Insights from Flight Behavior

This past fall, we launched the #TeachClimate Network to bring educators together once a month to discuss challenges and successes in climate change education, as well as read some amazing climate fiction books. Each month, I am in awe of the wonderful conversation that happens during each meeting. The unique perspectives that our educators have on the books we read open my mind and give me a new outlook on the content.

On our most recent Network call about Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver, I was introduced to new ideas from other readers that I’d love to share. The novel, told from Dellarobia Turnbow’s perspective, takes readers to the rural southeastern United States where monarch butterflies, turned off their migratory course for unknown reasons, have congregated at the Turnbow farm. For a full summary of Flight Behavior, check out this blog written by our Director of Programs.

Krista, a professor from Hawaii, has used Flight Behavior in her English 100 class and describes it as “beautifully and carefully written.” A group of young women who chose to read this book ended up deciding “they wanted to change their majors [to science]. The book truly gave them a vision of themselves as scientists, and that is what the book is about. It’s like a love story about science.” This idea was new to me, but made so much sense. I think Dellarobia’s love of science later in life happens because she was not given a proper science education in high school. I wonder what she could have done if she had a passionate science teacher.

Betsy, an educator from Arizona, brought up a couple of topics within Flight Behavior. “I think it has a lot of social justice stuff in there. Trying to make those decisions between clear cutting a forest or being able to feed your family and keeping a few butterflies around….you can [use it] beyond a science class.” There is a tremendous amount of detailed science in this book, but themes of social justice and economics are also very important to the story.

“Anybody can learn about climate change and become educated and do something.”

—Krista, professor in Hawaii

In January, we read Drawdown by Paul Hawken, a hopeful book which dives into solutions to climate change in depth. Devarati, an educator from Nebraska, was able to make a wonderful connection between Drawdown and Flight Behavior. “I was trying to connect it to Drawdown… and one of the [solutions in that book] is empowering women. It came to my mind that maybe this is what women empowerment looks like. Because [Dellarobia] cannot divorce from the things that she does everyday.” Dellarobia is still a mother and a wife, but she learns that she can have a job and that she loves science even still. Her experiences caused a change, empowering her to embrace this new chapter of her life; she evolved into a more environmentally friendly person.

The amount of factual information presented in this book is truly noteworthy. Sarah, a science teacher from Minnesota, points out the references in the back of the book. “[Kingsolver lists] all of the scientists and individuals that she talked to gain all of this information…she had all of this help to gather the information so if there’s any mistake it’s on her, not the scientists.” The data, paired with a personal story, is what really makes this book come alive. The butterflies are real. The weather is real. The struggle of a poor American family is real. The way these ideas weave together creates a story that is compelling yet heartbreaking, scientific yet personal.

For further discussion and ideas about how to incorporate this novel into your classroom, check out last month’s #TeachClimte Network meeting about Flight Behavior.

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