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Running In Circles

There are 23 trees loitering around the perimeter of our high school track, all Bradford pears. For a few weeks, at the first scent of spring, they breathe the odors of dead fish and feet into the air, making us all nauseous. I know this because I've seen them, counted them, smelled them, every day for several months each year, all four years of high school. And every time those trees have seen me, I've been tired - tired of running, tired of school. When the fishy stench crowds and jostles into our noses each spring as we run another grueling set of 300s, I wonder why I even bother to come back every year. Track, like school, always seems to be a pointless exercise. We run in circles, like hamsters in wheels, without really accomplishing anything or getting anywhere. Year after year, lap after lap, it's the same mindless work - the same trees, the same companions, the same piles of goose poop. The meets all blur together, too. It's all about winning - pushing ahead and elbowing others out of the way - all without any tangible gain. Not that we runners need much. A friend and a reliable pair of sneakers are all that are truly necessary. True, there are instances in which the race times, the EOC scores and passing rates, are necessary to show our coaches and our rival teams that we're making progress, and that all this running around in circles is moving us forward in some metaphysical way. Sometimes, improving our statistics is what we truly need to focus on. But still other times, we need to focus on the wind in our hair, the pulsing beat of our constant feet, the sun on our faces, the company of friends. Simply sitting down and marveling at a good book or a fascinating concept needs to become academically acceptable; a weekend spent with family or friends should not render a student unfit for colleges to accept, and a failed test should not be grounds for tears. Truly, we have come so far with improving our education system that we have done just the opposite - we have begun moving in reverse. With our noses stuck in the budget and statistical books, we have, in fact, removed our noses from the real books. The word "education" has been redefined without our consent, becoming a labyrinth of arbitrary numbers and meaningless test scores. The point of an education system, when it was established, was to teach students how to read, write, calculate and think, not to teach tricks for answering multiple-choice questions. The point of going to track practice each day is to work the body into shape and to learn proper form, not how to cheat the clock. The point of my high school career should not have been to push myself past exhaustion, seeing how many laps I could run before I vomited or how many all-nighters I could pull before passing out in Calc class. Unfortunately, that is what "my education" called for. High school became not the process it should be, but another test of endurance. My education is not a race or a competition, and I refuse to treat it as such. I know now, as I round the final curve that it's all about how much I learn, how much I grow, and how much knowledge I pick up along the way. Despite all the exhaustion, I never fail to return to the track, nor do my friends. Though the pattern of trees is forever engrained on my retinas and though their stench continues to make me ill, there is a draw to the possibility that still exists there, on that track. There is always a new race to be run, a new concept to be learned, and that draw will never cease to exist. There will always be a spark, and it is the job of our education system to fan it into flame. Truly, it is not the method of teaching or our subject matter that needs to change. Our societal attitude towards education is what really must shift - and soon, lest the old immortal spark of curiosity waver and flicker out. Lauren Burnham is a senior at Providence Hight School. She'll attend Duke University this fall.