Continue Your Education

“La vie boheme”
February 19, 2007, 10:52 pm
Filed under: Post-Katrina

“There is a new bohemia not seen since people discovered Seattle,” Jed Horne, editor of the Times-Picayune


“Where is the outrage?”
February 19, 2007, 10:51 pm
Filed under: Post-Katrina

I started to feel like a jerk for my rosy outlook and posting on New Orleans until I saw Mayor Cory Booker of Newark last night. Booker talked about being dragged into the middle of a desperate neighborhood and being asked by a longtime resident “What do you see?” “A crackhouse, a project, drug dealers,” he replied. “Then you can’t do anything for me,” she said. “If that’s all you see, you have no vision and you cannot help me.” I suppose I saw beyond the spray painted homes indicating that the house had been searched and other signs of disaster to see the vitality and promise of New Orleans 2.0, and perhaps that’s not such a bad or naive thing.

He also asked where the “moral outrage” was in Newark, and presumably New Orleans, Rio and any other place plagued by outrageous violence. This morning I received a petition to send to congress and the president asking for an “independent bipartisan investigation into the failure of the Federal Levees on August 29, 2005 that flooded 80% of New Orleans and the surrounding region including St. Bernard, Jefferson, Orleans, St. Charles and Plaquemines Parishes.” A petition may not be the most extreme embodiment of outrage, but it represents a commitment to “Defend New Orleans” (as the T-shirts implore). Sign it at

“Massive Resource List for All Autodidacts”
February 15, 2007, 12:04 am
Filed under: Continuing Ed: Info, Continuing Ed: Student Stuff

I came across this site that lists all sorts of free education resources, including podcasts of university lectures. 

“Taking Time Off”
February 13, 2007, 9:27 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

In the recent article “Taking Time Off” in The February 5 Columbia Spectator (, Devika Bhushan explores a variety of students’ reasons for taking time off from college.  She is specifically interested in undergraduates who take off a year to pursue other interests, but she cites a remarkable statistic from the U.S. Department of Education’s 2002 Condition of Education Report: “Seventy-three percent of all undergraduates in the 1999-2000 academic year were defined as nontraditional students who did not enroll full-time in college immediately after high school, supported themselves, or held full-time jobs during the school year.”

After more than ten years in continuing ed, I was shocked by the seventy-three percent figure.  I think that if such statistics were better known, nontraditional students would be more likely to enroll in programs and courses of all kinds, and any stigma surrounding a generation gap in classes would be mitigated.

“Signing Up to Study Death”
February 12, 2007, 5:20 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

 I thought this was of interest with regard to the age spectrum in continuing ed,  in this case closer to the end of the spectrum.  Strikes me that maturity of all kinds  — literal, spiritual, intellectual — is required to tackle one’s own mortality.  That sort of self-awareness, as well as the thoughtfulness and humor evidenced below, seems valuable in any class.


Lenore Skenazy

February 12, 2007

The New York Sun

Old age ain’t for sissies, and here sit the least sissy of them all: retirees filling a New School classroom who have chosen to study not guitar or gardening or “The Films of Woody Allen,” but have signed on for a new class called “Death.”

“Facing the Inevitable” is the subtitle of the class, and it’s all about getting ready, intellectually at least, for the guy with the scythe. “How We Die,” “Sudden Death,” “Lingering Death” * those are just a few of the weekly topics packing them in.

“My friends say, ‘Are you nuts?'” a former director of a nonprofit, Bonnie Dimun, 61, said. Hey, death is just a topic she is keen to study. Ms. Dimun already knows the way she wants to die: in her sleep, “after I’ve straightened out my closet.” That’s funny * I’d rather die than straighten out my closet. That’s the whole purpose of the class: to hear different ideas about death gleaned from books, films, poems, and the sensibly shoed students themselves * about two dozen of them.

“We’re going to start class today with why you personally don’t want to die,” the facilitator, Carolyn Grossner, said. (All the classes in this division, the Institute for Retired Professionals, are taught by Institute members on a volunteer basis.) Clearly, Ms. Grossner is no novice at teaching because she quickly adds, “No long stories! Please do not say, ‘I have a granddaughter -and she has beautiful long, red hair and she plays the piano. *’ Say, ‘I will miss seeing her grow up.'”

“I don’t want to miss my daughter’s life,” one chastened class member says.

Everyone appreciates the brevity. (Life is short!)

“I want to know what’s going on in politics, international events, and war,” another * perhaps quintessential * New School goer says. “I don’t want to die because morning showers feel better all the time, and the perfect peach gets more and more perfect,” a student named Victor Hughes says. He gets some laughs, but there’s a lot of nodding, too. You don’t come to a class on death, it seems, if you’re not still pretty high on life.

After everyone talks about their future grief about their future death, they turn to the day’s readings, ranging from Epicurus’s tract on why death is not to be feared to * talk about inevitable * Mitch Albom’s “Tuesdays With Morrie.” It sounds like your basic Great Books discussion, except the questions keep hitting home.

“Can you really ‘grow’ through death?” one of the students asks after summarizing an article that called death “the most profound growth event of our total growth experience.”

Lots of grumbling from the class follows. “I hate the word ’emotional growth,'” Isabella Aldon, 82, says. As a former doctor, she says she saw plenty of death and dying. A “growth experience” is not how she’d describe it. “The body is diminished. It’s getting smaller. As far as intellectual growth, it’s hard to imagine. So is it possible to grow at least spiritually and emotionally?”

“I don’t think there’s time,” a practical student says.

“I think it can be a stimulant,” a man in the back row says. “I had a therapist who, when I’d get stuck, used to say, ‘You’re going to die! Get over it!'” That perspective allowed him to move on.

Ms. Grossner admits she’s had trouble with the idea of death as a growth experience, despite the fact she’s teaching this class on death, which is intended to be a growth experience. Growth through death just sounds so New Age. “But,” she adds, “growth could be reaching out to other people. Or it could be recognizing our place in the universe,” i.e., that we are but bubbles in the mighty stream of eternity. That’s growth. “And giving things away” * that’s growing beyond the material, right?

The class chews on this for a while.

No one looks much happier about the prospect.

“When you go to the beauty * I mean, the funeral parlor,” the retired doctor, Ms. Aldon, says, the bodies always look so happy. So alive. But really, they’re in a totally different place. Is it a happy one?

Ah, that is to be determined next week, when the topic is “Immortality.” In the meantime, class is over. It’s time for lunch * and perhaps a perfect peach.

“After the Storm”
February 7, 2007, 7:38 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

“Growing up is a lifelong task” touts an ad from the Marble Collegiate Church.  If that’s the case then much of our experience qualifies as continuing education.  This past weekend my lessons were taught to me in New Orleans.  I was as hesitant as anyone about visiting a devastated post-Katrina New Orleans, especially after frequent recent reports of horrendous crimes, notably murder as sport.  But having lived in
New Orleans, I was eager to see for myself what had become of that beloved city.

After a very short time, I realized that New Orleans was still the exciting, fun-loving, smart place that everyone thinks of.  Only more so.  An acquaintance from the trip noted that New Orleans is “more itself than ever.”  I have to think that he meant that the zeal and lust for life that existed before Katrina were heightened by the disaster, that each day and each interaction were now cherished.   Everyone waves.  You wave at your neighbors.  If you don’t know someone, you wave.  The homeboy in the gold-embossed hooded sweatshirt pulled ominously over his eyes waved at me.  Strangers do drive-by waves, not drive-by shootings.   I came this close to kissing the cabdriver who took me to the airport good-bye; I opted to give her a 30% tip.   It can’t be easy for her.  It’s not easy for anyone.  But she talked about the parade last night, not her worries.

All of the locals spoke of circumstances “after the storm,” but they didn’t do so out of self-pity or nostalgia.  “After the storm, we shop here.”  “After the storm, I go to church there.”    So what are our lessons, boys and girls?  Something good can and does and has come out devastation.  That the human spirit — or at least the spirit of New Orleans — can triumph over adversity.   Pretty valuable continuing education if you ask me.  In fact, I’m making plans for more classes during Jazzfest.  You should too (it’s the last weekend in April and first weekend in May). 

“Education must not simply teach work, it must teach life.”
January 31, 2007, 6:35 pm
Filed under: Continuing Ed: Professional Stuff, Continuing Ed: Student Stuff

This quote from W.E.B. duBois is posted outside the School of General Studies at Columbia, a school that offers undergraduate degrees to adult students who seek to complete their degrees after having taken off a year of more from college.   This quote advocates for an multi-dimensional education that extends beyond or vocational training.   I would imagine that students of life would therefore be open to new experiences and peoples of all stripes.  Yet a recent article in the Columbia Spectator decried perceived discrimination among traditional college-aged students and their older counterparts.  In “The ‘Haves’ and the ‘Have Nots'” (Columbia Spectator, January 18, 2007), Sean McMorris writes of blatant and subtle discrimination against older students. 

He quotes midterm evaluations from Columbia College students: “I feel this is more a class of personal anecdotes than facts. The General Studies students go on and on with absolutely no gain in conversation.”  Another post opines, “I just kind of wish that this class wasn’t taken over by people who already have so much experience working in various science technology industries and who know an ungodly amount about these topics … [we are] half the time left in a daze somewhere between annoyed and bored out of our minds by their useless rambles and obscure vocabulary.”

The following week a cartoon ran in the paper depicting Santa Claus, Barney and the Grouch from Sesame Street as “G.S. Students.”  I daresay that the choice of subjects for this comic speaks to the maturity of the contributor, ostensibly a traditional age college student.

You would think that students of any age would welcome “people who already have so much experience” in their classes, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.  Granted no one wants to listen to a blowhard, especially when you are paying to hear a professor, but I think that the contributions are undervalued here and elsewhere.  When I worked at The New School, the “inventor of adult education,”we prided ourselves on the fact that students ranged from eighteen to eighty.  Often you heard that the students and faculty felt that the older students had the most to contribute.  As often, however, there was resentment and hostility toward older student, much like the comments above about General Studies students.  At one point the school actually banished the “Lifelong Learners” from the cafeteria in the undergraduate college because of complaints form younger students.  prior to the banishment they’d installed stools that we ostensibly uncomfortable to older backsides.

At what point do students become students of life and appreciate the lessons learned before them?  Isn’t there an expression about education teaching you how little you know?  Is that the purpose of continuing education?