“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to make many ripples” Mother Teresa
Some years ago, I joined the International Crane Foundation, making an annual contribution to the foundation to support their work in researching, conserving, and educating about crane species all over the world. Four times a year, they publish The ICF Bugle to update their members about the progress being made in restoring various crane populations and habitats. I have a tendency to let these newsletters gather on my dining room table, but today I grabbed a couple to read on the train and toss.
The May 2014 issue featured a letter from ICF President Rick Beilfuss who focused on the future of whooping cranes, and that’s when it hit me. Until today, I had forgotten how I came to care about cranes in the first place. An image flashed in my mind, and I remembered when I was in 4th or 5th grade in the 50s reading stories in My Weekly Reader about the near extinction of the whooping crane. There were around a dozen left alive at that point, and there was a strong likelihood that the species would vanish. I knew about extinction because I had learned about the beautiful, once abundant but now extinct, passenger pigeon.
While I had never seen a whooping crane and My Weekly Reader wasn’t even in color back then, something about the irrevocability of extinction and the magnificence of these birds resonated with me all those years ago. I soon went on to other concerns, growing up, becoming a teacher, one cause and another, until I heard about ICF, maybe stumbled across the organization on the Internet, and decided to join. Today I realized the connection between those two events separated by more decades than I care to name. I know that something I learned about the natural world as a child caused me to make a decision as an adult – a decision for the natural world, for conservation, for research, for education, and for my own pleasure.
And today I also learned, courtesy of Google, that I am not alone.
To verify my memory, I googled “my weekly reader whooping crane” and found the following comment to a blog post on the demise of My Weekly Reader.
Carol on August 23, 2012 at 10:18 am wrote: Two things about the Weekly Reader: 1) They arrived all rolled up in brown paper and had to be separated; I, as a marvelous student, had the “honor” of being chosen to separate them! 2) In about 1950, I read in My Weekly Reader that the population of Whooping Cranes was down to around 39. So when I retired in 1996, I took a boat trip out of Rockport, TX to see the Whooping Cranes, which by then were making a nice comeback. Last week I went to the International Crane Foundation, in Baraboo, WI, where I saw 2 more Whooping Cranes.
So Carol had read a similar article in the children’s newspaper, and it stayed with her too.
But Carol and I aren’t alone. It turns out that Ruth Zachary, commenting on a photo posted by Bill Bouton on Flickr, had this to say: “Oh my! These are the birds which started my love affair when I was a child–I read about them in My Weekly Reader…”
Something sparked in Carol’s imagination, and in Ruth’s, and in mine during our elementary school years that has stayed with us our entire lives. As it did as well with Chester McConnell.
Now in his late 70s, McConnell first read about whooping cranes when he was in 5th grade … and also in My Weekly Reader. He went on to become a wildlife biologist in Tennessee. He was quoted in a recent article, “I’ve gone everywhere whooping cranes are. My job took me to those places, and I always made it my business to look up the whooping cranes when I had a chance.”
In retirement, McConnell publishes a very active blog and website called Friends of the Wild Whoopers, to keep other enthusiasts informed about the birds and their habitat. He and his publishing partner Pam Bates recently established Friends of the Wild Whoopers as a nonprofit that will acquire land to maintain and increase the habitat where whooping cranes winter over, nest, and stopover during migration. They also help preserve and protect the Aransas/Wood Buffalo population of wild whooping cranes and their habitat, raise funds to provide rewards for persons who inform on those who kill whooping cranes, and educate interested persons about whooping cranes and their needs.
So an interest that began in 5th grade with My Weekly Reader has filled a life with purposeful work. Journalist Sara Sneath in the Victoria Advocate quotes McConnell, “They’re a beautiful bird. And they’re the largest bird in North America. People just fall in love with them when they see them. You just have a soft spot in your heart for anything that has a hard time getting along.”
Similarly, Dr. George Archibald, ICF co-founder, first learned about whooping cranes not via My Weekly Reader, but through a Canadian radio show that he heard as a student in Nova Scotia. Here is the ICF mission statement:
Inspiring A Global Community The International Crane Foundation (ICF) commits to a future where all crane species are secure – a future where people cooperate to protect and restore wild populations and their ecosystems. These efforts sustain the places where cranes live, to the benefit of countless other species.
And the whooping crane that so fascinated me as a child? Well, thanks to the work of thousands of people with a passion for that magnificent bird, including the folks at the International Crane Foundation, whoopers have recovered from a low of only 21 birds in the wild in the 1940s to around 599 birds today. The whooping crane’s recovery is one of conservation’s most inspiring success stories.
You can follow their progress on the ICF Facebook page.
You can also go to the ICF website and adopt a crane for your classroom for only $50.
To get your students started investigating cranes, check out these videos.
The first is under two minutes long and shows an encounter between a crane and an alligator. If you stop it at .48 seconds, you could ask your students to predict what will happen. This might make an excellent hook.
And this 8 minute National Geographic video on Operation Migration will introduce your students to the ingenious ways people have devised to bring whooping cranes back from the brink of extinction. Perhaps it will plant in one of them the same fascination with whooping cranes that My Weekly Reader inspired in me so many years ago.
I ask you to reflect as you plan. What can you do today that will create a ripple effect in the mind of a child? What new worlds can you open that will be life shaping for a child in your classroom? What stories can you tell that will resonate down through the years? What books can you recommend that some child will take to heart? What field trips can you provide that your students will never forget? You might never know the answer to these questions, but perhaps it’s enough for any of us to simply create as rich a set of experiences, as deep a pool of knowledge, as we possibly can in our classrooms and then let the spark of individual curiosity take over from there and set a young imagination to flight.
The eminent Jungian psychologist, author, and teacher James Hillman spoke of just that kind of mystery, the great question of character and destiny. In his bestseller The Soul’s Code, he suggested that our calling in life is inborn and inherent and that it’s our mission in life to realize it. He called it the “acorn theory” — the idea that our lives are formed by a particular image, just as the oak’s destiny is contained in the tiny acorn. He was probably drawing on Aristotle’s concept of “entelechy,” the need for self-fullment that we all share and that starts with the seed and comes to full fruition in the tree.
But that seed needs fertile soil to grow and flourish, so why not shape your classroom to be a place that will nourish your students’ life passions and allow them to take root.
Learn more about Golden Apple STEM Institute here.
Photo Credits: All photos are courtesy of the International Crane Foundation, with the exception of the final photo, that of flying cranes, which is courtesy of Dave and Liz Smith.