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Learning From Ladakh

By Bill Bigelow

I tell students that we're going to watch a video about a place that most of them likely have never heard of before. On a world map, I point out the state of Jammu and Kashmir in far northern India, squeezed between Pakistan and Tibet (a country controlled by China). I tell them that, as they watch the video, they should note as many aspects of Ladakhi culture as they can, and I ask students for the meaning of "culture." We needn't settle on any particular dictionary-like definition, but I want them to begin with the understanding that culture is a totality, that it's everything human that is not biological — what we can see, like clothing; what we can hear, like language and music; what we can taste, like food. But it's also habits, patterns , and ways of thinking; it's the values and attitudes that give meaning to any particular cultural artifact.

On the board I make three columns: