This post was co-authored by Carrie James and Shari Tishman.
This week, the US presidential election came to a close with an outcome that surprised many in the US and around the world. This election will be widely discussed and remembered as one of the most contentious and challenging elections in our history. Both the campaign and its outcome have revealed ideological divides that are far deeper than many of us imagined. Further, the vitriolic and hateful language that was used throughout the campaign spark concerns about the safety, well-being, and fair treatment of individuals living in our country and around the world.
As we on the Out of Eden Learn team have reflected on this historical moment, we’ve come to see our work as at once more challenging and more important than ever. Creating opportunities for meaningful dialogue across lines of difference – socioeconomic, racial, cultural, religious, ideological – is clearly urgent. But we are well aware that opportunities aren’t always taken up as one might hope. Filter bubbles and echo chambers prevail despite the many opportunities the internet offers to broaden our perspectives.
These concerns were high in our minds as we developed Out of Eden Learn (OOEL). We intentionally designed our platform and curriculum to bring youth from different backgrounds together for meaningful exchange. Readers who are familiar with Out of Eden Learn may recall that the program has three core goals: It invites young people and educators to 1) slow down to observe the world carefully and to listen attentively to others; 2) exchange stories and observations about people, place, and identity; and 3) reflect on how our own lives connect to bigger human stories.
As we consider the recent US election and its ripple effect across the world, these goals still feel absolutely right to us. Moreover, as we reflect back on the more than three years that Out of Eden Learn has been in existence, we are keenly aware of the good work that so many students and educators have already done—and indeed are doing at this very moment. Approximately 6,500 students in over 20 countries are currently participating in an OOEL learning journey.
For instance, we have seen how slowing down sparks students’ curiosity and encourages them to see the world near and far with fresh eyes. We have been impressed with the generosity with which young people listen to the stories of other people, taking care to ask thoughtful questions and to check their understandings and assumptions. We have watched young people develop their communication skills as they stretch to respectfully share their own ideas and to inquire about the ideas of others. We have been awed by the beautiful work students post on the Out of Eden Platform, and delighted by their eagerness to share it with one another.
Here in Cambridge, much of our work on Out of Eden Learn involves looking carefully at students’ work — their hand drawn maps and carefully observed photographs, their dialogues and discussions, their stories, poems, dreams. As we do this everyday work today — especially today — we can’t help but believe that the seeds of a more humane and just world are already being sown.
Still, these are difficult times. As our co-director, Liz Dawes Duraisingh put it in a recent blog post about the Brexit vote, how can we expect OOEL participants “to navigate the delicate balance between authentically expressing their points of view and demonstrating sensitivity towards others?” Further, how can we ensure that exchanges on OOEL lead to deeper, more humane understandings of one another rather than stereotypes, single stories or, worse, intolerance and outright hostility? The uncomfortable (and honest) answer to that question is that we can’t. But we can try our best. Cautiously, we pin our hopes on a curriculum that invites youth to share their own perspectives while slowly and intentionally listening to the voices and perspectives of others. We are more motivated than ever to support youth to take up that invitation.