Students in a large house walking up a long staircase with a red wall behind it
April 07, 2023

Finding the Road

Mr. Hughes's “(Re)creating Kerouac” group is exploring how “Jean-Louis” became the author later known as “Jack”
by Esmé ’23, The Workshop 12 student
A student post from The Workshop 12*

In the first nine days of The Workshop, I’ve only been asking one question to myself. What can this random French-Canadian writer teach me about myself? Research is inherently selfish (or self-centered, a term we learned from Where Research Begins, but a word I find too timid). In reality, the best work we put in is when we’re genuinely interested in a problem. It’s the same question I asked myself in History 300 when struggling to find a research topic. Why should I care?

Now, this all seems fairly pessimistic, but the true answer to the question is that I don’t care about Jack Kerouac. Genuinely. Before you become worried about my academic rigor, let me introduce you to my conclusion. In the last nine days, I found a hidden secret about these faculty projects: they’re really training us to love learning again. Let me explain.

In the last nine days, I found a hidden secret about these faculty projects: they’re really training us to love learning again.

Do you know the feeling of when you know something so well, you could just burst out into rapid storytelling, physically erupting out of your seat? Not because you love it, not because you care, but because you’re excited to have the knowledge to share? It’s my favorite feeling. Do I care about a story titled "The Library of Babel" enough to devote my life to its research? No. But does understanding its various analyses make me excited? Absolutely.

This drive to become an expert is lost in traditional classes, where grades and deadlines are looming. The truth is that we were all constantly exhausted. How can we be expected to not only keep up, but be excited about what we were doing?

The reality is that we cannot all learn exactly what we want when we want to. It’s really not possible. But in these projects, I’m starting to see the spark in people’s eyes again. Last week, we traveled to Lowell to observe the Kerouac archives and see some related sights. Seeing Claire’s face light up when she found a book containing his personal letters, hearing Marie read out some of Kerouac’s poems, and even watching Dr. Hughes marvel at a Chinese translation of On The Road was simply heartwarming.

The even cooler thing about not caring about the topic you’ve been assigned to research is that you have to be 100 times more creative with how you come to care about your question. I definitely would not have been asking if caffeine culture in writing communities came from Kerouac without this project, but it’s interesting to me because I care about writing communities. One has to be creatively introspective in the Workshop, which is an incredible skill to develop.

I don’t care about Kerouac, and I’ve completely accepted that. What I have come to truly care about is the process of researching this dead writer. I can confidently say that I love learning once more.

The "(Re)creating Kerouac" group includes Claire ’23, Sebastian ’23, Izzy ’23 Marie ’23, and Esmé ’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)


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