Navigating a Culturally Complex World: An Introduction to the Three O’s Framework

This piece was co-authored by Liz Dawes Duraisingh, Sheya, and Nir Aish from the Out of Eden Learn team.

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Overgeneralization. Overconfidence. Othering. These three overlapping behaviors make up the Three O’s.

  • Overgeneralization: making comments about whole groups of people as if everyone’s experience or perspective were the same.
  • Overconfidence: overestimating how much one knows or understands about a phenomenon or group of people, leading to a lack of curiosity or appropriate humility about the limits of one’s knowledge.
  • Othering: implicitly or explicitly conveying that one does not consider people from another group to be quite one’s equal, perhaps through a dismissive or overly pitying tone.

This framework emerged from a close examination of what students were generally learning about culture(s) on the Out of Eden Learn platform, as well as what they were learning more specifically about migration from the Stories of Human Migration curriculum. Data from these studies (including student work, dialogue, surveys, and interviews) displayed for the most part highly positive learning outcomes: for example, showing great interest in and concern for one another’s stories; developing more nuanced understandings about culture(s) and/or migration; and exhibiting greater self-awareness regarding their own identities and perspectives on the world. However, we also identified some subtle and occasionally not-so-subtle behaviors that felt less aligned with the underlying philosophy and intent of Out of Eden Learn: the Three O’s of overgeneralization, overconfidence, and othering (read more about these promises and pitfalls).

When we started to talk about these opportunities and challenges, educators unsurprisingly showed interest in the Three O’s: trying to help young people understand and navigate the cultural complexities of our contemporary world can be challenging and complicated. We wondered what further resources we could develop for students and educators and whether explicitly naming the Three O’s upfront would be helpful. During a recent OOEL launch, we piloted a video that attempted to explain the Three O’s to students before they engaged on Out of Eden Learn and asked a group of educators to explicitly discuss the Three O’s with their students in class.

Over recent weeks we held informal Zoom-facilitated focus groups—some with students aged 10-13; others with students aged 13-18. The students came from a range of family backgrounds and geographic locations: Adelaide in South Australia; a village in Bihar, India as well as the city of Thane—and in the United States, small towns and big cities in: Massachusetts, Illinois, Connecticut, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, and the Hawaiian island of Hawai`i.

Did students find it useful to have the Three O’s named before interacting with peers living in different contexts to their own? What did each of the Three O’s mean to them? What connections did they make between the Three O’s and other aspects of their life? Have they Three O’d others? Have others Three O’d them? We also separately interviewed teachers to learn from their experiences and perspectives.

What we have been learning reflects the stark realities of our time and offers a good deal of hope. Students expressed a genuine desire and commitment to learn about—and talk about—the Three Os. They shared experiences and observations from their daily lives in ways that indicated multidimensional applications of the Three O’s. In upcoming blog posts we will share their insights along with practical classroom tools we are in the process of developing. We believe these tools and insights might help other students–and indeed all of us–to interpret and navigate our complex world, both on- and offline.

If you are interested in learning more about the Three O’s framework, join OOEL team members for an upcoming two-part Project Zero online virtual workshop on August 10th and 12th.

Screen Shot 2020-07-31 at 2.54.53 PMWe hope to see you there!

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