University School - Hunting Valley
Instructor: Lee Fallon
The sound of small birds chirping throughout the forest from the base of a humbly sized tree named Piney in Western Oregon. While the temperature was cool, the bright rays of sun pierced the endless array of fir pines in the vast forest untouched by humanity forming a subtle warmth. As the morning sun developed, a thunder could be heard growing closer, sharper, deeper. Silence... Crackle… the ground shook violently with the force only a god of higher being could produce. More and more, Smack…crack… putter putter… VRE-OOOOOM… BOOM! With little more than thirty seconds of mechanical destruction, 20 years of natural evolution was terminated. Silent again, Piney lay once again, awaiting his fate as the boundless force of time ticked forward developing into the black abyss of the night. As it grew later, the moon shone onto the damp rich nutrient soil, but no longer in jagged patterns of geometry, now only in solidarity upon the earth.
The next morning, as the sun rose, only the faint swish of the wind could be heard amongst faint chatters of voices approaching once again. A worn flatbed soon arrived, lifting the majestic corpse of our dear Piney onto the hearse separating him from the dear nurturing land which he called his home. As the mortician shifted the gears of the kidnapping device into motion, Piney's branches began to blow as they once did in a sign of joyous peace, but now as a goodbye to innocence. The abstract landscape began to shift into the brutalist lines engraved into the urban landscape which, in generations past, had shared a similar fate to Piney.
While days of transport passed, the chill of November seeped deeper into the air, signaling natural approach. Finally, after days of agonizing purgatory, Piney's corpse began to be offloaded into the abyss known as the humble automatic tree chipper. Piney, seeing his life flash before his roots, saw his seeds tending to him as a young sapling. He was once filled with hope and the promise of a bright future, but now was left without control. He was a tree of joy and youth but alas, reduced as so many things we hold dear, to nothing more than pieces of an era gone by. Piney's demise isn't a story of environmentalism, greed, so-called "dirty business" or even to teach you how paper is made (but why would you need to be taught that? You learned that in the 3rd grade smarty pants!) It's a representation of the contrast between innovation and reforming the clay of existing materials, as is done with knowledge. But enough for now… you want to see where Piney ends up after his abduction, silently judging from your armchair.
Piney's branches stretch no longer in the long strands of lush foliage they once did, but instead have been formed into a man-made creation known as International Paper® Premium Cream Colored Booklet Paper. Piney is saved! What seemed to be the end, was in fact only the beginning! He shall live! He shall prosper! He hast not died! Filled with a new sense of purpose, Piney now in reams of promise, awaits his future. What seemed like the end, in fact proved to be his transformation into so-called "utilitarian form."
After a short time, a truck arrives as it did when Piney was back in the forest. Box by box, Piney is loaded onto the truck and once again is set forth on a new journey, a hopeful journey, a planned journey. After what seemed like an eternity, the vehicle enters a long wire fence gate. Piney's box vibrates with excitement as the truck bounces over a pothole. The truck stops and its contents are unloaded. Piney is soon placed onto a cart destined for a cargo plane. He feels as if he is free as he was in the forest, yet, something is different. Piney hears the muffled whoosh of the air filled with the fumes of jet fuel, cigarettes and the unmistakable sound of tires screeching against the frozen asphalt of the ground can be heard. Is this really freedom, is this a new beginning? As Piney begins to contemplate the weight of his situation, he is lifted and with a swift motion and tossed into the cargo hold of a FedEx transport truck. Unsure of his destination, Piney envisions his past. Is it the fumes? No! thinks Piney, that would be impossible! Paper can't get sick, paper is solid, paper is secure, paper is a record of the past. The warmth of the box soothes Piney, he feels safe as if he chose this progression of events, but has he? As he ponders with great doubt, Piney attempts to console his fears with the promise of a new life. After all, he had lucked out at his first rendezvous with death, why couldn't he again?
As the plane flew higher, so did Piney's optimism, inflating against the odds. While the pressure of the airplane increased, Piney's anxiety decreased. He realized that structure is the very reason he lives, planning kept him alive! Soon, the plane landed, Piney's cart was deplaned and with excitement he anticipated what was to come, for as Piney knew the world, anything was possible. He was blank, not in character, but in hope. While Piney did not have a particular goal to anticipate, he consoled himself on this seemingly minor detail into trusting the unknown outcome. As he was once again unloaded from his packaging, Piney glimpsed the world from the way he knew it to be since his imprisonment months ago. But as he was loaded carefully into a strange large gray machine, he realized something. While he once supposed that his standing in the earth was a place of unconditional love, support, and life, it was in fact no different than that of the process he had been forced into after his de-trunk-ment. He began to glide slowly but surely through the warm dark rollers of an industrial printing press. What would be printed upon his flesh? Piney hadn't a clue, but it was too late. He rolled through what seemed like an endless series of pulleys, conveyors until finally spit out onto yet another conveyor belt to be bound together by staples of unassuming conviction. Piney desperately attempted to cry out, feeling overwhelmed but could not be heard as he was sealed inside of a thin plastic bag consisting of orange and white coloring until he fell into a deep rest. This is it, thought Piney in his last moment of consciousness, this is it.
(5 Months later)
The whisper of voices could be heard. Was he dead? No, he was alive, but where? Piney could not remember what had happened but was now lying flat atop a cold surface. Growing closer, sharper, deeper he could feel something approaching. Then BOOM! He could hear the voice of a woman: "Welcome to the AP Language and Composition Examination, you will have 60 Minutes to complete each passage section of the test, please open your booklets now and begin work. Good luck." At this moment, Piney had a realization, not that he had been wrong about his so-called "new life" but one of despair, regret, and enlightenment. For the first time in his life, he was met with the young unknowing face of the very thing that had hurt him in the first place. For dear reader, Piney is nothing more than a mirror staring back at us during our high school academic careers. The same societal constructs such as hyperfixation on a particular outcome that led to Piney's demise, are the ones we have the choice to comply or divert from during this pivotal time in our lives. We can either choose the path of simplistic validation a number on a score sheet provides us after absorbing knowledge, or we can choose the path of practical thoughtful application to create a future of promise, rather than one of despair and useless repetition. The same boundless force which destroyed Piney has the potential to destroy us. Piney's fate is an example of letting the system control us, versus taking an active approach to both our learning and actions. Understanding a concept in theory is only a singular component to applying learned knowledge. Our classes are something that we have been brought into through a long term process of tailored learning, yet end in nothing more than a standardized exam. This is not an ideal representation of our efforts nor a true picture of students understanding behind the concepts they are taught. This leads to cramming Advanced Placement classes not to truly learn through a more rigorous curriculum, but to provide a false sense of qualification to colleges. We have a choice, Now, it is our turn to decide which path we set forth on.