One of the many purposes of arts education is to heighten learners’ awareness of built and natural environments. City children don’t have many opportunities to encounter natural environments, or the animals that inhabit them – with the exception of squirrels, robins, pigeons, sparrows, and starlings. The last three are all invasive species considered to be pests, and are among the few birds unprotected by Federal Law. Or as satirist Tom Lehrer sings, “… it’s not against any religion / To want to dispose of a pigeon.” But even these feral invasive species have a peculiar relationship with humans, living wild and almost unnoticed amongst us.
City children encounter very few native birds other than robins – except in September, when kids can glance up on their way to school and see a variety of migrating birds winging it South. What do humans look like from these migrating birds’ point of view? Like tiny blips on the collective ancient bird unconscious that has watched rivers and mountains, forests and plains, deserts and in-land seas ebb and flow in and out of existence over time. In T. H. White’s wonderful novel The Once and Future King, the wizard Merlyn transforms an awkward boy named Wart into a migrating snow goose, so that the future King Arthur can see for himself that national political boundaries are imaginary.
I wish Merlyn would transform some awkward boys in Washington into snow geese flying over the Middle East, where they would see millions of human refugees migrating across imaginary boundaries against their displaced wills.
Founder and Lead Consultant
Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education (CAPE)