By Dr. Ryan Donlan
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University
While reading at home last week, I saw the arrival of a UPS truck at the end of my driveway.
My package had arrived.
The product I sought was seemingly unavailable in supercenters from Terre Haute, Indiana to Mid-Michigan. I guess someone high in the food chain of the retail bird-feeding establishment has recently deemed upside-down American Goldfinch feeding at best, unfashionable, and at worst, exclusionary.
Upside down finch-feeders require birds to hang upside down to feed on higher-priced thistle seed through little openings inside. They’re very selective in whom they allow to dine – only those who have the innate abilities to “invert” are allowed to do so.
As I assembled the feeder, I marveled at how goldfinches were such pretty little birds, much more decorative than others. More talented they are than the mainstream – “gifted,” in fact, as their feeding styles would indicate.
Goldfinches are eye-candy; they represent one’s home and garden well and are sure to impress neighbors and friends … even omithologists.
What I had been finding in vain while strolling “in-store” were feeders that allowed for upside down feeding for birds properly equipped, yet they provided as well, right-side-up holes for other birds to use.
That would defeat the purpose, I thought, hanging the feeder.
Any bird can feed on those double-action feeders: robins, sparrows, and blackbirds, even those marginally equipped little things that often fly into windows.
Not on this one. Not on my deck.
Not on this one. Not on my deck.
Surveying my work, I proclaimed, “The American Goldfinch, it is!” With regular care and feeding, even more of the special birds would visit.
I then spied a sparrow, quick to belly-up … pecking haplessly at plastic.
“Not for you, little thing,” I thought.
He flew away …… Another landed.
With all of our challenges in today’s era of choice, competition, and heightened accountability, should anyone in education really care about bird feeding – well, aside from educational metaphors of kids’ “spreading their wings” and all that fluffy stuff?
If we looked at education through something as finely calibrated as birdwatchers’ binoculars – peering through lenses of philosophers, sociologists, and historians – what would we see?
Would we see that our history is one of true opportunity, or would it reflect inequitable offers of academic sustenance based on a child’s outward appearance or the whims of those with resources (as does, admittedly, my bird feeding)?
Further, have ever we sorted children as I now do birds, offering more refined entrees to those with discernable flexibility to contort while consuming, yet with no better ability to digest once doing so?
Finally, have we been exclusionary or fluid in our differentiated groupings? My students remind me that the latter should not be “sold short,” because effective interventions necessitate an appropriately targeted delivery.
They also suggest that if I only surround myself with goldfinches, beauty will begin to wane amidst a flock of homogeneity.
They may have a point, a smart one at that.
They’re school leaders, after all, and are ensuring that future history books will reflect “well” today’s present.
Dr. Ryan Donlan can’t remember if he was a bluebird, robin, or even a crow in his elementary school reading group. Now a lifelong learner working for equitable opportunities for all, he encourages you to let him know your thoughts, opinions, feelings, reactions, reflections, or even intended actions, based on what he has offered this week at firstname.lastname@example.org or (812) 237-8624.