This year our Boston trip was run and chaperoned by our teaching faculty and fellows. It was a great opportunity to tie the trip into what they had been studying in their course clusters, but that also meant that the proctors – the typical Experimentory blog authors – had the day off. Fitting with our interdisciplinary spirit, three of us worked together to fill that gap, each telling a different sort of story in a different sort of way. Here’s what Teaching Fellow Kayla Corcoran, Teaching Fellow Paul Westin, and Program Coordinator Tim Schaffer put together.
Thankful for a Serious Moment by Ms. Corcoran
The steam rose from the grate underneath my feet, pressing against my face as if trying to suffocate me in the humid heat of the mid-morning. No one was talking. Instead, the students and I were reading quotes on the panes of the Holocaust Memorial–six towers of glass and granite rising into the sky in remembrance of the crematorium towers at the six death camps constructed to carry out Hitler’s Final Solution. Etched on the panes of glass are over two million of the seven-digit identification numbers tattooed onto the arms of prisoners in concentration camps. The steam rising from the ground is meant to be the smoke of the crematorium fires.
The Holocaust Memorial is undoubtedly the most somber stop on the Freedom Trail, a red brick line that snakes along sidewalks and across busy streets past significant sites in Boston’s history. The Memorial, in the words of Harvard professor of architecture Alex Krieger, invites visitors of the Freedom Trail to “pause [and] contemplate the absence of freedom.”
As a student and teacher of history, I have pulled apart, analyzed, and put back together some of the darkest moments in the human narrative, and yet I still cannot fathom and understand the immensity of the Holocaust–the blatant disregard for human life. I watched our students move through the Memorial, their eyes blinking in the sunlight as they gazed to the tops of the towers, trying to count the numbers, trying to make sense of it all.
In the afternoon, Max asked me why the Nazis shaved the hair of their prisoners. We talked about the process of dehumanization: if you can pretend someone is less than human, you can begin to act as if it’s true. It struck me then that at the heart of our course on Architecture and Culture is the idea that all cultures are valuable and have something to offer to the human experience. It is this absence of respect and gratitude for the contributions of all societies to the human endeavor that makes it possible to call for the erasure of any one people or culture.
After we visited the Memorial, students had an opportunity to reflect on all that they had seen that morning. I was grateful that the students and I were able to have such an experience, one that also triggered us to ask questions about how architects consider and design memorials. So, more questions than answers, but a deep gratitude that I’ve had the opportunity to ask them and consider them along with all of our students.
A Photo Journey with Mr. Westin
For the Music and Film cluster, we visited the Institute of Contemporary Art, located on Boston Harbor. We began with a tour of the gallery, focusing on the exhibition by Liz Deschenes. The art was very conceptual, which provided ample opportunity for discussion and connection to ideas we brought up in class. After the gallery tour, we participated in some of the activities for Family Imagination Fest, an event designed by ICA to engage kids through hands-on art. By far the favorite activity was sculpting clay in the style of some statues around the museum. Last but not least, we travelled early to Quincy Market to capture footage for our city symphony projects, which will be shown during final presentations!
Then You Can Wear My (Obnoxiously Orange) Teeshirt by Mr. Schaffer
“Mr. Schaffer.” As a North Carolinian, Anne opened with gentle Southern diplomacy. “We appreciate these very nice shirts.” She gestured to the group of friends clad in the Experimentory SWAG they received in their welcome bags – the required Six Flags outfit. “But we think we should only have to wear the green ones on fieldtrips.”
“Hmm. Why is that?” I tried sounding innocent.
“We. Look. Like. Highlighters.” The other girls in her group nodded – including Sam, their proctor.
“Well, we chose the color for visibility. At least you don’t have to worry about being hit by cars in traffic! …Assuming, of course, you don’t blind a driver.”
“We love this color,” encouraged Justin, from my group. Jonathan, Abram, Shawn, and Jason all nodded. I couldn’t help thinking, Ah, middle school boys vs middle school girls…
Jokes about risk of snow blindness aside, we were very thankful for those shirts on our trip to Boston. Since our Boston trip was planned and run by our teaching faculty and fellows, I attended the fieldtrip to help out in a pinch. With a thankfully emergency-free day, the only times I was with our Experimentors was when we call came together for lunch and dinner.
Quincy Market is a bustling, chaotic mess of food stands and eateries. We had a chaperone posted at each exit and the kids were under strict instructions to check in with me before they left. Nevertheless, it was good to know that our group was wearing one of the few fashion choices visible to the naked eye from space. Plus we felt perfectly at home among the heat lamp food warmers.
Dinner, however, was a different story. For starters, our group was confined to a boat – little risk of absentminded students wandering off there. Secondly, The Spirit of Boston had an encouraged dress code. It was flexible, but not glow-in-the-dark flexible. And so we changed into nice clothes for dinner. No complaints from Anne and perhaps a few quiet grumbles from the boys.
After eating a delicious meal, we went up to the fourth deck to enjoy the twilit harbor. “BOSTON!” shouted Brandon in absolute delight. “It is my first time coming here and it is BEAUTIFUL!” A large group of us played with the beanbag toss – which had an extra twist since a reckless throw could send a bag overboard. And some just chatted and laughed and watched the harbor islands pass by.
Wanting to give the other passengers time to enjoy the night sky tween-free, we gathered everyone back on our deck starting at 8:30. No one minded, though: the dance floor was open, and we have some great dancers. Aidan pulled off some serious robot moves; Spencer has a fun, bold style; Aerin, Max, Anne, and Brandon can do a solid Macarena; and there was a group that included Sami D, Reshma, Abram, Coryell, and Cami that simply never left the dancefloor. Since dancing isn’t for everyone, there were also plenty of games to play – Jenga, Connect 4, and cards.
The cruise was certainly a fantastic end to our day – a highlight of the day if not the month. Thanks for the fun, Experimentors!