Report – Masterclass: Kids on Earth
Howard J. Blumenthal, creator of international hit show ‘Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?’, is globetrotting again with a new project entitled Kids on Earth – and in this masterclass he explained what on earth it is all about.
· It’s about giving kids a voice, and connecting them globally.
· Every child has a story, it’s about how you find it.
· It’s an organic project thinking globally rather internationally – get in touch with Howard via his website if you’re interested in collaborating.
This fascinating conversation with Kids on Earth creator , guided by interviewer , began with an introduction about the origins of Howard’s previous international hit creation, ‘Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?’ A globe-spanning game show, it was born from a conversation with a PBS programmer, and led to Howard essentially creating a national geography curriculum in the US as none existed at the time. He said they were able to take a lot of creative risks with it, and the research was pretty much all child led, through spending time with fourth graders and asking exactly what it was they wanted. The kids gave them very definitive answers and it worked.
Fast forward a couple of decades or so and Howard is back exploring issues of global connectedness with his new project. So what’s it all about?
The idea, Howard said, came from wanting to give kids a voice, a platform to talk about their lives. That’s really all he had to start with: he was creatively stumbling along. But what has developed is essentially a project that visits and films, children from countries around the globe, talking about their lives, their hopes, their take on the world, and connecting those children, via the edited videos on the kidsonearth.org website, to other children and their stories.
The process has been very organic. Howard’s first port of call was Uganda, at the suggestion of a friend. When he went there and started talking to school kids, he said he was completely blown away by the conversations he had. Next it was on to Hong Kong, to a music theatre school that was much more international, and where children had their own unique but very different tales to tell. Then it was back to the US, to discover that most kids there didn’t even know whether Uganda was a country or an animal – and that really reinforced his idea that this global connectedness project was worth pursuing.
The funding is partly from a not-for-profit pot, and as it grows there are other resources to draw on too, such as UNESCO grants, among others. He also has a connection with the University of Pennsylvania, as a Visiting Scholar, and he utilises academic resources and has the help of undergraduates.
So what’s the end game of the project, Julain asked? Howard said one thing that helps the project work is that he doesn’t care about ratings – he sees it like a public service. Whatever gets watched gets watched, and something might be useful to one teacher but not another. The aim, really, is to raise awareness, and to collaborate with people from the children’s industry and academics to try to make it grow. The second step is to try to connect the kids, and allow them to have productive conversations safely. And the third aim is to develop a sense of global awareness and altruism – because if we don’t know that Uganda is a country, we can’t really go down that road.