Who’s Driving That Damn Car?

I don’t know why, but the end of spring semester at the university is excruciating, for everyone. I talk with my colleagues, they’re all worn out from teaching. The students are exhausted. If you look into one’s eyes, you’ll see the images of seven to ten unwritten essays floating around in her skull.

We are all deer in the headlights. And who the hell’s driving the car?

Students look out the window more during class, some with longing to be outside in the fresh air, others who are ready to fling themselves out of it (I’m on the fourth floor). They pick up pencils that must weigh ten pounds, and the thought of opining on something this late in the semester…just don’t ask them to.

I usually pull back a bit in April. I stack my books: the harder ones in the front end of the semester, with a lighter read at the end. We began with James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, which demands every single brain cell in your skull to focus. After that, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, one of my faves, that also expects you to lean in, concentrate, think deeply, which gives you a payoff like no other. That book is brilliant.

I ended with The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood’s gripping read. And this time it worked–my students, all women, are tearing into it, as much as they can. Because these days, with genital-grabbing presidents and predator film producers revealing the dark side of men, that book speaks to them directly.

But even with dear Margaret, focus is hard to come by.

But, they do it. They write the seven papers, take the final exams, work at coffee shops and take care of grandmothers at home–that’s the norm of many of my students. They’re mostly all Latinas, which means they care for family. So, grandma is right in there with an essay on one woman’s need to murder her own children to save them from slavery (Beloved). 

I hate seeing them so exhausted. It just doesn’t seem right. And I know they have much more pressure on them than I did in college, back in the eighties. Their debts are greater, due to the injustice of college tuition, something that should be free. Money, indeed, is their biggest worry. So much debt, so young–why do we allow this to happen?

Which means, we’re the ones driving the car.

Dear Students: On behalf of my generation, I apologize. And I hope you get some sleep. After you hand in that essay on The Handmaid’s Tale.

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