In 2006, a widely talked about white paper was released by MIT Media guru Henry Jenkins titled, "Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century." In this paper, Jenkins outlines the rapidly changing landscape of learning in a technological age and its impact on traditional settings - especially the classroom. The twelve literacies that replace "readin', writin', and 'rithmetic" in Jenkins' framework are play, performance, simulation, appropriation, multitasking, distributed cognition, collective intelligence, judgment, transmedia navigation, networking, negotiation, and visualization. Quite a leap from the things Huck Finn so disliked, isn't it?
Not long after this publication, Jenkins moved his media research from MIT to the Annenberg School of Media at USC. It was here that I studied under Mr. Jenkins and Erin Reilly through the Play! project that sought to instill these core values and literacies into city schools in Los Angeles. Reilly took the twelve literacies and helped to contain them in a four-sided framework called the Four C's: Create, Circulate, Connect, and Collaborate.
After 2012, both Erin and Henry took on other projects and the focus on the Twelve Media Literacies and their Four C's continued under other researchers. I graduated from my Master's in Teaching program at USC to start an education tech-startup called "NewQuill" that went through venture capital incubation and released its first app later that year. I still believe that New Media Literacy research is groundbreaking and extremely important to the future of education.
Interestingly, right around the time that the Play! project was formulating, this learning framework came to life in a series of young adult fiction novels called the "Divergent Series" written by Veronica Roth. The books were turned into four blockbuster films, the third of which was just released. In the books, there are six types of factions that exist within post-apocalyptic Chicago. I believe these six types represent five types of participatory learning styles: abnegation: *selfless*, amity: *peaceful*, candor: *honest*, dauntless: *brave*, and erudite: *intellectual.*
Parents and teachers can use this framework in order to help identify which social groups and activities their students and children might most naturally identify with. However, the catch in "Divergent" is that although children are born into certain factions, they don't have to stay in them. Through a kind of "graduation" ceremony, young people can choose to leave their original factions and join a new one - those who break out of the mold of the traditional faction system and master multiple styles are known as divergents. In the series, divergents are shunned and hated because they stand out and do not fit into the status quo of their world's cultural and societal limitations.
I believe that we are reaching a point in our society's evolution where the upcoming generations will all be, to some extent, divergent. The amazing social, racial, linguistic, religious, and technological milieu of American culture is expanding and needs proper channeling, guiding, and molding. Our old systems of classroom learning, so beautifully articulated by Sir Ken Robinson in this TED Talk, are not only non-conducive to divergent learning, but actively working to suffocate and kill it.
The latest Divergent film, "Alleigiant", has a surprising amount of pedagogy hidden under the surface of a futuristic-action flick that fits directly in-line with The New Media Literacies. In many ways, this film models ideal learning conditioning for our upcoming generation of children. For instance, utilizing the all-seeing futuristic drone technology represents a practical application of the "Distributed Cognition" literacy; the "Multitasking" required as a part of the surveillance technology is something that our generation of constant screen-swiping youths have wholly mastered to the chagrin of many lesser-able adults; and the "Judgment" literacy is constantly necessary in a brave new world full of secret agendas, faulty alliances, and bureaucratic funding schemes - sound familiar to anyone else in public schools?
First off, we as parents and educators need to help our children navigate a whole new world of learning - especially when it comes to technology and media. My experience as an educator, parent, and media analyst has led me to a few points to initially identify the signs of divergent children and how to nurture the continual development of their divergence.
Here is a checklist of ways to cultivate multiple qualities and perspectives in your children and students so they don't get confined and pegged into a certain way of learning and can, instead, grow into a life-long, participatory, divergent style of being.
1. Your child or student is artistically, musically, and visually heightened in their creative expression. They can't just do assignments the normal way, but need to add some kind of art or media to successfully communicate their perspective. They easily learn instruments, spontaneously draw and relate more to media than to conversation. These students may best flourish in Waldorff or Montessori schools. They also may be sensitive to high levels of sodium, sugar, artificial sweeteners and processed or fast foods. Relatively easy addiction to caffeine, sweets, and other stimulants or depressants is actually a sign of being a divergent learner. An imbalance in their diet strongly impacts their ability to learn and perform in school. If this is the case with your student, follow a diet plan that removes artificial sugars and sodiums from their diet and get them eating natural, organic foods. The "Daniel Plan", based on the Hebrew children taken to Babylon in the Scriptural book of Daniel, is a good resource to find ways to put things right. Daily use of healthy meal-replacers like "Shakeology" along with regular, enjoyable exercise programs as well as meal prep and planning and go a long way in mitigating damage and imbalance in young, artistic minds.
2. Your child or student has a photographic memory, can rapidly read and retain information effortlessly, and excels in academic and linguistic pursuits. They blaze through books and easily get caught up in debates or arguments about deep political or theological issues. These students may best flourish in prep schools or academies with high standards and rigorous preparation for higher education that will put them in positions to circulate their ideas to mass audiences. They may be loquacious to a fault, unable to discern when they should stop talking and pause to ask questions or let silence fill the space. They may need guidance in balancing their book learning with community service in diverse environments that may be foreign to them. This helps open them up to other cultures, perspectives, and introduces them to new ways of thinking that at first may conflict with their paradigms, but will ultimately enable them to use their talents to promote justice, equality, and progress. They should be exposed to un-biased and global perspectives through newspapers and media outlets without agendas. One particularly good resource for this is the Pullitzer prize winning Christian Science Monitor founded by religious leader and educator Mary Baker Eddy. For American children, using Serve.gov established by the Obama administration can be a great portal to service opportunities in their communities you might otherwise not be aware of.
3. Your child or student is highly empathetic, sometimes even viscerally feeling the pain of others. They have natural, uplifting qualities and bring healing through touch, kind words, or even just their presence. They are extremely compassionate and are wonderful listeners. They may feel a natural affinity to the fields of medicine, psychology, diet and nutrition, or social services. They go out of their way to connect with the poor, lost, and hurting. They give away things for free - sometimes to their own injury. They may get overly wrapped up in their relationships with others and start to feel negative effects from constantly lending themselves out to help others. These children and students need extra protection to keep them from overextending themselves in their schedules and relationships. They also need help managing their tasks and remembering to do basic things like eat, sleep, and relax. Teaching these students meditation, contemplation and journaling techniques early on in life and instilling the value of rest and quiet times of isolation can be extremely helpful. Adapting some of the exercises and tips developed by The Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education for younger learners can save your children and students from suffering and discomfort. Mindfulness research and practices can also bring peace to your students - The University of Southern California is one of the leading pioneers in this field for college students.
4. Your child or student is constantly out and about, always on the move, and probably excels in sports or physical and outdoor activities of some sort. They are popular, sociable, and easily the life of a party. They have no problem accomplishing difficult tasks that require great focus, exertion, and diligent preparation. They play hard and they work hard - usually to the point of great accolades and fanfare. Most likely to play sports or be attracted to vocational models of education. These children are also most at risk to step off the edge, extreme in their moods and almost dogmatic in how they see the world and how they think it should be. Their egos can inflate and they may act rashly or even violently towards others. These students are at risk of early diagnosis for learning disorders and being put on medications to help keep them under control. Rather than prescribing them pills, these students can be taught how to tinker, build businesses, and work with their hands. Rather than be isolated and separated from others, they should be given management and decision-making opportunities early on, even if it seems that they are in-experienced. They should be exposed to great minds and given a historical understanding of how empires rise and fall. Steady and consistent mentorship, coaching, and guidance are integral to the formation of their characters and constitutions. Watching and listening to high-level educational content such as TED talks instead of fictional, narrative-based television or violent video games is important. Access to resources and relationships like Venture Capital Incubators such as YCombinator, and the ability to learn at their own pace through on-line portals including Khan Academy can keep them from burning out and becoming bored or kicked out of school.
I am able to write this because I, myself, am a divergent learner. The communities I grew up in did not necessarily understand what this meant and I was often without adequate counsel or understanding of how I should be encouraged and guided. By the grace of God - and willing mentors who showed me how to utilize technology in ways to teach myself - I have been able to overcome the obstacles by breaking out of factional and limited perspectives while continuing to grow in my divergent nature. I write this with great hope that the coming generation, including my children and the students I teach, will flourish in their divergence.