Hey there! Explorer At Large (XAL) Founder Josh Bernstein here. I am writing this in first-person, as the creation of XAL is very personal to me, and I feel this is the most authentic way to capture the reason we’re here. So perhaps you’ll indulge me as I share our "origin story." Warning—this is a bit lengthy! Thank you, in advance, for listening.
In the mid-2000's, after almost two decades in the wilderness education industry, I transitioned to television, where I was a full-time documentary host for the History Channel and then Discovery Channel. My two largest series, Digging for the Truth (2004-2007) and Into The Unknown with Josh Bernstein (2008-2009) gave me the life-changing opportunity to explore 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+ hours of primetime 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. Sunday night's viewing of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom was another big event 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. Values mattered. Authenticity mattered.
When I became a television host, my goal was to embody the values, authenticity, and high standards of my childhood heroes. I mention all this because when Digging for the Truth became a hit show (it became their #1 show, with the highest ratings for an original series in the history of the History Channel), the most meaningful responses we got came from children or from parents on behalf of their children. They would watch me––wearing my "explorer hat"––go into ancient temples and hidden tombs and, as a result, children wanted to become world travelers, explorers, and archaeologists. University professors in anthropology and archaeology departments would write to tell me enrollment was up in their classes. This was a big deal because it proved to me the power of quality video content to make a tangible and positive impact on the world.
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 the spokesmen for science like Mr. Wizard or Carl Sagan. I don’t see the role models for good manners and values like Mr. Rogers. In general, the media landscape has gotten much more crowded and competitive and, as a result, our children and our society suffer for it.
If we’re going to truly influence the world for the better, we’ve got to engage and inspire children and there's no better place to do this than within the education system. We must spark curiosity to ask questions, inspire courage to seek answers, and instill values to build resilience and determination. In short, we must turn students into explorers.
This is why Explorer At Large was created—to create generations of curious and courageous explorers. Our goal is to provide authentic, standards-aligned content and activities that expose 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, I hope that Explorer At Large will inspire students much the way Jacques Cousteau and Carl Sagan did for me. And I hope this inspiration leads these young explorers to make decisions, discoveries, and contributions to our planet that change our world for the better.
This will take time––years, if not decades, to be truly successful. 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.” My team and I are building Explorer At Large for the long haul and, based on the feedback we've gotten from students, teachers, and parents over the past two years in our pilot programs, it looks like we might be onto something.
Again, thanks for listening, and we hope you share our passion and will support our mission to create generations of curious and courageous explorers. Our world needs that right now.
Founder & CEO