[Names]: Aaron Ableman and Dave Room
[Organization]: Balance Edutainment
[Area of Expertise]:Culturally-Relevant Environmental Education via Trans-media Storytelling
Aaron and Dave have a story to tell and they’re tailoring it to the tech-inclined youth. The two teamed up in January of this year to start Balance Edutainment, an educational entertainment production firm that tackles environmental issues through pop culture, leading first and foremost with music. Their flagship initiative is Pacha’s Pajamas, the story of an optimistic young girl who dreams one night that the animals on her pajamas come to life to address world issues by throwing the greatest concert in the world. In a recent interview with the Washington Times Communities, Dave noted, “If we want to deeply engage youth, perhaps the most important space to occupy is pop culture, as expressed in music. In the last century, music played a pivotal role in many of the world’s most important social movements.”
The environment is arguably at the center of the social movement defining our world today, and Balance Edutainment seeks to engage younger generations to take an active part. Think of Pacha as Dora the Explorer meets Hannah Montana meets the Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers, making environmental education more appealing and enjoyable for younger generations. “We’re really interested in the intersection between technology, culture and education,” says Aaron, “and I can’t think of a better way to do that than [through] the power of story.”
Stories change lives, The Brothers Karamazov taken as a personal example. But they have influence over the larger fate of humanity as well. Consider what A Doll’s House did for women’s rights, what Dr. King’s Dream Speech did for civil rights, and what the Bible has done for millions of believers throughout the Common Era. As socially-conscious storytellers, Aaron and Dave contribute to this world-changing literary canon and offer a story which exposes the entrenched ideologies that divide us from each other and the natural world; they open up global narratives to re-evaluation in hopes of raising the voice of interdependence needed for change.
With several years of teaching experience under his belt—from the indigenous reservations in Northern Canada to the slums in India to Haiti after the earthquake last year—Aaron explains the logic to their approach: Put simply, “As an educator….you have to be entertaining, culturally-relevant and fun.” Cultural-relevancy is a matter of “meeting audiences where they’re at,” says Aaron, and Balance does this by embracing the transmedia reality that youth are immersed in today. A recent statistic from comScore, a leading digital technologies research firm, found that Americans watched 1 billion more YouTube videos than they conducted Google searches in August 2009. Here, Aaron and Dave find opportunity. According to Aaron,
“What’s searched most on YouTube is music. And searching music most is youth and children. In order to meet our audience where they’re at, we need to address this screen-based reality where most of the information that kids are receiving is actually coming from. That’s part of the reason why we’ve identified music as such a viral audience development strategy.”
And music is only where they begin. Balance Edutainment is a trans-media production firm, which means they develop a range of cross-platform products from traditional books, e-books, mobile apps, online apps as well as a full audio book/album with twelve songs featuring celebrity hip hop artists such as Mos Def, Talib Kweli and Lyrics Born. “What we’re particularly excited about is that this story can be delivered on a variety of media platforms and can be experienced in a number of different ways from the book all the way to curricula,” says Aaron. Each medium allows audiences to experience Pacha’s story in a qualitatively unique way and allows its message to be scaled on a wider educational spectrum unheard of in times before the proliferation of digital technologies today.
Balance Edutainment takes a stand for children, education and the environment. They present a vision for real change in the world across a variety of media platforms—even looking into the possibility of creating a digitally-interactive game—and they do this in culturally-relevant and inspiring ways. If collective action is founded upon the stories we share, Aaron and Dave are our bedtime story activists. Here’s a taste of their recently-recorded jams, and be sure to look out for more to come:
And, for those of you looking to give something unique this holiday season, consider the gift of environmental literacy with the Pacha’s Pajamas Book/CD available for pre-order now for delivery before Christmas! Just visit Balance’s Kickstarter page here!
Jasen, Your Hub Stories Writer
Jasen Talise is an intern writer for the Hub Bay Area. He is a fourth year studying Rhetoric and Theater at the University of California, Berkeley. His interests range from existential philosophy, competitive hip hop dance, to the culinary arts. This past year, he was a contributing writer for Issues: The Berkeley Medical Journal.