brightly colored post-it notes stuck on a white posterboard
May 25, 2023

Dyeing the Past

A reflection about reflecting and how its success is achieved by a combination of structured and experimental learning
by Michelle ’23
A student post from The Workshop 12*

Having not grown up in America, I have watched "Sesame Street" about two times in my life. The first was when I was over at a friend's house in primary school, and the second was during the first Tuesday of the Workshop where our instructor, Mr. Housiaux, encouraged us to take inspiration from Oscar the Grouch as the line "it's mess-up time!" bounced off the Tang Institute's baby-blue walls. This marked the start of Morning Meeting, one of several times during the week where everyone gathers for peer-led discussion and reflection.

"Discussion" and "reflection"—two terms I have encountered countless times in the form of black ink on white classroom handouts, the only thought ever inspired by them being "what's another way I can summarize this reading we have already talked about for fifty minutes." Yet, as grinding as Oscar the Grouch's voice is, it seems to have eroded away the terms’ monochromatic bounds, letting color seep into my conversations.

Every opportunity I have been paired with a student from a different group with the aim of updating each other on our own learnings, we have used our conclusions as launchpads. Jumping into debates, we wrestled with topics ranging from the public housing policies in Singapore, to the geopolitical tensions present between different branches of Buddhist immigrants, and to even the danger of our own potential egotism as students raised in elite education. At its root, I am no longer looking towards the past for the fifth way to rephrase a statement the teacher wrote on the board at the start of class, but forging new connections, curiosities, and mindsets after synthesizing that past experience.

This then begs the question: what makes the Workshop's reflections so successful in comparison to all my past classes? The answer lies in the essence of our curriculum: organized chaos, or rather, freedom built on an impenetrable foundation of crystallized knowledge and self-maintained order.

To make use of a somewhat cliche comparison, structured education is like the training wheels on a bicycle, a restrictive guidance that lets one improve by gaining mastery one aspect at a time. As we progressed throughout Andover's core curriculum, we are taught individually to sit up straight on the bike, to push down on the pedal, and to change the gears on the bike. As such, by the time we arrive in the Workshop as seniors, we are fully equipped with the experience to operate the bike.

Experimental education then removes those wheels, opening up the world for creativity and personalization. Though we may start out on a reading the same way as we do in an English class, the Workshop's interdisciplinary nature makes it such that our analysis is not bound by the idea of "staying on topic" and only examining etymology and rhetorical techniques, instead encouraging us to integrate the reading with our own experiences, leading to new conversations sparked across public health, sociology, and more. Without the preparation done by structured education, we would not have such width in knowledge or depth in thinking; without experimental education, we would not be able to find overarching significance in our education.

The "Visualizing Inequality" group includes Austin ’23, Julian ’23, Abby ’23 Victoria ’23, and Michelle ’23.



Each spring term, The Workshop welcomes approximately 20 seniors to this interdisciplinary, project-based course. With an eye toward reimagining what school can be, The Workshop is the senior’s only academic commitment for the entire term. Instead of splitting their time and attention into units of distinct courses and fields of study, they work closely with peers, faculty, and community and global partners on a series of linked, interdisciplinary projects that revolve around a single theme. Within the theme Experiments in Education, students explore areas of personal interest.

During the first few weeks of the term, students are working on one of four faculty-led projects. We feature blog posts by students during this time.

  • Inequality Visualized (led by Ellen Greenberg, instructor in Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science)
  • Listening to the Buddhists in Our Backyard (led by Andy Housiaux, instructor in Philosophy and Religious Studies; director of the Tang Institute)
  • With Liberty and Health for All: “Humanities for Public Health” (led by Corrie Martin, instructor in English)
  • (Re)creating Kerouac: From Jean-Louis to Jack (led by Gene Hughes, instructor in French)


The Tang Institute at Phillips Academy is a center for teaching, learning, and partnership. To learn more, follow us on Twitter and Instagram. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter, Notes on Learning.

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