This year, the Human Ecology, Histories, and Literature Departments have collaborated on a series ongoing assignments. 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.  Enjoy reading how our students have deeply and personally engage with essential questions, important to their course of study at The Island School…
This Weeks Prompt:  Within the context of your experience at The Island School so far, especially in Literature, Histories and Human Ecology how have you begun to see your own paradigm and worldview challenged or changed?

“Gingersnap” by Grace Fowler

Gingersnap is the perfect example of a paradigm. Orange and very temperamental, Gingersnap fits the common stereotype of a “sassy ging.” He bites, claws, mauls and sneaks. He terrorizes lizards and tries to steal food from people’s plates. I’ve heard some students say he is the most hated cat at The Island School, and have even seen him be hurled off the dining hall deck by the scruff of his neck. However, spend enough time with him or pick him up when he’s not busy hunting lizards, and he’s the sweetest cat. Countless times he’s crawled onto my stomach and began purring loudly. He’s curious and smart. Once you get past the incessant biting, he’s a gem.

A paradigm is a system of understanding. Often in this world, people are defined by their paradigms. Their judgments, beliefs and biases determine who their friends are, what they like, and what they do. To see the big picture, you must understand it. You must talk to people and experience what they experience to understand their culture and beliefs. You must respect the land and seek knowledge.

In the first pages of Omeros, shutter-happy tourists stand and watch Philoctete prepare to cut down trees. They are there solely to see and experience the “native life,” and in the following pages are not mentioned again. Their experience is one-sided because they neglect to ask Philoctete any more questions about his life or his land. Before theIslandSchool, I was simply a tourist. I traveled frequently to different corners of the world, but only brought back lousy pictures and overpriced souvenirs. I didn’t try to get to know the locals or learn about the history of the land. I was a typical sightseer; only interested in the main attractions.

In Histories, one of our first readings was about ethnography, the work of discovering and describing a culture by learning from an insider’s perspective. Culture is the traditions, arts, social behaviors, knowledge and beliefs of a collective group of people. The article Nacirema describes a sadistic and torturous tribe that performs horrible and dangerous rites on its people. While reading, I was downright horrified and thought the tribe was completely crazy. It wasn’t until I was told that the article was about American culture that I realized how much my cultural biases affect my judgment of other people and places. It is impossible to learn about a place and a culture without gaining a new perspective.

In the 60s, my Dad’s parents settled down in Forbes Hill, Exuma and built a cozy house on a hill overlooking the sea. My Dad grew up spending months at a time in The Bahamas: spear fishing spiny lobsters and hunting sharks with friends. I’ve been traveling to Exuma since I was only a few months old. My brothers and I climbed, and fell, out of coconut trees and lived in the water since we could walk. For my Dad, Exuma has always been home. Everyone on the island knows Lukie Fowler, and everywhere we go we meet old friends. It’s impossible to drive throughGeorge Townwithout stopping to chat every few yards. Although I grew up around Bahamians, I never really knew them. I was too young to hold a conversation or ask about their lives and I didn’t understand their culture or their struggles. I spent countless hours in the ocean and in the trees playing with my brothers, but never realized the value of the beautiful landscape. It wasn’t until I came to The Island School that I began to really see The Bahamas.

On our first Settlement Day, I was nervous and scared at the prospect of interviewing random people. I was astounded at the idea of knocking on someone’s front door and actually being welcomed inside. In theUS, no one cares about anyone but themselves. Walking down the street in Rock Sound, a man crossed the road and started walking towards my buddy and me. I used to avoiding strangers at all costs, I was slightly unnerved that he was walking straight towards us, but he kindly introduced himself as Steven and said he would be more than happy to be interviewed. Nowhere in America could two teenage girls be alone with a grown man in a new town and not feel threatened, yet I felt completely comfortable talking with him about his family and his love of Eleuthera.

Earlier in the day, my buddy and I timidly knocked on a door of a small orange and purple house. Deborah, a teacher at the local school, invited us into her home and was quick to tell us the value of a good education. She said that it is important to educate the youth because they are the future. Older generations are stuck in their ways of neglecting and mistreating the environment, but the youth have the power to help. She said it’s all about perspective: we just need to show people the value of the environment.

Growing up climbing coconut trees and snorkeling in Exuma, I was always a passive adventurer. I didn’t ask why Royal Poinciana flowers were red or how coconuts knew how to break through their tough shells and sprout. I always admired a pretty flower or bird but never thought about the affect that invasive flower had on the other plants, or the fact that five years ago, there were five times as many of those birds. When Philoctete prepares to cut down trees to make into canoes, Walcott writes that “blood splashed on the cedars, and the grove flooded with the light of sacrifice.” Philioctete recognizes nature as a valuable resource and only takes as many trees as he needs at that moment. Similar to Philoctete’s view, Human Ecology class asks us to view the environment as a valuable resource. The class fosters a growth of knowledge and respect for ecosystems and our relationship with them.

For my interview in Histories, I called my Dad and asked him about Exuma when he was a boy. He spoke vividly of skin-diving on patch reefs packed with fish of every color and size. Crawfish hid under every rock and overhang, and once there were so many conch that a friend’s small boat almost sank with the weight of just a half-hour conching excursion. Land crabs scuttled through the bushes at night and flooded the roads during heavy rains. Coconut groves reached as far as the eye could see, but now most of the trees have been stolen for use at fancy hotels. Native trees that were once abundant are in rapid decline due to the invasion of Casuarina pines. Nowadays during an afternoon snorkeling, you can see hundreds of conch skeletons littering the seafloor like a graveyard, but only a few live conch. Reefs have been horrifically overfished and stripped of coral and are still in decline due to pollution from humans.

During our first long block of Human Ecology we learned about the terrestrial ecosystem of the Inner Loop. We learned that Brazilian Red Pepper plants can be used to fend off bacterial, viral, and fungal infections. Mahogany trees used to be common in TheBahamas, but now there is only a small number due to their overharvesting for flooring. Leaves from Indian almond trees can be used to filter bacteria out of water and Pigeon Plum is an important part of animals’ diets. We learned about several edible plants and the wicked poisonwood. In one class I learned more about plants than I ever have in my life. The class opened my eyes to the importance every plant has to an ecosystem and the effects humans have on them. In our first class, we filled out an ecological footprint survey. Most of the class needed more than twenty earths to maintain their levels of energy, food and material consumption. When I saw these numbers I was shocked that I could really be leaving that negative of an impact and vowed to change my actions.

In just three weeks, The Island School has allowed me to see the world in a different way. At home, sustainability is more of a trend, a subject that is hyped up but never put into effect. We all say we care, but at the end of the day, we are too lazy to sort paper from plastic. At theIslandSchool, we are living it. We are constantly striving to be more sustainable and environmentally friendly. The teaching style is hands-on and focused on educating students about our surroundings, both environmental and cultural. My school and my parents were both hesitant about sending me away for my junior year, but I convinced them that it is more important to be exposed to as many experiences and people as one can in a lifetime rather than sitting in a classroom for seven hours each day. To succeed at theIslandSchoolone must open up and take in the experience as a whole: run-swims, sunburns, challenging classes, unique people, mosquitoes, and orange cats.