In a recent post I discussed our attempts to refine our curriculum and research agenda for Out of Eden Learn. I particularly focused on the concepts of “slow” and “culture” as two themes that stood out to us from informal interviews with young people and educators, as well as from participant reflections on our website.
Here is the latest iteration of our learning goals. We begin by stating what we are asking learners to do; we then list what we hope they will get out of engaging in these actions. We are seeking to identify goals that are broad enough to be compatible with educators’ own teaching objectives but specific enough to convey what is unique about Out of Eden Learn.
Out of Eden Learn invites young people and educators to:
Slow down to observe the world carefully and to listen attentively to others
Exchange stories about people, place, and identity
Reflect on how their own lives connect to bigger human stories
We hope that by taking one of our learning journeys participants will develop:
- Strategies for slowing down to engage in close looking and careful listening
- A curiosity to learn more about people and places that are not familiar to them
- New insights into their own lives, communities, and identities
- Strategies for situating their own lives within broader geographic and historic contexts
- An inclination and ability to make connections across context, time, and place
- A range of communication skills, including telling stories and interacting with people from varied backgrounds
You will notice that “slow” features prominently in these goals – consonant with its deep resonance with the objectives of Paul’s walk, the positive feedback we have received from educators and students, and its compatibility with the ongoing educational mission and values of Project Zero. However, we have deliberately omitted the term “culture” in this current framing of our goals. Why?
One reason for backing away from stating that our project is about the promotion of cultural awareness or “intercultural competence” is that culture is an extremely broad concept open to many different interpretations. For example, some Out of Eden Learn students and educators use it to refer to other people’s customs, religions, and lifestyles. Other participants use a more expansive definition consistent with the notion of “cultures of learning”: in this case, culture is seen to pervade and shape virtually everything that human beings do. Conversely, we have heard that it means something more specific to our participants in the Northwestern Territories of Canada: for these students, “culture” evokes their community’s own struggle for cultural and linguistic survival and is at the very center of their school curriculum. We hope to sidestep possible misunderstandings by directly focusing instead on the kinds of strategies and dispositions that are likely to lead young people to develop more nuanced understandings of other people and themselves, including how individual lives and perspectives are connected to wider geographic and historical contexts.
Furthermore, prevalent conceptual models for “intercultural competence” do not sit well with the goals and spirit of Paul’s walk and Out of Eden Learn. While well intentioned, it seems to us that these frameworks assume that we should be able to “know” or anticipate other people’s cultures or behaviors depending on where they are from or even perhaps by how they look. Paul’s journalism involves observing and listening carefully to other people to hear their stories; he does not cast himself as a “culturally competent” human being who knows how to communicate appropriately with, say, Saudis or Turks or Latinos. Rather, he humbly and continually seeks to learn from and with other people, starting from an assumption that there is shared common humanity at the root of all human interactions. We would like our learning goals to convey an ongoing process of inquiry or way of being in the world rather than a means to acquire a set of useful skills or “competences”.
It is in this spirit that we are positively embracing the notion of having students “exchange stories about people, place, and identity”. Indeed, our inclusion of the word “stories” represents a subtle shift in our thinking – which is perhaps surprising given that Paul identifies himself first and foremost as a storyteller. Team member and doctoral student Jessica Fei has been influential in this regard. Her experimental local project Story/Space (which she will blog about in the coming weeks) emphasized the sharing of stories and elicited rich responses from participating youth. We hope that by tweaking some of our existing footsteps to foreground their story-telling potential, we can facilitate powerful cross-cultural encounters and learning opportunities within our online space – which will likely be all the more impactful for not making learning about “culture” the focus of attention.
Finally, I would like to stress that the new framing of our goals is by no means set in stone. Moving forward, we hope to work collaboratively with both educators and young people to continue to develop the learning and research agenda of Out of Eden Learn. Educators will be able to choose how involved they would like to be in this process in the coming months and years. In the meantime, we would love to hear suggestions for edits or additions to our goals. We look forward to an ongoing conversation via the venue that best suits you – for example, on upcoming Google+ Hangouts, within our Educator Forum and/or on Facebook.