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View from the Top: Learning the art of not learning

At the risk of bringing back painful memories of eighth grade English, I would like to refer to a scene from Homer’s The Odyssey: Odysseus has just avoided an almost certain death by slipping out of the Cyclops’ grasp, and in the heat of his relief he starts taunting the Cyclops as his men sail away, yelling, “Yeah, I’m Odysseus, and I’m the best and I win at everything!”

What happens next? He gets completely screwed over because of his overconfidence: cursed by the Cyclops, and in turn, punished by the gods. And this, my friends, is the dilemma of the second semester senior.

You see, my “escaping the Cyclops” is getting into my first choice college in December. It was a surprising and relieving victory in a time of great turmoil. And now, I am tempted to sit back and start getting all Odysseus on my homework–in other words, to just stop doing it altogether. I’m tempted to tell my teachers, “Hey, I’m Faith, I’m a second semester senior and I’m the best! I win at everything!”

And for a while, that’s what I was doing (well, the yelling was in my head). I watched with glee as my homework piled up like a funeral pyre. I entered into a steady relationship with my TiVo – we spent at least two hours together every night.

And then I got a letter from the college I was admitted to, explaining that if I didn’t continue performing at my best, they could take my admittance like candy from a baby.

As much as my mother assured me it was a standard letter sent out to all admitted students, I was terrified. It was as if the admissions administration was omnipotent, and had been watching me the entire month as I napped for five hours every afternoon and spent valuable homework time learning the Mario Brothers theme song on the piano. It was as if they knew.

So, I got to work. And by that I mean I got to strategizing: how little work could I do to ensure that I didn’t fail? I began to compartmentalize my classes: “Okay to sleep during this class,” “Can’t sleep, but can surf internet,” and for the most difficult, “Must listen at least once a week.”

So far, it’s working out. But I’ve learned something – this level of slacking is so skillful, so artful, that it requires the agility of walking a tightrope.

Turns out seniors must learn the art of not learning.