Ascension from the Pits of Despair

This independent study project is unlike anything that we have ever done before.

The feelings swirling around inside us this past summer after we had our first meeting with Mr. Heidt about what this course could be about are best captured by the opening of the satirical musical interpretation of the Harry Potter series, “A Very Potter Musical”.

Harry sits center stage in his familiar gray Hogwarts sweater. The theatre is dark except for a single spotlight illuminating his solemn figure perched on his school trunk. Long minor tones fill the theatre as he shivers and rubs his arms protectively, a shrunken form of his normal self.

As he fearfully peers over his shoulders he sings:

“Underneath these stairs

I hear the sneers and feel the glares of

My cousin, my uncle and my aunt”

This is the typical Harry-Dursleys relationship, but it has reached a point where he can no longer endure it. However, this crisis has arrived at just the right time. His gloomy shivering stops as the music shifts from long, minor tones to a building first verse. Harry begins to look around the theatre with a growing smile. A light begins to warm in him as he begins singing the opening verses:

“I’m sick of summer and this waiting around/ Man it’s September and I’m skipping this town”

The verses build to a joyous, invincible chorus as Harry jumps up from his seat with a mischievous look in his eyes directed towards the highest, last seats in the theatre:

“Gotta get back to Hogwarts! (PVHS) Gotta get back to school! Gotta get myself to Hogwarts! (PVHS) Where everybody knows I’m cool…”.

Ron skips into the scene from stage left and the two begin to plan their upcoming year

“This year we’ll take everybody by storm, stay up all night, sneak out of our dorm”

Just like Harry did, by mid-summer we knew that this upcoming school year was going to be great.

There was a multitude of reasons for this, and this independent study was the icing on the cake. And then a whole other cake on top of that.

Coming into our senior year and having the opportunity to create a new class for ourselves, (essentially scheduling time in our school day to do something we loved) was a dream come true. This independent study would allow us to direct our own learning with guidance from the teacher who first changed our worlds and inspired us to do this independent study in the first place. After years of having frustrating and wonderful experiences in high school classrooms, how could life at school grow any better?

The very beginning of the year was extremely exciting and scary when jumping into researching and discussing a subject we were finding we knew little about. And, learning is messy. Especially self-proposed school courses.

As the school year progressed, what was most scary was that our project would consistently end up at the bottom of our list of things we needed to do in the midst of other classes, another independent study, extracurricular activities, college applications, trying to plan out a poetry club, and trying to avoid putting perfunctory work into anything. Slowly, the class began to feel left in the dust. We knew that this course needed much more thought, research, and writing, but as a more self-directed course, we tended to feel the call of our other classes and activities to be more immediate and urgent, causing our time spent on our own independent study to slowly fade.

In addition to this, we also had a slowly growing fear of not being certain of what the project would grow into. We frequently felt confused and nervous about how this project was actually going to end up and how we were actually going to meet our goal of redesigning the American public education system in a way that better fit the needs of the 21st century learner.

After months of stagnation, we eventually realized ourselves to be in the darkest place in the journey that is a project: the Dark Night of the Soul, AKA the Pits of Despair.



(An image Mr. Heidt shared with us)

Not only have we found ourselves in the Pits of Despair in this project, but many projects seem to have tumbled, like a slow motion avalanche, to the Pits of Despair.

What pains us the most is seeing how much time has passed since we started the project. We wanted to be farther, to have accomplished more by this point. Like Harry and Ron, having two independent studies on our schedule in addition to an already stellar course schedule, we were supposed to “take everybody by storm” and have the most fulfilling year yet.

Although the year has not played out exactly as we envisioned, we still are taking the same incredible course. It still holds the promise of being as wonderful and fulfilling as we originally planned.

In order for this to happen, we need to remember Carpe Diem.

We need to seize the day to carry ourselves out of the Pits of Despair. Yes, we will have other responsibilities, and yes, there are inevitably points in extensive projects where one might think the project will simply not turn out well, that one is not as interested in the project as one thought one was, or that one might not truly have the ability to accomplish one’s goals. All of these feelings can be expected when seizing the day and going after a project. In Mr. Heidt’s wise words, doing something different is really hard. Pursuing something new and something that makes you happy is really difficult. But it is the best way to live a life worth living and make the little flicker of time we have here count.

As designers say, “Fail early, fail often”. So here’s to more planning, taking risks, and failure.


2 thoughts on “Ascension from the Pits of Despair

  1. I can completely empathize with this post and it’s so well written!!!! As a sophomore I became one of the inaugural members of the Innovation Diploma at my school; a program dedicated to learner-centered education where age proves to not be a barrier to working in the “real world.” We work to transform the vision of education by giving students the opportunities to work alongside businesses, community leaders ,and experts and visionaries in various fields in order to tackle design challenges around us. However, that first semester was not so put together… We too were shown the Dark Night of the Soul visual, and we now use it all of the time because every project or new program or experiment goes through that phase. Design thinking is a messy process and sometimes we just need to regroup to remind ourselves why we do what we do and remember the drive and purpose that made us begin a project.

    And last year I designed an AP Language and Composition course with my peer and this year am doing my own independent study, so I relate closely with how sometimes it feels like your work steps to the side because you assign it to yourself. I’ve been struggling with this recently, so thank you for reminding me that it’s about time I refocus in order to make it as great as it can be!


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