An in-depth, hands-on study of issues concerning Everglades National Park
, this seminar combines the themes of both the third year, "Values and Authority", and the fourth year, "Looking to the Future" by examining not only the Everglades eco-system and the politics surrounding its conservation, but also literature and art about the Everglades. It requires active participation from each student and can be physically challenging for some, since classes take place outdoors, rain or shine, and involve physical activities such as hiking, biking, canoeing, and walking through the swamp or slough slogging. Students also learn to identify South Florida flora and fauna. Class meets twice a month on Friday for the entire day at various off-campus locations (Homestead, Flamingo, Shark Valley, Big Cypress, Everglades City) and is team taught by Dr. Peter Machonis
, a linguist, and Dr. Devon Graham
, a tropical biologist, along with guest lecturers and rangers. In the past, we have had guests such as the photographer Clyde Butcher and the writer Carl Hiaasen. Readings this year will include The Swamp
, written by this past fall's Honor's Excellence Speaker, Michael Grunwald, who has expressed an interest in joining the class, too. Participation is limited to 18 students.
The first semester syllabus concentrates on the origins of the ENP idea through the first impressions of the 19th century naturalist John James Audubon, the early movement to protect the Everglades, and the legislation that led to the dedication of America's first biological national park in 1947 by President Truman. Students will also learn about the origins of this unique ecosystem along with its flora and fauna and "class" will involve plant, habitat and wildlife identification in the field, as well as "inhabiting the lives" of some of its early explorers.
Much of the original Everglades wetlands were destroyed as Miami and South Florida grew, and today the ENP faces strong threats to its survival. The second semester then will focus on various attempts to "save the Everglades" and the reasons why this is important. It will include an in-service project -- probably an all-day Everglades clean-up at Chekika, the most recently acquired part of the Park. During part of the second semester, students will work on individual or group projects, and a poster session for public display will be held at the ENP Visitor's Center.
Sequence of Class Readings
The two principal books for this course are The Everglades Handbook and The Swamp. While the first explains the intricate biological details of the Everglades ecosystem, the second helps us to understand the complex politics of past Everglades destruction and current restoration efforts. The Everglades Handbook and filed guides will be used for identification of flora, fauna and habitats in the field. In addition, we will read three novels and one journal throughout the year. The journal Across the Everglades details an early explorer's canoe trip in the Everglades and will be discussed during our class canoe trip. The novel Their Eyes Were Watching God is set in the northern Everglades just south of Lake Okeechobee, an area converted to large-scale agriculture. This novel will be discussed during the class slough slog to give a small taste of the protagonist's predicament of escaping the Everglades during a hurricane. We will also discuss the classic work by Voltaire, Candide, when visiting "the best of all possible worlds", the 10,000 Islands on the Florida West coast. While the climate of Florida has always attracted many visitors, recent archeological findings suggest that these islands were a veritable "all-you-can-eat seafood buffet" (The Swamp, p. 210) for the first peoples to settle there.
During second semester, we will also include a contemporary work of fiction such as Skinny Dip by Carl Hiaasen about an unscrupulous biologist involved in Everglades restoration efforts. The assortment of readings is designed to give students a broad-based appreciation of biology, history, politics, and literature associated with the Everglades.
Students will be required to particiapte in class discussions and write journal entries reflecting their readings and experiences. Some innovative assignments are also included, such as administering a brief Everglades survey and designing a "personal ad" of an Everglades animal (or plant). There will be short quizzes every class and a longer quiz on the last class, which will involve identification of various flora and fauna, familiarity with ecosystem features and functions, along with questions on the literature read.
Students should have reliable means of transportation to all locations: Everglades National Park Visitor Center, Flamingo (Florida Bay), Shark Valley (on Tamiami Trail), Everglades City (the west coast of Florida), etc. Students are encouraged to car pool. In addition to books, students must purchase a pair of binoculars ($50-$100), and pay for certain activities (e.g., all canoe and bike rentals, some entrance fees, up to approx. $20 for some classes). Students should expect to get their feet wet and come home from class exhausted!