A GENESIS TALE
Hey! Explorer At Large (XAL) Founder Josh Bernstein here. I've decided to write this page in first-person, as the origin of XAL is very personal to me and I feel like this is perhaps the most authentic way to capture the reason we’re here. So perhaps you’ll indulge me a bit as I put these thoughts down. Warning – this is a bit lengthy!
In what some may consider a lifetime ago in the media landscape, I was a television host for the History Channel and the Discovery Channel. My two series, Digging for the Truth (2004-2007) and Into The Unknown with Josh Bernstein (2008-2009) gave me the life-changing opportunity to travel the world on a quest to explore some of the biggest mysteries on our planet. From lost cities in the Amazon to Biblical relics of the Holy Land to enduring legends of archaeology, my small documentary crew and I worked our hardest to deliver 50+ shows that were engaging, entertaining, and––to use a word not spoken much these days in television––educational.
This last part is important, as I believe passionately in the power of visual media to educate. Like many other kids who grew up in New York City in the 1970’s, I watched programs like Sesame Street, The Electric Company, Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood and The Magic Garden almost every day.
These programs invited me to enter a world of magic and make-believe, where imaginary elephants offered compassion and flower patches offered chuckles. Mixed among these daytime programs were primetime TV specials from media luminaries like Jacques Cousteau and Carl Sagan. Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom was another big night in my family. Who didn’t love watching Marlin Perkins and Jim Fowler on their crazy animal adventures? Prior to the fast, digital world we live in now, this was analog storytelling at its best. Quality mattered. Authenticity mattered.
When I became a television host, my goal was to embody the authenticity and high standards of my childhood heroes. I mention all this because when Digging for the Truth became a hit show (at the time, it was the #1 show in the history of the History Channel), the most meaningful responses we got came from kids or from parents on behalf of their kids. They would watch me––wearing my "explorer hat" and my boots––go into ancient temples and hidden tombs and they felt like they were right there with me. This was a big deal because it showed me that it was possible to influence, educate, and inspire a younger generation the same way my childhood heroes did for me.
Fast forward to today. As I look at the media landscape of 2020, I don't see the quality programming of my youth. I don’t see spokesmen for science like Mr. Wizard or Carl Sagan. I don’t see advocates for animals like Jim Fowler or champions for chimps like Jane Goodall. Okay, Jane Goodall is still alive and well, doing a fabulous job leading the Jane Goodall Institute. And, yes, Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye do a tremendous job as ambassadors for astrophysics and climate science, respectively. But I would argue all of these efforts lie outside the formal education system, outside the best way to reach kids day in and day out, year after year. And their messages are often lost in a much, much larger media environment.
If we’re going to truly influence the world for the better, we’ve got to engage and inspire kids at a young age, and we have to do that within the school system. We need to find a way to help students discover the intrinsic value of a good education and the appeal of becoming a lifelong learner. We must pique curiosity, inspire courage, and maintain that until it becomes an outlook on life.
This is why Explorer At Large was created. It’s why we have recruited some of the greatest institutions of knowledge on our planet as partners and collaborators, and why our efforts are now focused directly on schools. Explorer At Large’s mission is to bring spirited adventure and insatiable curiosity directly into the education system, both formal (classroom) and informal (afterschool). This means the content we produce doesn’t accidentally connect to the curriculum, like my old shows, but rather it is created directly for it. This intentionality is everything.
Our goal at Explorer At Large is to provide authentic, standards-driven content that exposes students today to the wonders of our planet and the experts who work hard in the field or in the lab to make a difference. In doing so, Explorer At Large and I hope to inspire students much the way Jacques Cousteau and Carl Sagan did for me.
This will take time––years, if not decades, to be truly successful––and that's okay. Disruption may be quick, but profound and meaningful change in education takes time. As Confucius once said, “If your plan is for one year, plant rice. If your plan is for ten years, plant trees. If your plan is for one hundred years, educate children.” We're building Explorer At Large for the long haul and, based on the feedback we've gotten from students, teachers, parents over the past two years, it looks like we might be onto something.
Thanks for listening.