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A Novel EI Reading Experience for Adolescents: JONATHAN LIVINGSTON SEAGULL by Richard Bach

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A Novel EI Reading Experience for Adolescents:



  • This is a story about Emotional Intelligence, character formation, values clarification, and conflict resolution.
  • Jonathan Livingston Seagull (JLS) can be described as an experimenter, thinker, searcher, observer, non-conformist, even a renaissance bird.  The book is all about character, identity, learning, knowledge, searching, self-discovery, self-motivation, and self-education.  It describes a self-aware seagull not afraid to look at himself, to feel his feelings, to be courageous, to be, and to make changes through trial-and-error that would improve his life.  Think about this: Are there any words or phrases in the paragraph good-for-students-and EI lessons?

The book deals with fear, boredom, and hostility.  One key for JLS is to get “fear under control” while experimenting with flying and diving.  Handling fear and anxiety is also important for children when learning new things, in reading, writing, math, and science. Teachers can remove blocks to learning while teaching core subjects.  And then again, there are always standardized tests that create test-anxiety causing kids to dislike the subject tested.  Imagine that: How do you teach EI along with reading, writing, and arithmetic?  Learning is also about thoughts, feelings, experiences, pressure, and stress-reduction, so why isn’t it in the curricula?  Where do you read about EI in district manuals?  Does its absence relieve responsibility to teach it?  I am talking about ideas that fit into the EIrubric called commonsense.  Whatever happened to that?

  • Think about this: JLS is a symbol of freedom, love, peace, and hope.  Is this starting to sound like the Sixties for those who remember and lived through those times (JLS was published in 1970)?  Jon embraces these ideas because he sees the other gulls’ meanness and resignation: a world of pure survival limited by emotions and thoughtlessness, a life with little motivation.  He wanted to change things by teaching them what he learned about openness, experimenting, acceptance, communication, thinking, courage, patience, self-control and -discipline, questioning, perfection, and living in the present.  Questions: Don’t the above ideas, values, and EI skills need clarification with students?  How would they affect your kids as individuals and the class as a whole, and you as a teacher?
  • JLS is about the individual versus the group, inner- versus outer-directed behavior. One seagull goes against the flock’s retro standards and way of life, that is, a life of eating and survival.  Jon sees life as trying to achieve excellence, searching for new ideas, possibilities, and experiences.  At-risk/disadvantaged kids are faced with going against the crowd who wants individuals to conform to their life style and not achieve.  Imagine that: Teach children EI skills to fight against “friends” who don’t have their best interests in mind, to do what’s best for them, to find motivation from the inside, and to face themselves.  To be or not to be, that is the question educators can pose to students.
  • The concept of open- versus close-mindedness is a theme, where JLS wants to re-create his world, to get away from the hostilities and fighting amongst the gulls because he realized there is more to living than “war all the time.”  Imagine that: Adolescents learn to keep an open mind, to see peripherally, to avoid tunnel vision thinking, and ultimately, to learn to think critically and creativelyQuestions: Don’t these EI skills teach kids to think deeply in school and real life situations?  Are we teaching kids the prerequisite fundamental skills of reflection, recall, visualization, thinking, contemplation, and meditation to keep the channels of thought and feeling open to all worlds?  If the doors of perception remain open to experience, students will understand things not only through the eyes, but with their understanding, another important theme to be discussed.
  • JLS is about being there, being present in the world.  But the reality is that we live in three subjective time zones: present, past, and future.  Which time should we live in?  What did you say?  A no-brainer, well…yes, it’s better to live in the present where our attention/focus should be.  Jon felt the flock was living-in-the-past by fighting for food and always feeling bored and angry because of an empty life.  JLS wanted more; he had a vision of the future and how great it could be.  To reach that paradise, to learn about flying in the sky and in the mind, he had to be focused and living-in-the-present or else he couldn’t control his fear.  Questions: Does this idea of being focused and in present time sound like a familiar issue in the classroom?  How do you get your kids’ attention?  Do you demand it by saying: “Pay attention”?  How do you get the class to be there with you?  How do you combat their fragmented attention spans?  Do you use concentration activities with them?  Imagine that: Try diverse, fun, absurd, creative, and challenging concentration activities, games, and meditations, all necessary skills-exercises to create an emotionally intelligent class, but rarely found in school curricula.
  • Questions: How do students see their worlds and the world? Can they see possibilities for themselves?  Do they view learning as limited or unlimited?  Do they see themselves as lifelong learners, readers, and students?  JLS sees his world, the world of flying, diving, learning, and teaching others as one of unlimited potential.  Think about it: Maybe this might stretch classroom reality a bit, but the idea of no limits falls into the zone of positive thinking, self-efficacy, self-reliance, self-guidance, and open-mindedness, which connects kids to their worlds and the world.  Question: Aren’t the concepts of limitless goals and keeping an open mind values students can learn through reading and JLS?  This is values clarification, where a child has the board set up in front of her: limits vs. no limits and open vs. close-mindedness, or to be or not to be, that is the question.  Aren’t these concepts important to pose to all children in urban, suburban, inner city, and rural areas to see how they would respond? 


  • Jon learned about the joy of flying and diving, being there, and perfection when he was on Earth with more advanced lessons in Heaven.  By reflecting on his experiences he discovered what the purposes in life are.  He was motivated and wanted to communicate his knowledge to others so they could find their way in the world and transcend a life of searching for food.  He was an amazing teacher and communicator because he developed self-awareness, self-knowledge, and self-understanding, and, in turn, became a self-motivated and self-educated seagull.  The many “self’s” and ways of being he faced prepared him for the difficult task of teaching the other gulls mired in old world thinking.  Jonathan’s passion and compassion demonstrate a high EIQ, Emotional Intelligence QuotientImagine that: Teach the self-words that define identity and help adolescents realize things about themselves, where they are or are not heading in their lives, and also, give them the ability to determine their destinies (self-determination and -responsibility).


  • JLS experimented with new ways of flying/diving, but failed and failed until he got it right by practicing.  He wasn’t afraid to fail, and would not let it stop him from solving his problems, no matter how bad he felt.  Jonathan broke through devastating emotions, conquering fear with courage.  Jon proves you can make mistakes and survive because he was a rational thinker who resolved conflicts and changed his world.  Question: Don’t teachers experience similar issues with students who feel frustrated, turn apathetic, and want to give up, believing theyre failures, and want to get out of school to go anywhere they can RIP?  Think about it: Shouldn’t we help students to discover: their own psychology, inner voices, self-confidence, and, at the same time, to confront negative emotions, connect with their inside worlds, and find peace along with the hassles stemming from learning? After all, we’re all human and we make plenty of mistakes.  To repeat, EI has a lot to do with common sense.  What do you think?


  • Jonathan learned many things on Earth and more in Heaven about speed in flying and in thought.  His Heavenly education benefitted him as a student of life, living, and as an experimenter.  Jon was inspired by what he learned, and as a believer in love and kindness, wanted to give back to the gulls on Earth.  He became a “Super Bird” and returned to Earth to teach the gulls how to re-create their uncreated conscience and lives.  Imagine a story about values like selflessness, responsibility, loving-kindness, and respect for others? The humanity of any person may be measured by the willingness to give unselfishly the knowledge and wisdom acquired over the years to mentor neophytes in whatever they may do.  Think about it: Whoso may be human in a post-humanist world, may be a real non-conformist.  Question: Don’t you think one of the most important EI lessons we can teach our kids is how to be human? 


  • This imaginary tale for preteens, teens, and adults is about how to re-evaluate, re-invent, and create our un-created selves.  It demonstrates how to: try things out in life, be yourself, call up courage to face fear, and accept ones’ self for better or worse.  Jonathan is an inner-directed seagull who listens to his inner voice driving him to self-discovery.  It is about self-motivation, how he inspires himself to make a difference in his world and the flock.  It is also about self-education, the consequences of self-motivation, another “self-word” that rewards the hard work and efforts of a gull that searches for knowledge.  Think about it: Another EI lesson is to rap about testing things to find out what works and not shutting down your world with walls easy to put up, but hard to knock down.  Character development starts with self-realization and leads to self-actualization.


  • “Don’t look with your eyes, look with your understanding” is a quote from the book.  Imagine that: Spend time defining what it means and a year giving examples of how one looks with understanding.  Looking with the eyes you see the surface, while looking with understanding, you see beyond it and perceive what you see, and can also put it into the context of your experience.  Question: Aren’t we trying to teach our children to: read between the lines, probe, dig deeper, get a real feel of the world, search for and discover their creativity, open up the cities of the imagination, and become enlightened?  For your students’ eyes only: “Observe with your eyes, be out there and connect all you see to your mind, imagination, heart, and spirit.  This is the connection, where the nerves or wires from the eyes, hook you up to the Internet in your brain.  Think about it: Doesn’t this quotation define an EI goal.
  • JLS is about finding one’s self and using that knowledge to communicate and also connect with othersJon made the journey in and then outQuestions: What does it mean to find your self?  How does it affect your life? Do kids reflect about their lives?  Is it necessary to look inside?  How can looking in help your life?  Can it be harmful if you dig too deep and long?  Can you get lost in misunderstanding and self-deception? What are the benefits of IEI (Inner Emotional Intelligence)? Self-awareness, -knowledge, and -understanding go together and can take kids to a higher level of enlightenment as Jonathan found out from his life on Earth and in Heaven.
  • One of the great leaders said to JLS: “Perfect speed is being there. If we move at the right speed, whatever that may be, it means being there, that we are in present time feeling, thinking, we are in it, not running away, avoiding, escaping, denying, fighting, or just surviving, we are in-the-world, a presence, with no chains limiting our freedom to be and to create.  This is what Jon wanted for himself: to feel unlimited and to be present.    Picture this: Your entire class sits in front of you totally focused and open to the lesson.  You start to feel a new feeling, it’s cool, mentholated, a slight breeze wafts it around in your head and you begin to feel peaceful, something you haven’t experienced before enters your being, because now you are there, you have achieved perfect speed.  This is an Emotionally Intelligent classroom, where teaching and learning have achieved “perfection,” a paradise found.  How sweet it is…


  • “I think, therefore I am” runs deep in Jonathan because he is a thinker, who looks at his parents, the flock, and its Elders and hears about the way life’s supposed to be, which does not ring true for him.  He perceives it as close-minded, a life of no fun, excitement, and challenges ahead, just the same old thing day after day.  Jon observes, listens, hears, and understandsHe surveys, stops, thinks about, and assesses his world.  Thinking is a key to his survival.  Question: How crucial is thinking to EI, character formation, and values clarification?  JLS is not afraid to live his life as he sees it.  He reflects and questions events and puts them in perspective to understand and appreciate what has happened to him.  Jon doesn’t fear asking the tough questions, facing the unknown, and what he might or might not find out.  Questions for students: Do you think about things, your world, and reality?  Do you ever stop thinking?  What happens if you do?  Questions for teachers: To think, to think clearly, critically, and creatively, and to question things, aren’t these the EI skills we want all our students to embrace?
  • Think about this: JLS is not afraid to be alone, unlike many kids today, who don’t know what to do if faced with “home alone.”  In his world, “alone” does not have a negative connotation, and it shouldn’t have, regardless…Questions for kids: What words are triggered in your mind when you think about the word “alone”?  How do you handle this feeling?  Are you okay with it or not?
  • More questions for kids: Are you an experimenter?  Do you like to try new things?    Why?  How are you going to make changes in your life unless you experiment and fix what needs to be changed?     


  • JLS is a searcher for truth, truth about flying, diving, living, thinking, teaching, studying, and learning.  Question: Isn’t searching for truth a value kids should reflect on and how it relates to their lives?


  • Jon is motivated internally to create a new world of flight in the air, the mind and imagination, and is a dedicated, enthusiastic student who wants to give back, to teach others what he has learned so they can achieve greatness.  Questions for kids: Are you motivated from the inside, outside, or both?  What makes you want to succeed in school and out of school?  Where do you get that feeling?
  • Question: Does selflessness fit in with values clarification lessons?  Why or why not?   


  • Jon is a rebel with a cause, a non-conformist: With these character traits, you might call him courageous in thought and action.  Question for students: Are you a rebel and/or a non-conformist in any way in your life?  Why?
  • JLS is determined, patient, and an observer, all significant traits that develop, improve, and expand his ability to think and perceive things.  Questions for students: How would you rate yourself on a scale from 0 to 10, where 0 is the lowest and 10 the highest score, in determination, patience, and as an observer?  Give reasons for each rating.    


  • And you can’t forget about the love and kindness he exudes, the peace and hope, he tries to bring to the flock living lives of anger, boredom, apathy, and survival.  Question for your class: Are love, kindness, peace, and hope things of the past?
  • What would JLS say to your class? Question: How would your kids respond to Jon’s ideas? 


  • JLS wants to create “beautiful control” over flying by practicing and practicing.  Questions:  Can our kids gain beautiful control over reading, writing, thinking, and behavior?  How sweet would that be?  Can it be accomplished?  Do we have enough knowledge and information to reach this goal?  Questions for kids: What do you have “beautiful control” over in your life?  Why?  Do you believe practice makes perfect? 


  • Jon wants to communicate what he has learned to others.  JLS is a communicator in modern timesQuestion: How do we teach the EI skill of communication?  Can teachers get kids to be communicators?  Questions for your class: Are you a good communicator?  How well do you communicate in writing and by speaking?  What would you change in the way you communicate?  How important is listening in the act of communication?
  • JLS pursued excellence, made many breakthroughs, and as a result, boosted his self-belief and self-confidenceQuestions for kids: Do you believe in yourself?  Do you have confidence in yourself?  Do you pursue excellence like Jon?  Can you create self-belief and self-confidence if you don’t feel it?  Where do you look for it?     


  • JLS has learned from ordinary and extraordinary experiences and has become open-minded, aware, wise, passionate, compassionate, a gull with unlimited potential ready to receive and embrace the world, and happy in his own skin.  This passage defines EI.


This post-article shows how JLS can be used to develop an Emotionally Intelligent classroom through literature.  EI can also be achieved by reading other novels, short stories, non-fiction, and poetry.  My JLS summary/analysis models how EI skills can be taught with an inquiry-based approach by weaving them into your literature discussions.


If you check out Amazon, you will find loads of reviews, and amazing stories of how JLS affected people’s lives, and was passed on by adults for their children to read.  The messages and themes connect with the Sixties and are still relevant in today’s cyberspace world.


If anyone is interested in using JLS with their students, I have an original workbook created for my fifth and sixth grade students.  Write to me at my gmail address and I will forward a copy: jeffreyppflaum@gmail.com.


Go to Amazon (“LOOK Inside”) to read an excerpt from the book.  The book also has some great photographs of seagulls in flight that will spur kids’ imaginations.  The movie version is excellent and fun to watch after reading the book.  My class and the entire upper grades in the school loved it. The DVD can be found at Blockbuster and Netflix. There is also the original motion picture soundtrack (see Amazon), with samples from each of the twelve songs on the audio CD.   





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Jeffrey Pflaum has been an inner-city elementary school teacher in Bedford-Stuyvesant and Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York, for thirty-four years (NYCDOE, retired in 2002). He worked as a creative writing, whole language, social studies, gifted/talented, physical education, and mentor teacher in grades K – 6 and special education. Pflaum coached middle school boys and girls basketball teams and one of his players became coach of the Pace University team. Tennis was also taught on the elementary school level to lower grade kids as part of the NY Junior Tennis League Program founded by Arthur Ashe. Pflaum considers himself a teacher-developer-researcher experimentalist who created successful education projects in emotional intelligence, social and emotional learning, reading, writing, poetry, thinking, creativity, vocabulary expansion, concentration, and intra- and interpersonal communication skills. He has written articles for professional newspapers and publications about his curricula. Various programs appeared on web sites such as ERIC and CASEL/Collaborative for Academic and Social and Emotional Learning (“Experiences, Reflections, and Insights”). One program was featured at the International National Council of Teachers of English at NYU as one of the best examples of English Language Arts in the NYC Public Schools, K – 12. His students’ poetry and prose have been published in college, writers’, gifted secondary, and children’s literary journals, magazines, newspapers, and by major commercial book publishers; read on public radio (Poetry-In-The-Morning, WNYE-FM, sponsored by the Teachers & Writers Collaborative/NYC); and, won honors and awards from PBS, Channel Thirteen/NYC. One student, Noel “Speedy” Mercado, became a top NYC disc jockey on WKTU-FM. Pflaum published an inspirational book about adolescent reading lives titled MOTIVATING TEEN AND PRETEEN READERS: HOW TEACHERS AND PARENTS CAN LEAD THE WAY (Rowman & Littlefield Education). For book reviews, go to http://www.examiner.com/review/motivating-your-kids-to-read to see Kecia Burcham's response to the book, and also, The Teachers College Record for Karen Polk's insightful article. For Karen Polk's review (8/24/12), from the Teachers College Record, google "MOTIVATING TEEN AND PRETEEN READERS - Teachers College Record." Go to www.JeffreyPflaum.com for more articles on "Contemplation Writing," Meditative Writing Ideas, Internet radio interviews, published student poetry, and newspaper articles about his book on motivating adolescent readers and Inner Cities Arts Project. His recent interviews on Contemplation Writing can be found at these "Pure Imagination" links: http://prn.fm/2012/07/14/pure-imagination-071312 and Pure Imagination - 07/13/12 | Progressive Radio Network. A second interview on "Connect With Julianna" (Toginet Radio Network) about "Contemplation" or "Music" Writing can be found at these links: http://bit.ly/iTFbk7 and http://bit.ly/t5FA0W; or, Connect with Creative Educator and Author, Jeffrey Pflaum. Pflaum is currently a regular blogger on The BAM Radio Network's blog, ED Words, where posts about a plethora of his projects can be found at: www.bamradionetwork.com/edwords-blog/blogger/listings/jeffpaul.

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