The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure to curiosity.” Dorothy Parker (1893-1967)
We can fill the days of our sunset years in many ways, but going back to school rates near the top of my list of diversions. I don’t mean earning another degree, though many mature individuals do. I mean going to classes, lectures and on guided tours. Apparently we tend at this age to become “knowers” instead of “learners”; we don’t engage our minds by pursuing new knowledge and experiences. Yet, to stay sharp we must keep our brains active.
Of course we can learn through reading, watching documentaries, visiting museums, etc. And I do not pass a day without competing in Scrabble, Bridge and Sudoku against my CPU. But in addition to stimulating our minds, going to school gets us out of our homes, satisfies our need for sociability — we’re among people with similar interests — and gives structure to our open days. We also acquire fodder for small talk with friends and family.
Having lived by the educational cycle for 30 years in a university town, I feel September marks a new year. In August I eagerly anticipate the programs and opportunities of the fall. For example, Simon Fraser University puts out its Liberal Arts program for 55+ year olds, as well as its Saturday lecture series. This fall I will attend four lectures by History professors who’ll examine aspects of WWI in recognition of the 100th anniversary of the armistice of November 11, 1918.
As my retention of information is not particularly good now, I don’t want to cram for an exam. But in the moment — where we’re supposed to live — I delight in listening to those in the know: an art historian interpreting a selection of works at an art museum, a docent identifying striking features of buildings and sites on a walking tour, a professor outlining the achievements of notable Canadian Agnes Macphail, the first woman parliamentarian who served in the House of Commons from 1921-40.
Given advances in technology, we can easily go back to school without leaving our home. Coursera and edX, for instance, offer free online courses taught by professors at major universities, including the Ivy League. Tutorials on anything, almost everything populate YouTube. We can also use it to catch up on TED Talks and stay current on new developments and ideas. Through YouTube I learned how to set up my blog!
I’ve never been one for specialization. In fact I epitomize dabbling, having developed several skills over the years yet mastered none. At this stage my educators must entertain, as I aim to have fun while acquiring a smidgen of new information. However, I still set standards. A few years ago I enrolled in “The Romantic Movement in Word and Music”, but the professor chatted rather than lectured. And his conversations lacked coherence. I realized talking about the Romantics at home with Glen, an English professor, would be more satisfying. Still, learning “live” — in classrooms or on tours — is the difference between going to a movie and watching it on TV. I’ll continue to go to cinemas until they cease to exist (which, sadly, may happen in my lifetime).
To benefit fully from going back to school, we’re advised to leave our comfort zone. Take classes in subjects that differ from our past avocations. Get into situations that make us humble. I admit I’m not comfortable with being uncomfortable. But I love to learn — even when I forget. •