The Amazing Story Of A ‘Dirty Bird’

Early in my career, I did some things that didn’t exactly follow the Common Core mode, but proved to be pretty effective, though there was no measurement to verify that, unless you actually talk to some former students. I guess you could call them “gut” feelings based on how students reacted to them and showed some implementation of them, often times without knowing they were doing so.

Part of my methodology included using movies, song lyrics, or books that included teachable opportunities for discussion, and which I felt students might enjoy while also giving them food for thought as to how to be better people, solve a problem, and which might allow them to relate to a character/situation in that song or piece of literature, and still include the educational components which were included in our curriculum designs.

One of my favorite books to try to accomplish that goal was the story of a seagull who didn’t just want to exist, he wanted to live, even if it meant going against the “plan” set by his elders and risking becoming outcast from his own flock. I’m referring to “Jonathan Livingston Seagull,” by Richard Bach.

It’s the story of a young gull who stumbled upon the amazement and enjoyment of high flight, speed, and the discovery of new challenges and accepting them. There were times when Jonathan was told that his experimentation went against what was the “law of the flock,” that being that gulls fly only enough to find food, that a gull’s life was to exist and finding food was what would make that happen. Jonathan was told all of this by his parents and elders of the flock, and as much as he tried to follow that philosophy, he couldn’t. He kept finding himself back at the drawing board trying to increase speed, perfect landings and to keep from literally exploding in mid-air. After one attempted landing which scattered his flock and nearly caused harm to many of his “family,” Jonathan was outcast to the Far Cliffs where, alone, he continued to experiment and try to perfect flying, not afraid of failing, just wanting to be the best that he could be, despite what he’d been told his entire life, and despite it costing him those he loved and who loved him. While flying on his own, Jonathan encountered two radiant white seagulls who flanked him as he flew. Jonathan tested them with things he learned, but they remained in perfect sync with him throughout the test. Finally Jonathan questioned who they were and why they were there.

The radiant gulls told Jonathan that they were from his flock, and they were there to take him “home,” the place where he belonged. After trying to tell them he had no home, because he was outcast from his flock, and trying to tell them he was too tired go on, they explained that he had learned all he could at this place and that he needed to move to the next level. Confused, Jonathan went with them.

Thinking that he had died and gone to heaven, Jonathan met new teacher, Sullivan, who told him that he wasn’t in heaven, just at the next level, a new beginning, a new challenge and a new chance to learn more.

Jonathan accepted the challenge and learned at a rapid pace, outlearning the other gulls who also were outcast and wanted to learn more. Eventually, Jonathan became a pupil of Chaing, the Elder Gull, who raised the bar even more for Jonathan, but found him equal to the task.

Upon learning so much, Jonathan wanted to go back to his own flock, the very one which cast him out, and when asked why by Sullivan and others from his new world, Jonathan responded by telling them that there might be one or two back there who might want to have someone to teach them so they wouldn’t have to learn alone.

He left, went back and did find some who had paid the same price he had, banishment from the flock. As more and more came to him to learn, one young gull came with a dragging wing, one which Kirk Raymond Gull said he couldn’t move. Jonathan asked him if he wanted to fly and he said he did, whereby Jonathan taught him to overcome limitations or what he believed were restrictions. He then taught all of the gulls so eager to learn from him that they had already overcome limits and feelings told to them since they were born, about what they were not able to do, or supposed to do. He said they’d already reached levels of flight that other gulls would never reach because they limited themselves and lived by words like shouldn’t and can’t.

Jonathan taught them that reaching one level would force them to move to another, with new challenges and a new world of learning. He had learned that heaven is only when you reach perfection and that accomplishing something sometimes causes misunderstanding, causing some to think of you as a god, and some to think of you as a devil, but to reach perfection someday, you have to accept the challenges at each level, that every ultimate (reaching a goal) makes for new uncertainties (new challenges and goals to reach).

As Jonathan’s students began to slowly understand, Jonathan looked to move to his ultimate goal, so it was time to choose a new teacher for his students and move on, keeping the “no limits” philosophy as the key to reaching perfection. Fletcher Lynn Seagull, understanding more than others, accepted the task of being mentor, and continued teaching what Jonathan had learned from Chaing, Sullivan and what Jonathan taught himself. And Jonathan vanished into empty air.

There were students in some of my classes who related well to Jonathan and some of the other gulls. Some struggled in some of their classes, some were told they might never be “A” students, but “Jonathan” told them to strive to be the best that they could be, that it doesn’t matter what someone tells you that you can or cannot do, that it might mean you have to go beyond limits that others have set, that what really matters can be found in your own mind, heart and soul. One former fourth grader, a great kid who struggled some in school (not from a lack of attitude or effort), years later went on to graduate from a college in the Midwest and his parents told me after his graduation that his driving force to reach that point was Jonathan Livingston Seagull. After that, it became the first piece of literature I used each year.

The book eventually became a movie, with the only characters in it being seagulls. The musical score was done by Neil Diamond, which you can imagine, gave power to the scenes involving soaring flight and high speed flying.

Looking for a quick, nice, warm book to read in front of a nice warm fire, or sitting on a rainy night, or anytime/anywhere? I give this one two-thumbs up.