Photo of Skylar
April 23, 2020

The Workshop: Skylar ’20's Week 1 Reflection

The Search for a Perfect Project Idea
by Skylar ’20, Workshop student

The Workshop at Andover is an immersive term-long learning experience. Spring-term seniors stop all traditional academic courses and instead work closely with peers and faculty on a series of linked, interdisciplinary projects that revolve around a single subject. This term the subject is Community, Class, and Carbon.

The following is a student reflection from the first week of the program. (There are three more student reflections in the Week 1 series: Sophie ’20, Liu ’20, and Isabel ’20. Please click on each student’s name to read their work.)

Skylar ’20 is currently studying at her home in Beijing, where she enjoys watching the flock of circling pigeons just before sunset.

When I initially tried to find a topic for the first project, I got caught in a loop. The prompt asked us to research a community we are a part of and produce an artifact about that community. In retrospect, habitually looking outward in most of my classroom assignments has perhaps made me diminish the significance of my immediate surroundings. I kept trying to think of bigger or better ideas, because I was convinced there would be better ones. I did eventually settle on Andover’s international student community after some back-and-forth, but for a while I thought the topic was too familiar or too predictable, and something like that would never make for a good creative assignment.

In a flitting thought, I wondered what it would be like to do this project at school or to do it at another time. I would be able to talk to people in real life, for one, and I would be in touch with quite a different set of communities. I thought very randomly about AP test proctors and how much I wanted to interview them, to get a sense of what they felt and who they are, just out of curiosity. That brought me to thinking about how temporality and physical location works in these assignments where we are given freedom to choose what to focus on: because the assignment was to produce an artifact of a community around you, the potential topic selection has already been pared down to the specific time and space we are in.

It seems intuitive, but I’m pointing it out to differentiate this assignment from other assignments I’ve worked on at school, where internet research is the main expected source. We worked with different mediums, too—videos, podcasts, papers—but there was never a restriction of proximity imposed on the work. For example, I looked at oil pipelines and eminent domain laws for a history final—something that piqued my academic interest but could not be further away from my daily life. It makes me appreciate the sense of connectedness that comes with taking the time to inspect a community that you are close to, made up of people you know and care about, instead of reading (still awesome but relatively detached) articles about private property and public land use. Both campus archivist Dr. [Paige] Roberts and international student coordinator Ms. [Kelicia] Hollis ’08 expressed interest in my final product when I told them about my work, which adds to the thought that this project carries a lot more emotion, care, and concern than usual. I am reminded that I’ve written very emotional essays in English class, but the distinction here is that more people are enmeshed in this web of concern—everyone in the community and everyone that cares about this community.

Lastly, I wanted to stop trying to come up with better ideas because I suspected I wanted to come up with the perfect project idea. These days (meaning quarantine days—China is at a point where people can go out, but only with masks and special passes, and not to congregate), many ideas are likely out of reach because of our temporal and geographical limitations. I’ve always denied allegations of being a perfectionist, but I’ll admit that we are all a little bit perfectionist. For this assignment, there will be no perfect project idea. There is no such thing as perfection for anything produced and evaluated qualitatively and subjectively. The possibilities are limited to what we can come up with given our restraints (which are always present, quarantine or no quarantine), and thoughtfully making something out of that should be good enough.

That is not to say there’s no point in trying; in fact, it’s the striving that counts, and it’s also the striving that is the hardest to measure. I know it doesn’t depend solely on the amount of time spent, but I’m still now sure how I would know if I’ve tried “hard enough.” I recall feeling like I’d tried my hardest before I got my worst grades, and thinking my work was inadequate before it got surprisingly good grades. We had conversations about academic excellence before the Workshop began and will continue critically reflecting on it as we move forward.

With a subject matter that concerns people you know and care about, however, I like to think that striving happens a little more naturally. I also sometimes think about how this is still not a normal way of operating things—I don’t mean the Workshop, though it is also new—I mean quarantine and “Zoom school.” It definitely makes things feel different, and it makes everyone wonder what the essential things really are, in school or in life.

To learn more about the Workshop, read Tang Institute Director Andy Housiaux's recent update here.

*We look forward to updating you on the ways we are (re)imagining the Workshop, our connection with students, and our approaches to teaching and learning. Follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and Medium. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter, Notes on Learning.

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