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Beneath the wheel

As it did every school day of my junior year, 11:12 AM had come once more to mark the end of my academic morning, and the beginning of my lunch period. After paying my one dollar for a small cherry vita-pup slush drink and a strawberry fruit roll-up, I would take my place at the usual lunch table. The next forty-five minutes were always used as an escape from the labor and frustration of the academic world. Whether my time was spent playing bass in the band room, or spent engaging myself in conversation with my close friends, I never let schoolwork, tests, or quizzes interfere with this opportunity to let my mind leave school for a few moments.

Meanwhile, just a couple of tables away sat Chris. Just as religiously as I relaxed during the period, Chris would be diligently working. Chris and I did not have much in common, but one thing we did share was our Algebra II class that followed the lunch period. Most days Chris would still be studying while I was on the way out of the cafeteria. One day in particular, the bell that marks the end of the lunch period had just rung, and I was heading out for Ms. Henyon's math class. I saw up ahead of me, Chris frantically flipping through his Algebraic Concepts text book. I approached Chris and asked: "Did we have any homework we were supposed to do?"

"All we had to do was study for the test today," Chris replied. As usual, I had forgotten another quiz; either that I had chosen to neglect it. Whichever it was, I never study for tests and quizzes. "Yeah, I've been studying for it all period. I studied last night too, so I should be pretty good," Chris added.

"Oh, well that's a surprise; guess it slipped my mind," I responded. With time marching on I gave Chris a "see ya there," and went on my way.

Two days went by and the test results were in. "Henyon" marched down the rows of desks and slapped the quizzes down on our desks like death passing judgement on us little students. At least that's how seriously some people took it. The usual aftermath of "What did you gets?" and "How did you do's?" inevitably followed.

"How did you do?" Chris asked in a concerned tone, as if studying meant passing.

"93, A-. How did you do?"

"95, A. Good job Mike."

Chris had spent hours and hours working to come out on top of me and the rest of the class, only to score two points ahead of me. Me, who had spent his potential study time in stimulating conversation. If I had spent those hours with my nose in a book, would it have been worth it? Would going against my will, and submitting my desires to those of the high school, and those of my parents have made me any happier? I tend to think not. I feel that the author Hermann Hesse shares this opinion with me through the character named Hermann Heilner in his book Beneath the Wheel.

Heilner strongly opposes the "Hackwork" which his fellow students often subject themselves. So many times students get caught up in the rat race of class ranks and grades that they forget the point of it all. Hermann Heilner sees that there is nothing to be gained "...from being first or second in class...." After all, is it worth the agony of competition if you can be "...twentieth and just as smart as any of [them]...."

Hermann Heilner plays the roll of a student in a national German academy that only a few students are able to enter each year. Entrance requires rigorous testing, and only the brightest of children are accepted. Heilner is looked upon by his teachers and peers as one of the brightest students in his class. This being appropriate for Heilner for he had always been very smart in a natural way. Although Heilner does not receive the best grades, he has always been a step ahead of "the bores and cowards who grind away and work their fingers to the bone and don't realize that there's something higher than the Hebrew alphabet." Hermann knows that you "[cannot] understand any of this if all you can do is study and be a drudge."

Hermann Heilner understands, as do I, the value of knowing and experiencing over slaving away with a book in your nose. For that reason, people like Hermann Heilner, Hermann Hesse, and myself are much happier and free willed than the "A" student who sacrifices his lunch periods, his days, and even his life only to be crushed beneath the wheel of the rat race.

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