Viewpoint: Visiting Second Grade Island  

By Todd R. Nelson 

This happened a long time ago, but the recollections of my visit to Second Grade Island are as fresh as if it were yesterday. 

Here on the jungle floor, under the canopy of towering Rotini trees, where the dappled light of the midday sun trickles down to the small birds and animals that thrive on this unique tropical atoll, live the people of Second Grade Island. They are its first inhabitants, for there is no sign that anyone has ever lived here before –except for the sunken ship deep in the lagoon. 

“Pirates,” says one of the tribal elders. “We dived down to look for treasure. We found a map in a drawer in the captain’s cabin. Even though we dried it out, we still can’t read it.” 

How does one find this island, you ask? What chart will we need to locate it? What provisions and tools? Let us go and make our visit. 

“We came in a raft,” said another affable island elder. “It was 57,000 miles from the mainland and took us a year to get here.” 

“We’ve been here for five years,” they said, “and found it deserted.” 

“There are lions, tigers, leopards, cheetahs, sea turtles (lots) and seals.” Big animals! Ferocious animals! Carnivores! 

“There’s a baby jaguar, monkeys, snakes, fish, lizards, koalas,” they said. “None were tamed, but all became our friends.” 

How did Charles Darwin miss this isle as he sailed the seas on The Beagle, and would his “Origin of the Species” read differently had he accounted for the splendor and variety of SGI wildlife? In the name of science, I shifted to anthropological questions.  

“We speak a special language – never recorded or written down,” the islanders told me. Every language has a form of “hello,” and theirs is tokrgkjy. Goodbye? They say, jgykylpwxzy. Pronunciation defies description; transliteration cannot do it justice. It is akin to some of the twitter of tropical songbirds punctuated by glottal clucks and pops. When the islanders speak among themselves, you would think a thrash of thrushes were arguing over nesting rights. Their favorite word: animals, or “twagalaga.” That’s easy enough. 

Their diet is rich and varied, no surprise given the lush forests they inhabit, not far from the sand dunes and island’s protected coves.  

“We’re fond of bananas, peaches, coconuts, crab cakes, squid, angle worms and chocolate grasshoppers,” they told me, and spoke of roasting twigs and bugs to eat. “They taste like asparagus, once you get used to them.”  

The sun was setting. “Does it get cold here at night?” I asked the islanders. 

“Yes. We make blankets out of weeds,” they said. “We have a tiny sewing kit from Maine. We can also sew leaves into tents and blankets. We make our own clothes.” 

“That’s why I look like this,” added one of the elders, lifting her leg. “I made sneakers.” They wear their trousers rolled. 

They offered insights on their handwork. “We make lots of rafts to fit all of us. We want to bring all the animals back with us in a humungous boat,” they said.  

The SG islanders seem to enjoy an existence without tension or demand. They need no money. (“We do make lemonade.”) With no media intrusion, sans internet, mail, telephones and television, they rely solely on their fully charged imaginations for play and pleasure.  

“Do you communicate with the outside world?” I asked. 

“No need. Just with the leopards,” one replied. And they ride the animals, “tell scary stories” and play beach volleyball, thanks to a ball found “without a hole” on their arrival. 

Are there dangers on SGI? 

“The volcano,” they cried. “Hot lava!”  

Fortunately, the islanders all swim, even underwater – “for an hour!” Life is good, portending years of idyllic living. But just what exactly did they mean by “bring all the animals back”? Are these islanders from “away”? 

All of which is to say that when children truly inhabit their school and learning; are given permission to become a tribe, create a language, explore exotic climes, cultures and critters; when their natural curiosity and authority is enabled – anything is possible. If only Second Grade Island were just down the hall in every school. But I fear, since it is off the standard charts, it may be lost to all but the bravest, imaginative and adventurous explorers. 


Todd R. Nelson lives in Penobscot, among the twagalaga, and writing about his adventures in education.  

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