At the Inside Outside School, we feature one of the seven "Dimensions of Human Greatness," each week. This week we worked with INQUIRY. It is a perfect time in the semester to be asking additional questions, focusing on what is of foremost importance to us in our study of the forces of nature as we are moving forward toward our EXPO where we will present our independent and small group studies to peers, parents and grandparents.
We have a very special school meeting called "Peace Circle," every Friday morning to begin our elective day. This morning we heard the story of John James Audubon. At the age of 18 he was living in Pennsylvania where his father had sent him during the Napoleonic Wars. The young naturalist was curious about the Pewee Flycatchers that had built a nest in a limestone cave near their farmhouse. He moved his unschooling classroom into the cave, becoming a familiar feature to the pewees. John's inquiry: Where do these birds disappear to in winter? Will the same ones come back to this cave in the spring?
Some great thinkers, like Aristotle, had claimed that small birds disappearing in winter, hibernated under water until spring. Some scientists of his day believed that the birds flew to the moon for winter. John was skeptical! John decided to put little bands around the feet of the offspring of the pewees. He was the first person (a teenager) to band birds in North America. From the seeds of John's passionate curiosity, eventually the Audubon Society grew with its mission "to conserve and restore natural ecosystems, focusing on birds, other wildlife, and their habitats for the benefit of humanity and the earth's biological diversity."
John James drew birds all the time, but he would burn his drawings every year on his birthday, hoping to improve his drawing over the course of the next year...human greatness in the making.
The story of John James Audubon was such a perfect way for us to illustrate inquiry. After the story, we opened the doors to our theater. Meditating, we became so quiet we could hear bird songs from outside. Guess what? We heard "fee bee," the call of the Pewee Flycathcher's cousin, the Eastern Phoebe. This is one of the ways in which our woodland campus mysteriously synchronizes the beauty and magic of nature with our learning. Perhaps it was the call of the phoebe early this morning that reminded me about this book in our school library.
I have come to the study of ornithology a bit later in my life, but our ornithology elective teacher this semester is a 12 year old boy, Sebastian Casarez. Sebastian is a member of both the Travis and Williamson County Audubon Societies. He began his inquiry at a very young age and has become a local bird expert. He will be honored next week by the Westcave Outdoor Discovery Center at the 8th annual Celebration of Children in Nature of Austin Collaborative's award dinner, (along with Inside Outside School's most excellent environmental educator, Rachel Brice.)