How do we build a future of education that inspires young people to honor diverse voices? We might follow the path Emmanuel Acho paves in Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Boy. Acho’s work is both a manual for “approaching awkward, taboo, and uncomfortable questions,” and a lens into Black history, Black culture, and pathways to dismantling racism. His lessons serve as a catalyst for young people to cultivate a genuine interest in learning about individuals whose lived experiences are much different from their own. This might be the perfect resource for supporting young people (from all backgrounds) in their journey to become more empathetic, thoughtful, and welcoming learners.
Beginners: The Joy and Transformative Power of Learning
“It’s never too late to learn something new” is the mantra of any lifelong learner—an identity we certainly hope all young people embrace. What can we do to inspire such thinking? Showcasing this behavior ourselves might be the best place to start. For inspiration on embracing a “beginner mindset,” consider reading Beginners. The author, Tom Vanderbilt, shares a tale of what happened when he decided, as an adult, to explore chess, singing, surfing, drawing, and juggling—all in one year. He found new ways to spark joy in himself and connect with others. It’s a powerful example of why we should empower young people to explore different experiences and topics throughout their lives.
Michael Q. McShane
Although rich and robust learner-centered ecosystems do not yet exist, there is evidence throughout the country and world (past and present) that serves as inspiration for what we might create. One such example is explored by Michael Q. McShane in Hybrid Homeschooling. Hybrid homeschooling is designed for young people to regularly split time between brick and mortar spaces and learning at home. McShane’s series of case studies—based on real family stories—offer helpful guidance for any learning community exploring what learning looks like if we lean into the idea that our communities (physical and virtual) are playgrounds for learning.
A Song Below Water: A Novel
Bethany C. Morrow
In A Song Below Water, Bethany C. Morrow invites readers into a fictional world where sirens—mythical hybrid creatures with the body of a bird, the head of a human, and enchanting singing voices—walk silently among us. Morrow’s sirens are Black and must navigate the topics of friendship, self-discovery, racism, and sexism during their junior year in high school. It’s a great read for youth who relate to the complexities of growing up feeling different and voiceless, while also offering inspiration for overcoming those difficulties and cultivating the confidence to have their voices heard and respected.
Learning should be learner-centered—unique to the needs, interests, and aspirations of the individual child and aligned with the goals of the broader community. This can feel like an incredibly difficult goal to achieve. So, how might we simplify the “look fors” in such a system? One word comes to mind—joy. We might draw inspiration from Pharrell Williams’ Happy!—a picture book that taps into the curiosity, excitement, and energy that make learning in our early years so magical. Through rich photography, Williams’ book serves as a powerful reminder for what learning should look and feel like—no matter our age.