May 30, 2012
Having already spent a day with the kids at Santa Cruz Roman Catholic School, we returned to the school on Thursday with a heightened sense of confidence in our teaching abilities. As it were, the principal had requested that Britanny and I come prepared to spend the second day teaching our group of students about synonyms and antonyms. So, with a lesson plan already in mind, we walked into the classroom again on Thursday morning, ready to give the students of Standards V and VI an English lesson.
Yet, for all the planning that we had done, Belize’s characteristic unpredictability prevailed once again as our lesson was interrupted only a few minutes after it had begun. I was in the middle of writing examples of synonyms on the chalkboard when a tall, stocky woman in a traditional Mayan dress proudly marched into the classroom, followed by a shorter Mayan man who was struggling with a pile of projector equipment. Recognizing that she had interrupted a lesson, the woman unapologetically introduced herself to Britanny and me as a representative from a nearby secondary school and explained that she had come to talk to the children about furthering their education. Trading shrugs, Britanny and I told them to go ahead and set up for their presentation; synonyms could wait until the afternoon. So we pulled up two chairs in the back of the classroom, and we turned the floor over to our visitors from the Tumul K’in Center of Learning.
Now, I didn’t recognize it at first, but this interruption could not have been more opportune for Britanny and me as students of Mayan culture. For while it may seem that we were simply watching the Standard V and VI students learn about the advantages of attending secondary school, in a larger sense we were also witnessing Mayan cultural preservation in action. As the projected slideshow explained, the mission of the Tumul K’in Center of Learning is two-pronged. On one hand, the secondary school seeks to advance the modern Maya by providing an affordable secondary education to Mayan children with the hope that they will, as a result, be better equipped to promote socioeconomic development among their struggling people. But at the same time, Tumul K’in seeks to preserve Mayan culture by founding its curriculum upon traditional Mayan principles and practices. To understand how this two-part focus is put into action, take as an example Agricultural Science and Production, one of the two educational emphases at Tumul K’in. Students of Agricultural Science and Production spend time learning about modern agricultural practices throughout the world so that they can one day bring innovation back to their native villages and effect agricultural development. Yet in the same curriculum, significant time is devoted to teaching students about the fundamental role that agriculture has played in Mayan culture both historically and today. Thus, students of Agricultural Science and Production are trained to promote the development of modern Mayan agriculture, but in a way that remains loyal to traditional Mayan principles.
In this way, explained the presenter, the Tumul K’in Center of Learning seeks to practice a “sustainable development identity.” As a student of environmental studies, I find this diction particularly interesting insofar as it departs from the typical environmental context of sustainable development. For while “development” in this usage still connotes societal development, “sustainable” does not refer to natural resources but cultural resources. Therefore, the sustainable development identity of Tumul K’in aims to increase Mayan prosperity without sacrificing Mayan tradition, and it was precisely this ideal that the woman was attempting to communicate to the children of Santa Cruz on Thursday morning. Needless to say, synonyms seemed relatively insignificant by the end of the presentation.
Sean Drake is a sophomore from Cincinnati, Ohio. As a double-major in Classics and Environmental Studies, his main interest is the intersection of ancient civilizations and the environment. As a result, he is interested in the link between the native Maya and their homeland. On the side, Sean loves to scuba dive as well as run as captain on the USC Marathon Team. He hopes to one day pursue a career in coastal management.