at the consulates around China. This was shown on the evening news as the majority of Chinese people heard about the bombing for the first time. Students could be seen yelling through a microphone of a police cruiser. It was very organized and designed to distract the people from the ten year anniversary of Tienanmen Square.
As an outsider it was much easier for me to see how the Communist government was manipulating these events to their advantage. (There was even a conspiracy theory that the Chinese government paid Clinton to bomb it to distract the people. Remember the big stir here when he was renting out rooms in the White House? I don’t buy that though) Very few Chinese people saw it though and I had to try to explain it to my Chinese friends. A wise professor who tutored me in Mandarin saw through it all and we had great conversations as he pointed out that the United States had no motive and nothing to gain from the bombing. I learned about the power of propaganda through media and cultural perspective through this event. It has helped me re-evaluate the U.S. positions and actions throughout history more critically.
I want my students to think critically about all media and information that they encounter in life. It is scary when I make a statement in class that “it was on the Internet. It must be true” and no one disagrees with me. One of my goals for next year is to focus even more on critical thinking and evaluating skills. I want to adopt the approach of this great teacher who started the year off by showing kids that they need to question everyone and everything including himself. How will you teach students to think critically?