The Human Ecology, Histories, and Literature Departments have collaborated on a series ongoing personal reflective essays called Eleutheros. Each week students are asked to write a reflective essay that demonstrates their understanding of the themes from their coursework and effectively links these themes to their unique thoughts and experiences. For each essay, students are asked to answer a new interdisciplinary prompt which inspires an integrated reflection on class learning. Our final essay asked students look at their academic semesters holistically and consider the value of their learning. In the coming week, look forward to some articulate examples of how our students have deeply and personally engage with this essential question. The prompt: So What? Why does what you have learned in your classes matter?
by Ryan Schendel:
My parents always told me it started when I was four years old. According to them, we were sitting on a plane on the way to North Carolina, and I turned to my dad and asked him a question. Apparently, it was a basic question like, “Where are we going?” and “How big is this plane?” In the number of times I have heard this story from my parents, they always exaggerate more and more, but as I have been told, by the time we had landed, I had asked them hundreds of questions over the course of two hours. My dad always told me how exasperating it became, but he and my mom were glad that I turned out to be a curious boy.
I have been asking questions throughout my entire life. I always look at the world as a great wealth of information that I can learn about through asking. My teachers at school tell my parents every year that they’re amazed at how inquiring I can be and how often I ask questions, even if it eventually bothers them. My grandmother, who used to be a high school English teacher herself, has always told me, “Don’t stop your questions. You can always learn something new, you just have to ask.”
Reflecting on my life before The Island School, I came to believe that I arrived on Eleuthera because I was curious. My sister embarked on a semester in 2010, and she returned home as someone who I did not recognize anymore. She had changed in positive but drastic ways, and seemed to be extremely happy in regards to her time here. I wanted to know why. I did not want to only hear her stories about The Island School. I needed to come here and experience it myself.
Arriving on campus, something that I picked up on rather quickly was that questions drove this program. I felt comforted by the fact that we were encouraged to be curious. I knew this on our first academic day, where we were told to make a list of what we had learned and questions we still had. Even more, I saw this on our first day of research, when my advisor Ian Hamilton told our group that it was up to us to ask a question about lemon sharks, and then formulate a study behind that question. I truly felt that my curiosity would help me here more than anywhere else. Even if someone were to only look at the campus; at all of the innovative designs of sustainability that have developed here over the past thirteen years, they would understand that each of those systems were creating by someone asking, “How can we live better in a place?”
The Island School allowed me to ask questions about the world around me, not only in the community, but also in each of our classes. In our first Histories class, Emma told us we would be exploring many aspects of anthropology, ethnography, and tourism. However, she did not start the course with teaching us. Instead, she asked us a question. “What is culture?” She wanted to know what we thought culture was, or how we would define it. After having a long discussion, our class realized that culture was a term used to encompass so many different aspects of a society, and it did not have any real concrete meaning. I began to comprehend that we were just taught a lesson in Histories class completely through the use of asking a question and then continuing to ask questions. This was a pattern I began to notice in all my classes that continued throughout the entire semester. In Human Ecology, Rob asked us in our first class if we knew any common paradigms. We began to list a few, including how the world is flat, and that the universe revolves around the Earth. He shifted it into a natural resource perspective, including fresh water, fish stocks, and energy supply, and I again realized that we were in the process of being taught through asking questions. I wanted to know how studying old paradigms related to learning about solutions to global issues. I realized that by analyzing how old paradigms shift over time, I could apply the same idea of shifting ideas to current global perspectives. I knew my own worldview about the significance of overfishing, the misuse of fresh water resources, and conservation of energy definitely shifted even after that first day of class. One aspect of Human Ecology that always kept me interested throughout the semester was the fact that I, as a student, had the task of asking questions and learning about each of these issues so that I could come up with my very own solution. By asking more and more about the specifics in each unit, whether it be how much fish stocks have actually declined, or what percentage of water is privately owned in the world, I was gathering real information to apply to a solution. My questions had a new purpose. They were no longer just out of curiosity, but their answers were leading to more questions and shaping my worldview.
This idea continued to the end of the semester with our final Human Ecology projects. We were told to ask, “How can we live better in this place?” or “Where is there an issue of sustainability on campus?” Through asking myself what I felt needed to be addressed on campus, doing my own investigating, and talking to Sam about resources, Crystal about Aquaponics, and Marie about Aquaculture, I finally settled on addressing clothing on campus. After talking with Bernadette and Jake, I asked myself “How can our clothing become more sustainable?”
Looking back, I see my curiosity and comfort with asking questions as an individual strength to bring to group projects. I especially felt this during our Oral History Project. Talking with Henry and Victoria, I learned a lot about conducting ethnography. What I feel like I personally gained from that experience is that in a semi-formal interview, it is always helpful to be truly curious in whatever I’m researching. Whenever Henry or Victoria responded to one of our questions, I quickly found myself with a new question about their response. This kind of conversation builds off of itself and, at least I believe, develops into a very successful ethnography. Asking questions helps reveal more and more information, and reveal biases and the effects of Positionality. I feel as though my group experienced some of these aspects during our interviews. However, even with these limiting factors present, by asking more questions to other Deep Creek residents, it helped us determine the entire story, instead of focusing on a “single story,” of politics, religion, and history of South Eleuthera. Histories class has personally taught me to always ask questions, to never accept a story as the sole truth, to recognize that there are always biases present, and to keep everything in perspective. Applying these tools back home, I’m sure I will have a very unique experience in my History class next semester.
I have always felt strongly that in Omeros, the journeys that Achille, Plunkett, and Walcott embark on, to discover knowledge about life and their own beginnings, are all connected as parallels to each other. What I mean by this is that each character seeks to find significance in their questions through talking to sources of wisdom; whether that is Walcott talking to his father or Omeros himself, Achille traveling to Africa to discover his ancestry, or Plunkett scouring pages of documents to find meaning in his family lineage. I find these journeys to all be symbolic and related to my own journey here at The Island School. I’m sure I wasn’t considering it at the time, but I came here with questions not only without answers, but also without significance. Back home, I had been told that sustainability was important to consider and care about, and I wanted to, but I didn’t know why. I came here wondering to what limits I could push myself, and learned that my own limits are never truly my upmost potential. I learned from our Super Swim, Research Projects, Omeros, eight-day kayak, Solo, and so many other experiences, that I can always swim a little harder, learn a little more, push myself a little farther, and most importantly; ask more questions. Just like Walcott, Achille, and Plunkett learn on their own journeys for knowledge, one question can always lead to another. I learned at The Island School that this process of questions building questions is the only way to learn as much as you can. A quote from Omeros, that I believe reinforces this idea comes from Walcott as he reflects on his journey for purpose, “It was an epic where every line was erased yet freshly written in sheets of exploding surf in that blind violence with which one crest replaced another with a trench and that heart-heaving sough… however one read it, not as our defeat or our victory; it drenched every survivor with blessing”(296). I see this passage as a representation of my journey at The Island School. I am aware I will come away from this semester with good and bad experiences, and still unanswered questions. However, I personally see all of those encounters and all of those questions as learning experiences that I will hold with me forever.
When I was in Second grade at Greens Farms Academy, my teacher told my parents that she was concerned with the amount of questions that I asked in class. She expressed how she was confused with my lack of understanding of each subject and my necessity to know more. I have carried that comment with me my entire life, even to my semester here at The Island School. What I have learned from my experiences here is that questions are not an aspect of education; they are the main component of education. Whether or not that idea applies to my sending school back home, I now know it applies to everything later in life, and I have personally gained more confidence in my curiosity. I have learned that my grandmother was right; the only way I’ll ever receive the answer I’m looking for is by asking. The Island School has shown me the significance in questioning; how it is vital to so many different processes, whether they be designing a scientific study or assessing a global issue and finding solutions. My hope for what I take away from this program, is that my curiosity can be a gift, and I should begin using it.