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 Chris Foote

So what?  It is hard to say when I’m still learning so much about this world and my self.  When first considering what to write on for this assignment, I was at a loss for words.  Then, as I looked out onto the pristine, blue ocean, the last line left Ashley’s mouth and lingered in the air: “When he left the beach the sea was going on” (Walcott, 325).  This triggered something deep in my mind, and I thought of all I have learned here.  First, I thought of the complexity of the life underneath the monotonous waves on the surface and its surfaces; then, of how that life is threatened by fisheries today.  I thought of Tito’s dilemma, the Mexican Fisherman who we learned about from Brady, and understood how he was conflicted between his family and the sea; of Hector’s burial, the swift, the sea-almonds; of the empty Spanish bottle landing on Cotton Bay after a long journey at sea. And at that moment, I realized: I am invested in my education.

For my entire life, school was to write an essay, turn it in, get your grade, forget it.  This was successful, until I touched down in RockSoundInternationalAirport.  It hit me a couple weeks in that I was thinking about the homework I worked on, not just mindlessly skimming Sparknotes on Macbeth so I could finish the new episode of “White Collar” before lights out.  For example, as I navigated through the confusing waters of SCommon and stumbled upon our first Omeros reading, I thought I knew the game like the back of my hand.  Open the book, circle some words, underline the first and last line of each section, scribble some remarks on the side, and your done in 15 minutes.  Soon, to my surprise, my mindset was altered by the many fascinations of Omeros. I found myself taking more time on each reading and really understanding what I wrote in the margins of the tattered novel.  This mindset brought me to a new place both academically and personally.  In both Histories and Literature Harkness discussions, I began to develop my skills as a facilitator.  I was able to step back from discussions and look at the bigger picture, and I felt more connected to each discussion, being both contributor and leader.  As a result, my investment in the classroom grew.

Just as I have evolved in the classroom with discussions and annotations, my investment in this environment has grown immensely as I’ve been here.  Since the first walk through the Inner Loop with Joseph, when I learned about mahogany and how to open a coconut, I have learned of this place and the services that it provides.  My project group and I created a Human Ecology project that I am passionate about.  60 feet under, a black grouper drifting aimlessly through the water in front of us while fixing tiles to dead coral with the sole purpose of awareness, I could not ask for a more inspiring project.  To be able to understand just the tip of the iceberg that is the awe inspiring environment that surrounds The Island School is not enough, I want others to feel the passion that I do.  That is not only the purpose of my Human Ecology project, but of much of the work we do here, as well.  It is so that I can return to my sending school and help others understand what I learned here: that we, as humans, are stakeholders in this earth, and that, in my opinion, we need to appreciate the power and complexity of nature if we want to live sustainably.  My vision is to carry my investment from The Island School to the world outside of this miniature paradise.  I will return to school as a meaningful stakeholder of the earth.  A stakeholder that not only respects and understands his environment, but one that gives back to it, as well.

My education here has taught me the importance of being a part of the environment.  On another long night of Marine Ecology homework, I was in the middle of a complaint concerning the length of an article when I turned the page and read: “It changes the role of Homosapiens as conqueror to plain member and citizen of the community” (Bohnsack, 7).  This quote reminds me of the importance to reach out.  I thought of the Settlement Day and DownIsland, and how experiencing the new culture of a community outside of The Island School made me feel more connected to Eleuthera and The Bahamas.  At first, I was out of my comfort zone, but my comfort only increased as I learned more about the areas I visited.  I now realize the importance of that type of domestic tourism.  By travelling to different places nearby, I was able to recognize and be a part of such vibrant diversity on a small island.  One of the forms of responsible tourism spoke to me in this regard: “[Responsible tourism] Makes positive contributions to the conservation of natural and culture heritage and to the maintenance of the world’s diversity” (Goodwin, 22).  Though this is concerning all sorts of tourism, it reflects how I have learnt to treat domestic tourism.  After seeing so much diversity on DownIsland trip, I see the incredible range of culture in such a small area, and I want to continue to explore places I thought I knew with the mindset of the “conservation of natural and cultural heritage.”  This connection to various cultures taught me how to become more invested in a place by showing that broadening my horizons on just a 3-hour car ride is just as meaningful as a 12-hour plane ride.

There are points in my life that I now realize I took for granted.  For example, two summers ago, I worked at a summer camp for those less fortunate than I, a culture foreign to me at that time.  The kids I met there were so different than I, I was intimidated.  I volunteered there for 6 weeks, and I did not get to know the students well until the end of my time there.  Once I put our differences behind me, I grew closer to my students faster than I have anyone else.  Now that I have learned the importance of cultural relativism, and to look at similarities instead of differences, I wish I had acted with a more open mind.  In the future, I will explore new cultures that I had looked over before.

So what?  My IslandSchool experience has given me a reason to be invested in what I do.  I feel that what I have done here has taught me to continue to be a part of my work, both in school and out of school.  This investment will drive me through the rest of my schooling and the remainder of my life by supplying passion and interest to my life.  As I look out onto the ocean, Walcott’s final verse spinning through my head, I will forever be reminded of all I have accomplished here and all that it has taught me.