Transcendental Journal Assignment: Post 4


Just in time for the last post in the series, the weather outside was gorgeous. I decided to lie down on the roof of the “fort” again and look up at the sky. Going out in the late afternoon had the distinct advantage that the sun no longer shone directly down into my eyes as it had before. The trees above were beginning to bloom, as indicated by the small congregation of chirping birds on its branches. Most importantly, the weather was about the closest to perfect it had been in a while: it was warm and sunny, but with a cool breeze to complement the warmth. The weather seemed balanced just right, and it was hard to think about anything but how beautiful it was.

But the balance of the weather sparked another thought as well. I thought how fickle weather was, and how quickly the light breeze could take a drastically different form. In a few months (or, considering the weather lately, in a day or two), this comfortable breeze could develop into bitingly cold winds or some kind of hurricane. I was struck by the fragility of the pleasantness and beauty of my current position, and how just as easily the weather could have ruined my day (or at least my twenty minutes of nature). The plane that flew far above my head also reminded me how tiny and insignificant I was in comparison to the world around me. In other words, if the universe saw fit to end my comfort (or even my physical existence), it would hardly encounter difficulty in doing so.

One might consider this thought to be pretty dark and depressing. Indeed, on the surface, it does tend to give that impression. An even slightly different universe could have meant a catastrophic end (or, more likely, lack of beginning) of the human race. However, in a strange way, this thought is also comforting: we don’t live in a slightly different universe. We live in a universe extremely well-suited to our survival and well-being. It’s as though we had played Russian roulette with five bullets and survived. Sure, there’s inevitably the initial stress and shock at having so narrowly escaped death, but these in time ought to be replaced by an overwhelming feeling of relief and joy. It’s as though our minuscule size and apparent insignificance in comparison to the universe is meant to say, “Congratulations! You’re alive. Now be happy about it.”


Transcendal Journal Assignment: Post 3


I found it. Shortly after my last experience, I received confirmation* that the spot I found was indeed the spot I was looking for. I’m not exactly sure what I expected would come of my “hike,” but I was pretty sure it would be interesting. At least, I expected it to be natural. This expectation was only barely met by the reality I encountered. This was not mainly because of what I didn’t find, but of what I did. In addition to the expected trees, dirt, and other organic objects, I discovered an unexpected amount of litter, especially bottles. These served as clear reminders that I was not, by any stretch of the phrase, “exploring nature.” The most telling indication arose, however, when I reached the end of the short trail only to be confronted by yet another street. The “nature” I had “discovered” seemed simply to be filler space in the paved and manicured blueprint of the suburbs.

Ironically enough, the closest I came to an “experience” occurred after I had finished my excursion into the unknown. As I made my way back to my familiar street, the sun cast a warm light on the well-kept lawns and houses. This evoked a striking contrast between the place to which I had gone and the place to which I would return. Contrary to my expectation that the more “natural” surroundings would provide a more beautiful experience than mundane urban life, the sterilized setting appeared to me in that moment far more beautiful than the woods I had just explored. I felt somewhat strange about my judgment, valuing man-made structure of the wild beauty of nature. However, the vivid contrast left precious little room for doubt: the “artificial” street was undoubtedly the more beautiful than the “natural” trail.

I’m still not quite sure what to think of this evaluation. Clearly, the relative position of the sun had a great deal to do with my experience. One might argue that I hadn’t really experienced “nature,” or that I was biased toward the familiarity of my street, and they would most likely be right. However, this experience does seem to point to an oft-forgotten truth: human progress is not the ugly sore on the otherwise attractive face of the earth. We build houses and factories and cities for a reason: civilized comforts and securities can drastically improve people’s general quality of life. In addition, man-made things, in addition to merely naturally-occurring ones, can be quite beautiful. “Nature,” while it certainly possesses great beauty, does not corner the market on attractiveness and goodness.


*Thanks, Mom!

Transcendental Journal Assignment: Post 2


As it turns out, rain does NOT mean spring has come. At least, it doesn’t when it’s still 40°F outside. It does, however, make for a more interesting walk. I began my walk with a specific destination in mind: a recreational-type area which supposedly used to contain playground equipment. The catch was that I really didn’t know where it was; all I knew was that it somewhere along my street. As one might surmise, I spent most of my time walking in search of the place. Perhaps halfway down the street, I found a place which might have been the one. I couldn’t be sure it was the right place, however, and I didn’t want to be accused of trespassing, so I didn’t explore it very much. Besides that, I had little actual experience with what one might call “nature.” I did, however, have to walk through several rather deep puddles.

As the most conspicuous feature of the sidewalk (save a somewhat timid squirrel), the puddles got me thinking. At first, the thoughts weren’t terribly deep: Wow, this is a pretty deep puddle. It’s a good thing I wore boots … Oh, look, my boots are wet. These and other profound insights ran through my head for around a minute. Then, out of nowhere, I thought about how the puddles revealed the imperfections of the sidewalk: how uneven must it be to trap this much water! Indeed, during the uphill stretches, the rapid flow of water down the path (as well as my lack of exercise) revealed tellingly just how steep the sidewalk was. I began thinking about another property of water: it heals things. It was interesting to see that something so healing could so mercilessly reveal the imperfections of the ground.

I think a lot of things in life are like water. Part of the healing process is recognizing that there are imperfections to be healed: “The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem.” No one will fix the sidewalk until it becomes clear that it’s uneven. Someone with a drinking habit cannot make a concerted effort to stop drinking unless he realizes that his drinking is having a negative effect on himself and on the people around him. Ironically, fire provides a similar analogy. For example, one has the Biblical analogy of the refiner’s fire. In order for the “gold” (soul) to be purified, it has to be put through “fire” (trials and tribulations). A more cynical person might say that avoiding Hell in the future requires embracing hell in the present. Healing can hurt. Life requires us to endure unpleasant situations, but sometimes these situations are necessary to take us through, improved, to the other side.

Transcendental Journal Assignment: Post 1

(Image found through Google Images from

It’s springtime. Or, rather, the calendar says it’s springtime. In my backyard, the weather seems less eager to make up its mind. Most of the snow has melted by now, but the little that remains prevents complete optimism, and the temperature still warrants a winter coat. My search for uncivilized nature leads me away from the house to an area bestrewn with leaves and other plant matter, wet from melted snow. The tiny bits of snow on the ground seem delicate, at the mercy of the sun’s vicious beams. This sparks an ironic thought: the frigidity which strips trees and lawns bare of plant life is, itself, dying. Death, paradoxically, can lead to life. I consider writing my blog entry on this idea. Ah well, maybe next time. I make my way over to the treehouse-like structure known affectionately to my family as “the fort” and, scaling the climbing wall, arrive successfully on the roof. I lie down on my back and look up at the sky. I mostly see the branches of overhanging trees. Apart from a few clouds, the sky is mostly clear. Being nearly noon, the sun unfortunately shines directly down into my eyes, prompting me to block it with my hand.

Without the oppressive brightness, the atmosphere was quite comfortable. The lower profile afforded by lying down reduced* the wind chill, and the sun was** delightfully warm. It seemed odd how the sun is so uncomfortably bright and yet so warm and comforting. I realized at this point that I’d found my blog topic. In addition to being quite pleasant, this experience reminded me of what ought to be an obvious truth: a small change in perspective can have a powerful effect on how someone sees his surroundings, just as someone who looks directly at the sun will have a different experience from someone who guards his eyes.

This idea can be extended to personal matters as well: perspective plays an important role in much of how we experience life. For example, if we view every difficult situation in a negative light, we simply reinforce our belief that nothing good ever happens in life and remain perennially unhappy. On the other hand, if we look on the bright side of those very same situations, we can remain happy and hopeful for a good future. Perspective also plays an important role in our relationships with other people. If we always assume the worst of others, we will never form productive and satisfying relationships with them. This pessimistic, prejudiced perspective is a general form of racism: we consider people “guilty” without ever giving them a chance to prove themselves “innocent.” It takes a bit of optimism and open-mindedness to let people into our lives. In general, it pays to maintain a positive perspective.

*changed from “reduces” on 8 April 2014

**changed from “is” on 8 April 2014

Song lyrics reflective of ideas discussed in Colonial American Literature

OK, here we go…

Everything is Awesome!!! (especially chorus; lyrics found here, link to video here)

by Tegan and Sara, featuring The Lonely Island

Everything is awesome
Everything is cool when you’re part of a team
Everything is awesome, when we’re living our dream

Everything is better when we stick together
Side by side, you and I gonna win forever, let’s party forever
We’re the same, I’m like you, you’re like me, we’re all working in harmony

Everything is awesome
Everything is cool when you’re part of a team
Everything is awesome, when we’re living our dream

3, 2, 1. GO

Have you heard the news, everyone’s talking
Life is good ’cause everything’s awesome
Lost my job, it’s a new opportunity
More free time for my awesome community

I feel more awesome than an awesome opossum
Dip my body in chocolate frostin’
Three years later, washed out the frostin’
Smellin’ like a blossom, everything is awesome
Stepped in mud, got new brown shoes
It’s awesome to win, and it’s awesome to lose (it’s awesome to lose)

Everything is better when we stick together
Side by side, you and I, gonna win forever, let’s party forever
We’re the same, I’m like you, you’re like me, we’re all working in harmony

Everything is awesome
Everything is cool when you’re part of a team
Everything is awesome, when we’re living our dream

Blue skies, bouncy springs
We just named you awesome things
A nobel prize, a piece of string
You know what’s awesome, EVERYTHING

Dogs and fleas, allergies, a book of Greek antiquities
Brand new pants, a very old vest
Awesome items are the best

Trees, frogs, clogs
They’re awesome
Rocks, clocks, and socks
They’re awesome
Figs, and jigs, and twigs
That’s awesome
Everything you see, or think, or say
Is awesome

Everything is awesome
Everything is cool when you’re part of a team
Everything is awesome, when we’re living our dream

I know what you’re thinking: “This song is completely childish and ridiculous! He’s only using this song because it was in The Lego Movie.” And, let’s face it: you’re mostly right. However, in addition to being EXTREMELY catchy, closer examination reveals that it reflects the shift in the American conception of evil we discussed in class. That is, modern Americans have considerable difficulty with the notion of evil, and especially Jonathan Edwards’ claim that it is located within every person. Rather, since the evil intrinsic to all people is unpalatable and difficult to deal with, it is much easier to blame something else, or even ignore it outright. In other words, “Everything is Awesome!” Or, perhaps more accurately, “Everyone is Awesome.”

AP Practice Take-Home Essay

DISCLAIMER: This essay was typed in a text editor (Notepad++) with spell-check.

People throughout the ages have considered the question of identity: “Who am I?” While people base their identities upon numerous different factors, nationality remains one of the most significant. Indeed, the society in which one finds oneself plays an undeniably gigantic role in shaping his core beliefs and values. However, mere membership in a culture or societal group cannot fully determine one’s identity; the individual must make certain decisions for himself.

In many cultures, people base their identities heavily upon simply being a member of that culture. The Jews provide an especially illuminating example. According to their religion, one is a member of God’s chosen people simply by virtue of being a Jew. Clearly, if a person considers himself to be chosen specifically by a powerful, loving God, his self-conception is altered drastically. Most especially, he is endowed with a supernatural significance which extends beyond that which any fellow man could give him. The Jew also places himself within a rich cultural narrative; he is one of those whom God freed from slavery and brought to the promised land. Undoubtedly, membership in the Jewish heritage has a profound effect on one’s identity.

However, one’s nationality is not nearly sufficient to determine his identity. Particularly, the identity “template” provided by the nation is incomplete. This is seen most easily by examining those countries with widely heterogeneous cultures. For example, despite a Christian majority, Americans hold widely varying religious views. Thus, different people can identify themselves as Americans while giving wildly different answers to core questions, such as the origin and significance of humanity. To return to the example of the Jews, an American Jew who views himself as endowed with divine significance simply cannot have the same self-conception as a irreligious nihilist person, who sees no meaning to life.

Freire Questions

  1. The “banking” concept refers to the method of education wherein students are considered no more than empty containers to be filled with knowledge; this term applies because the process resembles the transfer of funds between checking accounts at a bank.
  2. The “banking” concept undermines the humanity of both the teacher and the students in the context of education, excluding the human elements creative, thoughtful inquiry and interaction with the outside world.
  3. Teachers under the “banking” concept are unaware of the harm they do to their students “by considering their ignorance absolute,” or buying into the idea that they really are empty receptacles.
  4. The essay argues that, under the “banking” concept, the “oppressors” (the teachers) stand as the sole benefactors of the system.
  5. “Problem-posing” education is given this name because it describes a situation in which the teacher proposes questions to the students. The basic effect is to facilitate and improve the critical thinking of all parties involved.
  6. In encouraging thoughtful participation and inquiry on the part of the students, the “problem-posing” concept of education acknowledges that the students play an active role in the learning process, rather than the passive role cast for them by the “banking” concept.
  7. I have been in several such classrooms, wherein the teacher taught essentially “to the test.” Minimal guidance was given, and no emphasis was placed on comprehensive understanding of the subject.
  8. I have also been in several classrooms which exemplified the “problem-posing” concept of education. In these classrooms, not only was more guidance given, but thoughtful discussion and inquiry were encouraged, processes in which the teacher was directly involved.
  9. “Banking” and “problem-posing” environments are by no means limited to schools. For example, the distinction can be seen in the area of politics: those politicians who selfishly exploit their positions as a means to the end of personal gain are the “banking politicians,” whereas those who attempt to make a genuine difference for the good of the people are the “problem-posing politicians” who engage in a collaborative effort with the government to find ways to achieve this end.