Friday, August 17, 2012

Dropped Classes and Scholarships

During my last summer session, I had been taking an SAT math prep course and Western Civilization I in the morning, and College Algebra and Trigonometry at night.  I soon realized that taking classes in the morning and at night was too much for me.  I dropped the SAT prep course and Western Civilization class.  I also had a morning/night schedule for the fall.  I dropped my fall nighttime class of Physics.  It will now take me a little bit longer to graduate, but I have to know my limits.  Too bad the classes weren't just scheduled back to back.  Then I think I could have done it.  I got an A in my math class.  If I had stuck with my original schedule, I don't think I could have done it.  So now I have a 3.91 GPA.  Never again a 4.0 thanks to that rotten math teacher that I had for my first summer session.

Well, I won a scholarship through the school, and I'm kind of disappointed.  Last year I won a total of $560 worth of scholarships which was just credited to my account.  This year I won a $250 book voucher.  I had thought for sure with a whole year of nearly straight A's I would have won more this year.  There were a lot of good scholarships available--up to $5,000.  I guess I should be grateful that I won anything at all.  It could have been worse.  The real disappointment was that I thought of this scholarship competition as a precursor to the big scholarship competition the Jack Kent Cooke scholarship competition.  The essay that I submitted was one that I specifically had written with the Jack Kent Cooke scholarship in mind.  If my essay wasn't good enough to garner a larger scholarship, then would it be good enough for the Jack Kent Cooke scholarship?  Maybe I have to go back to the drawing board and come up with something new entirely.  Students cannot apply directly for the Jack Kent Cooke scholarship, you have to be nominated by your school.  So the first order of business is convincing the school to nominate me.  Wish me luck.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

First the Bad News

I had the teacher from hell.  It was my summer I math class.  This teacher didn't give partial credit for partially correct answers.  She also marked it half off if you didn't format the answers the way she wanted.  She also was lousy at teaching.  She tested on things that she hadn't taught you.  And one day... after our tests were returned, some of the students were very angry about their test results, and said so.  The teacher became angry in return.  Then, unbelievably, she refused to teach the class!  She said we weren't in a "learning mood," and told us some pages in the book that we could read to teach ourselves.  I was so upset, I actually complained to the dean.  I wondered about how many other complaints he got.  Something must have happened, because the next day she was willing to look again at our tests for possible regrading.  My test was not regraded unfortunately.  I struggled with all of her special rules and regulations for formating the answers and got some bad test grades.  I ended up with a B.  That might not sound so bad, but I had a 4.0 average prior to that.  She destroyed my GPA.  If I had had any other teacher, I feel confident I would have gotten an A.  I'm so depressed about it.  About half the class dropped the class because they couldn't get a decent grade with her.  Doesn't the school notice things like this?

Now for the good news.  I'm starting another summer semester, this time taking math, Western Civilization and an SAT prep math course.  My teachers seem decent and reasonable, and this math teacher is willing to give partial credit for partially correct answers.  I'm taking the SAT math prep course because I've never actually taken the SATs.  I'm having a lot of trouble with the math section in the practice tests.  I'm hoping that this course will help me get a decent score, otherwise I just won't take the SATs.  The University of Pennsylvania doesn't require SAT scores for their school of Liberal and Professional Studies.  Yale has a special program for nontraditional students.  They strongly encourage you to have SAT scores, but it isn't absolutely required for admission.  I figure if my SAT math score would be low, I'm better off just not having an SAT score.

Well, off to study in this terrible heat.

Have a good holiday.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Busy Busy Busy

Hi all.  Sorry it's been so long since I've blogged.  I've been super busy with school.  My Spanish class is taking up most of my time.  It's incredibly hard this semester.  And right now I'm only getting a B in the class.  I'm hoping to bring it up to an A by the end of the semester so it won't screw up my 4.0 average.  In fact, I am going to read a poem in Spanish in the school's talent show next week just so I can knock off two of my bad quiz grades in Spanish class.  That was the deal that the teacher offered, and I'm desperate.  The rest of my classes are going well.  Math is very easy, fortunately.  English is time consuming, but doable.  And American National Government is boring, but I'm getting an A.

Well, I applied to the University of Pennsylvania, and I didn't get in.  The good news is that I can try again next year, and I won't have to submit my high school grades.  They must have given too much weight to my high school grades which were really bad.  I was pretty bummed about it for a while, but now I'm looking toward the future.  I am also thinking about applying to Yale and Columbia next spring.  They both have special programs for adult students.  And both of them basically require SATs.  I'll definitely be the oldest student in the classroom for that, but hopefully it will be worth it.

Here's a sample of my work from English class.  It's an analysis of a song.

Personal Jesus
Depeche Mode is a synth-pop band from the 80s.  Although they continue to make music today, they really peaked in the late 80s and early 90s.  Martin Gore, the writer for the band, has taken on many heavy subjects ranging from relationships to religion.  Depeche Mode’s song “Personal Jesus” is both a mockery of fundamentalist faith, and an expression of deep faith.  The song came out at a time when Depeche Mode was a very popular and influential band.  The song made them even more popular, and brought a lot of fans who really did not understand Depeche Mode, and so misinterpreted the song from a more evangelical point of view.  This song is, in fact, an attempt to free people from certain religious extremists.  Fundamentalists, for instance, who believe they have a personal relationship with Jesus, can be very aggressive with their faith.  They believe they have certainty of moral knowledge, and so cannot be reasoned with.  They can lack humility, quite unlike Jesus.  This song attempts to offer another point of view.
Gore has confessed that he finds religion very confusing.  Many of his songs speak about Christianity and religion in a very suspicious manner such as “Blasphemous Rumors.”  “Personal Jesus” was not intended to be a literal praise song.  This can be gleaned from the fact of some irreverent language in the song such as “Lift up the receiver; I’ll make you a believer; I will deliver; you know I’m a forgiver” (lines 22-25).   In these lines, Depeche Mode mocks the sales pitch of fundamentalists.  The sales pitch usually goes something like this: If you say the “sinner’s prayers” and accept Jesus Christ into your heart, then your sins will be forgiven and you will be given a whole new and wonderful life.  You will believe more and more as you get closer to Jesus.  If you have a strong faith, you will be rewarded with an unbelievably great life.  But if you have problems, it is because you do not have enough faith in Jesus.  The fundamentalists push their faith because they believe the more souls they “lead to Christ,” the greater will be their reward in heaven, so they are very motivated, “I’ll make you a believer” (line 23).
Some people, when knowing that the song is, in part at least, a mockery, might take the whole song to be blasphemous.  I do not take this view as I do not see it as an attack on Christian faith, but a particular type of faith.  It is an attack on a certain type of narcissistic faith—the kind that believes that Christianity exists to serve the whims and preferences of the believer, a personal Jesus who does not ask anything of the faithful.  He is merely “Someone to hear your prayers; Someone who’s there” (lines 6-7).  It is a vision of a Jesus who has been dehumanized and acts as a servant in the worst, most demeaning sense—an image of God made by man.
Marilyn Manson covered “Personal Jesus” and, being that he is a known Satanist, it is fair to assume that he did not have good intentions in recording the song.  In that sense, the song can be viewed as purely blasphemous and an attack on Christianity itself.  Many “believers” speak of having a “personal relationship with Jesus.”  Even Pope John Paul II said that believers have or should develop a “personal relation with Jesus.”  So “Personal Jesus” can certainly be seen as an attack on that type of Christian faith, or that aspect of Christian faith.  The song does mock the notion of having a personal relationship with someone who you can neither see nor hear, someone about whom there is no historical agreement.  I believe, though, that Depeche Mode’s version of the song offers more nuance that Marilyn Manson’s version of it.  Their intentions were better.
“Personal Jesus,” while no book of Job, is an expression of frustration with religion, and hence, an expression of deep faith.  “Someone who cares,” (line 4) “Someone who’s there” (line 7). These are words of bitterness to anyone whose prayers have never been answered.  They are also words of longing.  Would it not be nice if there was a personal Jesus “someone who cares” (line 4).  The song is intentionally vague so that people may interpret it however they like—if as a praise song, then as a praise song, if as a mockery, then as a mockery.  This probably has something to do with the song’s success.  If its meaning was clearer, it probably would not have appealed to such a wide group of people.  I believe that the song would have been a more controversial song had it not been so subtle, and had it not been for the fact that so many received it as strictly a praise song.
“Personal Jesus” also criticizes cheap grace.  “I will deliver; you know I’m a forgiver” (lines 16,17).  These lines, if taken literally, lead one to believe that no matter what you do, it will not harm your personal relationship with Jesus.  We know that in real life our actions and words have repercussions.  It would be nice if the world as a whole was more forgiving, but it is not.  So what, then, is the point of a Jesus who “forgives” people?  Wouldn’t a more loving Jesus advise people not to do things that will make them an object of contempt to begin with?  So, cheap grace is not, then, a very Christian way to live.  This is how the song is very critical of a certain type of faith, namely, one that promotes cheap grace, rather than being critical of Christianity in itself.
“Personal Jesus” has many different meanings to many different people.  To a fundamentalist, it is a praise song.  To a Satanist, it is a song that mocks the Christian faith.  To a moderate Christian, it is a little bit of both.  It is a brilliant song in that sense.  It is very difficult to write anything of substance that is yet so open to interpretation.  The song will undoubtedly remain one of their best songs for years to come.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Second Full Semester

Hi everyone.  Sorry it's been so long since I last blogged.  A lot has been going on these past few weeks.  I took a job at school as a Supplemental Instruction Leader.  It's for a developmental English class.  We're supposed to help facilitate learning, but we aren't allowed to call ourselves teachers or tutors, but really, that is what we're expected to do.  I'm supposed to give an hour of supplemental instruction before the three hour class starts.  It only meets once a week in the evening which is why it's 3 hours long.  I am to take the class with the students and act as the model student.  My first session did not go well at all.  I was ready to quit after it.  The teacher who teaches the class, after I give an hour of supplemental instruction, encouraged me.  I felt like a total failure.  And I was given next to no training for this job.  What exactly am I supposed to do for an hour with students?  Fortunately, some people have helped to give me ideas about what I can do to help teach writing and grammar to these students.  If any of you have any good ideas, I'm open to hear them.

Other than that, a new semester has started for me.  I feel now as I did at the beginning of last semester--overwhelmed and stressed.  I'm hoping that feeling will calm down as I get more accustomed to this new routine.  I'm taking American National Government, Intermediate Algebra, Elementary Spanish II, and English Composition 100.  I'll probably post final drafts of my English 100 papers as I finish them.  Spanish is going to be hard this semester.  My Spanish teacher does not allow students to make up missed tests.  He seems really harsh.

Well, I've finally applied to the University of Pennsylvania.  It will be several weeks until I find out a decision.  I've put everything I have into it.  I sincerely hope I am accepted.  I would be pretty devastated if I wasn't.  It's especially important that I be accepted now so that when I apply for the Jack Kent Cooke scholarship, I can tell them that I definitely have an educational home to go to should they give me the scholarship.  This is what my life is now--working toward winning this scholarship.  It's so important, though, as it will allow me to get a bachelor's degree.