Beyond waypoints and world maps: Disrupting our understanding of diversity

Over 20,000 young people have participated in Out of Eden Learn in sixty countries around the world. Just over 50 percent of students have participated from public or government-funded institutions, about one percent are homeschooled, and the rest have participated from private or independent schools. Sixty percent of students have participated from within the United States, which is reflective of the fact that the project is US-based. The remaining 40 percent have participated from outside of the United States.

Young people do Out of Eden Learn in classrooms, after school programs, youth groups, home schools, and more. Educators have adapted Out of Eden Learn’s curricula to fit a wide range of content areas, including world history, language arts and writing, geographic science, journalism, photography, fine arts, ancient civilizations, government, digital citizenship, and many others.

This is all to say that Out of Eden Learn has certainly reached a variety of contexts. By mainstream measures in the realm of educational programs, our learning community would be categorized as “diverse.” But besides what we know from maps, surveys and metadata, what are we learning from students about the importance of the other diverse aspects of their lived experiences and how might that help disrupt our own understanding and definition of “diversity?”

Out of Eden Learn encourages participants to look closely at their lives and communities and share what they uncover, in the form of photographs, drawings and written stories. Some describe mountain ranges in their backyards and others share snapshots of city lights. They share personal experiences being homeschooled, being members of the LGBTQ community, being First Nations, living in gated communities, in migrant communities, in interim housing communities, and on military compounds.

Young people share the bits of themselves that are not likely to be categorized by check-boxes on a census report; the things that make us who we are but cannot be defined as A, B, or C; the kinds of music genres they listen to or their modes of transportation, and whether or not those choices are political; the foods they eat and the styles of clothing they wear; where they might be on a typical afternoon; and whether they choose paper, plastic, or bring their own bags. In surveys and interviews, Out of Eden Learn students tell us they are excited to really zoom in on the details of their own lives and the parts of themselves that they decide are worth sharing.

It is true we make our best effort to create online learning groups, or “walking parties,” that have as much geographic diversity as possible but we sometimes fall short of this expectation. In fact, there are a few values our research team hold in higher regard than just reaching waypoints on a map: that young people leave Out of Eden Learn with a curiosity and desire to engage in dialogue with other young people different from themselves, that they feel even just a little more equipped to do so, and that they are looking at themselves and the world around them a bit more carefully, with an eye to inquiry and an openness to perspectives different from their own.

Young people can develop these kinds of capacities and dispositions whether they are connecting across oceans or across tables in the same classroom. Our hope is to model for students and educators a way of valuing diversity that celebrates the world map, but also sets it aside when the moment calls for it. By emphasizing careful observation of the everyday, personal story-sharing, and authentic dialogue, we hope to encourage complex understandings of diversity and respectful inquiries into the many identities and experiences one person might hold, regardless of where they might be located in the world.

We are excited to learn how educators and students in our community are thinking about diversity in potentially more expansive ways as they take part in Out of Eden Learn. We look forward to hearing from you.

Out of Eden Learn invites young people to take neighborhood walks and share pictures of what they notice when they slow down to observe carefully. The animation above is a compilation of nearly 200 photographs by students around the world.

 

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