Listening to Learn: An Open Letter to Our Community

Greetings to our Out of Eden Learn Community and other readers of this blog,

We have been thinking about our community members in different places and contexts at this extraordinary time.

As you know, the Out of Eden Learn team is physically situated in the United States, where recent and ongoing events connected to police brutality and racial injustice have reverberated around the world. We recognize the importance of speaking out in solidarity with communities of color—and in particular, the African American community within the US. We did not rush to put out a statement about our values and support for the wave of protests and what feels like a real opportunity for social and political change. As a predominantly white-presenting team situated within a predominantly white research organization, we’ve been focusing our team’s energies on listening rather than speaking, while individually participating in local Black Lives Matter protest events and other advocacy. We’ve also shifted some of the ways we use our social media and have been sharing posts from trusted organizations that more squarely address matters of social and racial justice. It now feels time to open up a more direct conversation with our community.

We believe that our collective work is as relevant as ever at this time—namely, breaking down barriers among young people and encouraging them to learn thoughtfully both with and from one another by slowing down, sharing stories, and making connections. During the past several weeks, for example, we have been conducting virtual focus groups with young people who have been working with our Three O’s framework of overgeneralization, overconfidence, and othering, which supports young people to both reflectively and critically engage with the world—online, in person, when reading the news, etc. Students’ thoughtful responses to our questions reveal that they are finding this framework to be a salient and powerful tool for interpreting and navigating the fraught and complicated world in which we all live. We invite you to scroll through some of their comments in the gallery below, and we look forward to sharing more about this work with you soon.

We have also been learning from educators about best practices for using our Dialogue Toolkit in order to promote thoughtful online and in-person interactions, including among youth who would not ordinarily encounter one another or who know little about each other’s lives. And we have been working on a video that captures what students have been learning about the interdependency of systems related to environmental and human health via our Planetary Health curriculum. We will share these new resources with you soon.

Nevertheless, while we believe all this work to be relevant and worthwhile, there are some genuine puzzles associated with doing international work focused on intercultural exchange across very different settings. Some questions on our mind include: Is OOEL paying too little attention to global inequities, including ones related to racial injustice? Is the project effectively upholding the status quo by not directly promoting activism or more critical debate? Because of the pseudonymous nature of the platform—and the extremely limited sharing of demographic information (e.g. race, gender, etc.)—are OOEL students and teachers steering clear of potentially uncomfortable and complicated, yet ultimately important conversations? As a research team, we recognize that we do not fully understand the specific learning experiences of students who experience various kinds of marginalization in their daily lives, nor have we persistently asked how we might serve them differently or better. Given the composition and geographic location of our research team, we undoubtedly have blindspots and biases in the most fundamental ways in which we develop the program and conduct our research.

As we reflect on what we need to do both in the short term and long term to improve our work, we recognize that we need our community’s help. One first step will be to send out a short survey to our educators in the coming days. The survey will ask the following four questions. We invite you to consider them now, and we warmly—and humbly—look forward to your survey responses.  Stay tuned for an email with the link to the survey.

  1. Consider one or more students in your classroom who might experience some type of marginalization and/or inequities—perhaps for different reasons, such as racial-, ethnic- or gender-based marginalization or inequities due to cognitive or physical differences. How, if at all, are they already experiencing safety and inclusivity on OOEL? For example, are there specific footsteps or activities that work particularly well for these students?
  2. What additional resources or strategies are you using to help support these students to participate in OOEL?
  3. How could the OOEL program be more inclusive for students who experience marginalization or inequity in their daily lives? How might specific features of our program, platform, or curricula be modified to better support these students?
  4. Some aspects of the OOEL curriculum encourage students to explore connections between their everyday lives and bigger systems. Are there specific ways that you think OOEL already helps students explore how systemic racism or local and/or global systems that promote different kinds of injustices such as economic, health, or environmental injustices?
  5. Would you like OOEL activities to do more to help students delve deeply into how local and global social and economic systems work, and how students themselves might be connected to such systems?  If so, what would you like to see?  What ideas would you like to share with us?     

If anyone reading this blog would like to leave a comment or email us at learn@outofedenwalk.com, we would welcome your thoughts. With resolve, intentionality, and humility, we hope to take the necessary steps to move onward and upward together.

With love,

The Out of Eden Learn Team

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