Pausing to Reflect

by Ted Levine

There is a narrative in our culture that to be silent is to be complicit.

At Kids Discover, we believe deeply in the power of each of our voices.  We also believe that because our words can be so powerful, it is our responsibility to make sure we uphold and keep true to their meaning. For the past five months our team has actively engaged in the process of deep reflection and internal dialogue.  Our reflections were first ignited by the sudden shift to remote learning propelled by COVID-19, and were further deepened in response to the powerful social unrest ignited by the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent Black Lives Matter movement.

We are humbled to share with you, our loyal community, the initiatives that we have thoughtfully cultivated and committed to. And we thank you for your patience.

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In early March, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, our team shifted away from our headquarters in New York City and began working remotely. Our timeline to return to the office was uncertain, but at that moment, none of us couldn’t have imagined what was about to ensue.

On Monday, March 9th, we responded to what at the time was a relatively small amount of school closures around the country (approximately 3-5% of schools), by offering free access to Kids Discover Online for those schools and districts that had closed. Requests for access came in quickly, but were manageable for our accounts and customer support teams. Well, at least for a few days.

By Thursday March 12th, as districts began closures en masse, we were quickly overwhelmed with thousands of requests, an increasing number of which were originating from individual teachers and parents, desperate for online resources and support. We worked around the clock, through the weekend, to devise a better way to get as many people, schools, and districts access to Kids Discover Online as quickly as we could.

In the ensuing weeks, our customer service volume skyrocketed by 8-10X. Our website traffic jumped 350%. Student registrations soared 450%. It was all hands on deck for our small team, handling this influx with no additional hires, just working longer, harder hours, and digging in to serve our community.

As a small team facing an unprecedented demand, we made the conscious decision to pause the development of new social media content. In this moment, our ultimate priority was to grant fast access to our digital library to every parent, teacher and district that expressed a need. As a result, we became inactive on social media. We stand behind our decision to prioritize serving the immediate needs of our community, and at the same time, we recognize that we missed an opportunity to develop and disseminate new content on our social media channels to support our community in metabolizing a deeply complex moment in our history.

Nonetheless, as the months passed and our resources became more limited, our team continued to stand behind our commitment to prioritize the immediate needs of educators and parents across the country. In a moment when our country was attempting to recalibrate to the sudden and forced shift to remote learning, it energized us to truly stand behind our mission, and know that our cumulative efforts were having an outsized impact in a time of great need. 

Then we learned of the unspeakably cruel and racist murder of George Floyd. 

We felt a deep pressure to offer a public response quickly.

I was proud of our team’s internal dialogues and swift effort to begin developing new initiatives.  But each day, as I contemplated how to articulate our beliefs and intentions to our broader community, I felt paralyzed.

We simultaneously observed a universal pressure that individuals and organizations appeared to face to make a public statement.  Satirical “templates” for company statements began circulating with fill in the blanks for “Name of Company.” In a matter of 10 days, all of Corporate America was “woke.”

I found myself reacting against the pressure to immediately make a public statement.  We grew to acknowledge and accept that our process as a small team has always been to engage in thoughtful brainstorming and critical self-reflection before moving to action. And so we made the decision to remain loyal to our values and our process, and to tolerate my own personal fear that our silence may be misconstrued as complacency by some.

It can be tempting to give in to external pressures to have certain beliefs or to ascribe to particular ideas.  But real learning, true education, from our perspective, is equipping young minds with the confidence and space to reflect upon their authentic ideas and values, to tolerate that others may move at a different pace or have different beliefs, that we are our best selves when we are our authentic selves.

So we made the intentional decision to pause. To offer a public statement only when we felt confident we could stand behind each of our new initiatives and commitments, and to put them into real, tangible action. 

That moment is now here for Kids Discover, and we are proud to share our company’s pledge in moving forward:

Our Pledge:

Kids Discover has and always will stand for justice and equality. As a company and a team of individuals, we are in a unique situation: We have the opportunity to influence and teach the correct values to our country’s future generations. This is a privilege that we feel very fortunate to have—and one we promise to use for the good of society, however we’re able to.

  • WE pledge to use our platform to raise and build up the voices for those who need, and deserve, to be heard.
  • WE pledge to add more material that highlights African-American history and culture, including the individuals that helped and continue to help build and shape our country.
  • WE pledge to highlight ongoing, systemic injustices in our country in a manner that is informative and age-appropriate.
  • WE pledge to partner with organizations that are committed to and centered around improving equity in education, and lending our platform to help build awareness and exposure.
  • WE pledge the development of an annual scholarship program that grants free access to Kids Discover Online for individuals in lower socioeconomic communities who would otherwise not be able to afford access.

Finally, WE pledge that we will commit energy and resources to these collective efforts so that in time they become a part of Kids Discover’s DNA and operating culture.

It is our hope that each young person who reads and engages with Kids Discover has the opportunity to learn that there is no voice more powerful than one that is uniquely your own.  And we will do our best to empower and build and raise those voices up.

But this moment does not end here. We are entering a school year that will undoubtedly be the most challenging and trying for schools, and for families, that we have ever experienced. As a result, we are adapting our organization and our priorities accordingly.

Next week I will be sharing Kids Discover’s new initiatives to help support educators, parents, and students for the duration of the 2020-2021 school year.

And once again, thank you for your time and your patience. It is greatly appreciated.

Sincerely,

Ted

Ted Levine, President & CEO

Kids Discover