Winter Courses: Literature and Composition & Government and Politics

January 29, 2021

Three weeks ago, I began the winter trimester of my senior year of high school. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and complications of virtual learning, my school adopted a new schedule this year in which students only take two academic classes per trimester. The classes, as a result of being condensed to nine to ten weeks, are much more intensive. My courses this term are English Literature and Composition and Comparative Government and Politics. As someone who has always loved the humanities, I thought it would be fun to share a brief synopsis of my courses thus far and highlight the readings, films, and areas of study I have most enjoyed learning about in each class.

English Literature and Composition

As a lover of literature, English courses have always been some of my favorites, and this class is no exception. We began by reading The Stranger by Albert Camus, a novella written in 1942 that explores the philosophies of existentialism and absurdism, and read it alongside philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre's essay "Existentialism is a Humanism." The Stranger is short but profoundly powerful, and the peculiarity of the protagonist and interesting exploration of philosophical ideas has led to very interesting conversations in class. 

An aspect of this course that makes it all the more interesting is that in addition to reading traditional texts, the class incorporates music and film. The first composition we listened to was Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring. A ballet and orchestral concert first performed in 1913, the music is often described as the most influential in the twentieth century. Next week, we will discuss the album Damn by the American rapper Kendrick Lamar, which was awarded the Grammy Award for Best Rap Album in 2018. With regards to film, we watched No Country for Old Men, a film directed by the famed Coen brothers that won Best Picture in the 2008 Academy Awards. One of my all time favorite thrillers is Fargo, a movie also directed by the Coen brothers, and so I really enjoyed watching another film directed by the talented duo.

Having been given several options for independent reads, I chose Song of Solomon by the remarkable Toni Morrison, as I read her novel Beloved outside of academic classes in the fall trimester and fell in love with her style of writing. We will also start The Tempest next week, a play by William Shakespeare.

Comparative Government and Politics

Along with my love of English, throughout high school and middle school, I have also always enjoyed my history classes. In taking United States history during my junior year, my love of history branched into a particular interest in politics, and so I decided to enroll in Comparative Government and Politics. Given the current political climate in the United States and chaos of recent events, from the election in which former President Trump propagated baseless claims about voter fraud to the horrific insurrection at the capital building on January 6, 2021, this class has been especially fascinating. 

In addition to discussing the differences between states, regimes, and governments, comparing political regimes in countries including the United Kingdom, China, and Russia, and analyzing various political attitudes and ideologies, we spent this past week focusing on terrorism. Tasked with choosing an incident of terrorism in our country of citizenship, I chose to research and write about the tragic shooting in El Paso, Texas that occurred in August of 2019 at the hands of a twenty-one year-old white supremacist who specifically targeted Hispanic Americans. In my paper, I explored the ideologies that inspired him to act, including the Great Replacement conspiracy theory, as well as discussed the role of social media, the former president, and mainstream conservative news channels in sympathizing with white-nationalist sentiments and promoting hatred and fear. While learning about this tragic incident and the motives of the terrorist was intriguing, it was also quite frightening given the recent surge in far-white extremist ideology and violence that will no doubt continue to persist well into the next decade.

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