As part of Parker’s educational vision, talented teachers create transformational opportunities to stretch students beyond their current achievements and points of view, allowing them to learn through attentive reflection and open conversation. A perfect example of this belief in action is the Independent Study program.
Beginning in their junior year, students may elect to design and develop unique courses that dive deeper into areas that especially pique their interests. During the course of either a semester or a full academic year, students work under the thoughtful supervision of a faculty member to plan and execute a course tailored to their exact interest. Recently, seniors Alexandra Ostrom and Eli Moog presented a special Morning Ex to discuss their separate studies while working with Upper School History Department Chair Andrew Bigelow.
During the second semester of her junior year, Ostrom worked with Bigelow on her study, “The History of Abortion Rights in the United States.” Spurred on by the death of former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a viral video of a protester outside an abortion clinic and her realization of the precarious position of abortion rights in our nation, Ostrom’s goal for the study “was to gain a deep understanding of the history and present state of abortion rights politics in the United States.” She studied the activists who fought for women’s rights, the development of the birth control pill and the relevant Supreme Court opinions on this issue.
Ostrom then offered the audience a breakdown of the essential questions of each case, the “Holding” of the court’s opinion and the major takeaways for cases like Griswold v. Connecticut (1965), Roe v. Wade (1973), Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992) and Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization (2021). She ended by explaining the repercussions for our nation if Roe v. Wade was overturned and how states would most likely react. Ostrom’s presentation left the audience with a more thorough understanding of a woman’s right to an abortion, its history, the stigmas surrounding this issue and possible developments in the future.
Next, Moog took the stage to explain his study, “Presidents in Crisis,” which he is working on this semester with Bigelow. From reading the “Who Was” series in 2nd grade to a speech as Theodore Roosevelt in 8th grade, from studying the Cuban Missile Crisis in 9th grade to finally bringing the presidents together in a “Meeting of the Minds” in Bigelow’s class last year, Moog has repeatedly been drawn back to the presidents. Even during his free time in the past six years, he has gotten involved in several presidential campaigns. However, it was his study of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the phrase “crisis reveals character” that led Moog to develop a project that researches a crisis and the President leading the country at that time and determine what made them successful or unsuccessful to “create a deeper understanding and appreciation for our Presidents and their role in society.”
Using the books Presidents in Crisis by Michael K. Bohn and The American Presidency by Sidney M. Milkis and Michael Nelson, Moog began his study of 9/11, the financial crisis, wars in Afghanistan and, finally, COVID-19. Explaining each crisis, Moog talked about how the presidents handled them and broke down the messaging from important speeches. He concluded his presentation by arguing that, while the stakes may be much lower, we all experience crisis in our everyday lives and examining how the presidents responded to the crises they faced can teach us how to respond. He also shared two big lessons he learned: avoid falling into a “Groupthink” situation where everyone simply agrees with each other and always look at the Big Picture so you don’t end up inserting your personal beliefs into the solution and end up “using a sledgehammer to swat a fly.”
Both students thanked Bigelow for his help and encouraged students and extolled the virtues of participating in their own independent studies. A hallmark of a Parker education is the goal to develop students who have the capacity to leverage their personal passions and begin conducting independent inquiry. Ostrom and Moog highlighted the rewards from participating in this scholastic endeavor.
for photos of this Morning Ex.