Prior to embarking on an independent study course in feminist literature at EHS, Gracie Burke had formed a bit of a habit. “In class with 13 or 14 other people,” she says, “every time I started to develop a thought that I hadn’t quite worked out yet, I could stop and just rely on my peers to fill in the blank.”
But in her independent study with English teacher Lucy Whittle Goldstein ’97, Gracie was the only student in the room. Lucy didn’t let her off the hook. “If I had a thought, I had to keep going with it,” says Gracie. “Ms. Goldstein really had to push me. I saw the effects of it almost immediately in my other classes. I couldn't just depend on other people to complete my ideas.”
Like most students who enroll in independent study, Gracie was surprised by how much leeway she had to create her own curriculum. She suggested the plan and the texts — Beloved by Toni Morrison, A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf, and Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie — and Lucy cheered her on.
She also helped Gracie become aware of and adopt a more inclusive vocabulary. “There were times when I would be talking about sensitive issues,” says Gracie, “and Ms. Goldstein would correct me and make sure that I was using inclusive language.”
Those conversations with Lucy continued on dorm and with other faculty, such as English teacher Molly Pugh, who taught Gracie in her Protest Literature class.
“What’s really cool about these independent projects is they tend to be also relational,” says Molly. “Students who undertake them do so because they’re able to find someone who they want to work with who has a pocket of expertise, or who has a desire to pursue a pocket of expertise. They are willing to lean into a partnership with an adult. I think that is what makes the stories of independent studies so cool.”
Gracie says her independent study laid the groundwork for choosing a focus in college. “The main reason I decided to do the independent study was to make sure that this was an issue that I really was passionate about — not just informally but academically, too. If I hadn't had such a good experience, I don't think I would be studying it now.”
Gracie is finishing up her freshman year at American University, where she is studying political science and gender and sexuality.