Critical thinking in Indian Culture
The western world has a high regard for Indian students on account of their ability to excel in certain areas of education. India has always been known for strong culture of learning. However, the Indian method of learning is truly a mixed bag.
It is quite interesting to trace the historical process to this present ethos. It begins with the ancient guru-shishya (the Teacher- Disciple relationship) that borders on almost the disciple worshipping the Teacher. Knowledge and skills are passed down in a “tradition of spiritual relationship and mentoring” on the premise that the teacher is wise, learned, experienced, genuine and worthy of respect. On the part of the student the expectation is total devotion, total respect, total obedience, and total commitment. It was through this teaching-learning process that advanced knowledge was passed on. The wisdom, knowledge gained through learning and experience was lived out by the Guru and acquired through life by the student. In this system of learning, there was very little space for questioning and critical thinking.
Into this framework and context entered the missionaries and the introduction of the Western mind. In came the spirit of the explorer changing the patterns and systems of education and learning. The first modern university was set up in Serampore by William Carey, Marshman and Ward. That started to change the educational system and usherd in a new learning process. But it is certainly evident that a good amount of the former trait is still very prevalent. At the same time I can also trace within my culture a bit of what Paul and Elder refer to as “Egocentric thinking and socio centric thinking”.
The book The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking Concepts and Tools was simple and quick reading, it was powerful and very challenging for me. My cultural background and upbringing leaves little room for critical thinking. Having been brought up in an environment that seldom encouraged critical thinking and questioning, this little book challenges my way of thinking and the manner in which I process information. Further, the charts and visiuals that the authors have laid out so vividly make the principles they describe easy to understand, remember and use.
The authors point out that people possess an unrealistic but mistakenly confident sense of having all the answers and solution and think they may have even achieved all of this in an objective manner. I was particularly drawn to the point emphasising that the whole purpose of critical thinking is directed inward rather than outward and that critical thinking seeks to discipline the thinker and monitors itself. “Intellectual humility” to me is the crown of all intellectual traits. Consistently following the steps outlined and suggested by Paul and Elder will shape my ongoing learning as well as communicating skills. This book is definitely not a onetime read. It becomes a handbook for the rest of my life.
Finally for me a very important question arises relating to my faith. Does the Bible encourage critical thinking? The answer is yes. It does not call for a blind belief and following but to test its truths and thoroughly think through what it means to place one’s faith in a God who cannot be seen and One who stands on behalf of the oppressed, the marginalized and the hapless.
While reading the book, I was reminded of a beautiful poem (actually a prayer) I learnt in school. It is written by Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore one of India’s great poets and writers of modern Indian literature. It is a classic reflection of the Indian mind to be liberated from the bondages of tradition, and for the mind to be set free and to think freely:
“WHERE the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.”
“Poets’ Corner – Rabindranath Tagore – Where The Mind Is Without Fear.” Poets’ Corner – Rabindranath Tagore – Where The Mind Is Without Fear. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Sept. 2012. <http://www.theotherpages.org/poems/2000/t/tagore01.html>.
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