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LeVar Burton on Storytelling and the Power of “What If”

In honor of World Book Day, NMSI invited actor and education advocate LeVar Burton to write about the intersection of reading and STEM and the importance of having a well-rounded education. 

LeVar-Air-Balloon.jpgI genuinely believe that storytelling has the power to fuel all aspects of our children's higher mind development and learning potential. Storytelling, and a child's robust exposure to storytelling, is an essential cornerstone in developing a connection that makes us unique in all of creation — or evolution, if you prefer — and that is our power to imagine!

You see, our imaginative power — our ability to project ourselves into a past, present or future moment outside of this "now moment" of experience — is our SUPERPOWER as human beings. No other species can do that! It is our imagination that allows us to conceptualize, devise and design ANY and EVERY manner of invention or idea that has EVER propelled us forward on our human journey.

Now, I have to let you in on a little secret. I’m a huge fan of science fiction literature.

Okay, so maybe that comes as no surprise… and it’s not just because I spent seven seasons aboard the USS Enterprise. I think it's because science fiction invites us to contemplate the ideation of what are arguably two of the most powerful combined words in the human language...


By simply accepting the invitation to contemplate the "what if" we unleash our superpower on the very nature of possibility itself, oftentimes resulting in the seemingly miraculous.

I am convinced that there are Star Trek fans out there, who, having heeded the call to boldly go where no man has gone before and drawing inspiration from such things as Captain Kirk’s famed communicator, grew up to become the scientists, engineers, designers and mathematicians behind the products that are shaping the world in which we live. Take Uhura’s earpiece, for example — a pioneering idea for the ubiquitous Bluetooth device. Plus, we carried iPads around on the Enterprise before they were invented! 

Therein lies our superpower! That, upon which we focus our imagination is what we tend to manifest in this realm. The very nature of our ability to create is connected to our facility for imagining and it is our imagination that connects us to our birthright as storytellers.

We are in fact a species designed to be creators as storytellers! It's in our DNA! We are part of an ancient storytelling continuum, continuously evolving: from the oral tradition through the written word, to the predominately visual storytelling idioms of the modern age. It is through the stories we tell each other, that we literally create the world as a reflection of who we are. 

That is powerful stuff, indeed.


LeVar Burton currently leads LeVar Burton Kids, which provides educational content and original programming through its online service, Skybrary. LeVar is focused on promoting critical thinking and igniting curiosity in kids through a broad range of subjects close to his heart. In addition to introducing STEM-based subjects, he intends to explore diversity, equality, and social emotional topics.


Check out free lesson plans from NMSI's Laying the Foundation for English, math and more!

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