Five more minutes, the phrase I have too often repeated to myself after the abrupt departure from REM due to the dissonant clanging of my alarm. Nestled deep in the soft warmth and perfect comfort of my sheets, five more minutes seems little to ask of the day. Five more minutes of shut-eye. Five more minutes to grasp at the fading dream of being best friends with Jimmy Fallon at a downsouth rodeo (who wouldn’t want more time with that dream?). Five more minutes to ignore the cold wood floors. Five more minutes to pretend I am not avoiding responsibilities for the day.
Five more minutes was the mantra of this month.
You see, I was off of teaching for the month and I got the idea that the best thing I could do with my free time was head right back into the classroom, as a student. I applied to Calvin, again, and was accepted for an intensive German interim. And so began my three week rebirth into Hiemenga Hall. Five hours a day. Five days a week.
Deutsch. Deutsch. Deutsch.
Now, if you know me well, or not at all but have heard the rumors, you know that I am not acquainted with moderation. To be merely overwhelmed is inadequate, I would prefer to be desperately out of my element. Don’t set me adrift without just my sail, take my compass and maps too. Therefore, one language was not enough and I also registered for Spanish 101 at GRCC, which added four more hours of new vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation to my week.
Deutsch. Español. Deutsch.
Those five extra minutes began to look less like sloth and increasingly more like a dire necessity as the weeks progressed. Five more minutes in bed was not a blockade against memorizing gendered adjective endings in the Dative case or the correct placement of umlauts (which I am convinced not even the Germans know). No. Rather, I savoured those five glorious minutes as mental preparation for the suffocating apathy of two classrooms full of eighteen-year-olds.
Seven hours of day of mind-numbing blank stares, painful silences, and less than neutral human interest in the people sitting to the left and right.
I tried. Dear lord, I tried. Kindness, sarcasm, banter, mean sarcasm, interest in their lives, blatant rudeness. NOTHING WORKED. It wasn’t just me that they avoided (which would have been fair. I was the unknown, non-traditional student that all normal Calvin students avoid like Commons dining hall on a Sunday). They also avoided each other. Face-to-face that is.
Snapchat was a different story. I witnessed students walk into class without a greeting, sit down, make a pouty face at their phone and “snap” (I loathe the bastardization of the word) to their friends who were sitting LESS THAN A FOOT AWAY, “mornings got me like….”
I still shudder at the memories.
It was the same, Calvin or GRCC. I don’t know if it was Grand Rapids’ insistence on being gray and cold all month, or the specific classes I registered for because I don’t believe all eighteen year olds are apathetic. Nor are they they only generation to overuse social media. Nor was my generation a model example of caring for education.
To be fair, liking school has always been out of vogue (hate to break it to you Lauren Harris) and to voluntarily answer a teacher’s question is social suicide. I get it. (I don’t but I am a non-traditional student who needs friends to sit with at lunch!) But I saw students refuse to answer a question when the professor asked them point blank, and the answer was on the board! Their apathy towards education, even in the moments it was spoon fed to them, was almost impressive. They must have to vehemently concentrate to subvert that natural human curiosity to learn.
There were times (several of them) when I legitimately believed, and desperately hoped, I was on Ashton Kutcher’s Punk’d. That he would jump out and point fingers at me and all the students would turn out to be passionate individuals pursuing degrees to better the world. Alas, Ashton never arrived and most of my classmates never showed an ounce of interest in bettering the world.
The one difference between Calvin and GRCC students was their apathy towards January 20, Inauguration day. No, neither set moved past apathy, but they remained rooted in their disinterest for separate reasons. When I asked the Calvin students if they were going to watch the inauguration they said no, Commons was serving burritos that day, and the election of a new president—and I quote—“wouldn’t affect our lives.” When I asked the GRCC students they also responded negatively saying “he is going to ruin our lives and there is nothing we can do.”
I wept for both.
I wept for each generation faced with the grayness of January and a world that declares caring is worthless.
Apathy, you son of a bitch.
Rebekah (’12) teaches English as a second language at Grand Rapids Community College. She does not drink coffee nor purchase Apple products.