Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Seniors. The Other Kind.

King Lear reads differently when you’re a parent.  Senior citizens auditing classes alongside students taking the classes for credit can add another dimension to class discussions.

But I haven’t seen much discussion nationally about better or worse ways to include local seniors in the academic life of the campus.

This week, for the first time in several years, I had the chance to do a presentation to a group of local seniors.  Indulging my poli sci past, the topic was the presidential election.  

I’ve done sessions like those before, and they’re always a blast.  The seniors have been around long enough to have seen campaigns come and go, and when I refer to, say, Ronald Reagan, they remember him.  Today’s 18 year olds, bless them, don’t remember Bill Clinton’s presidency.  There’s no reason they would, but the discussion can be richer when people have more context.  And the seniors give exactly zero hoots about grades, so they let their opinions fly.  It makes for a lively time.

We’ve long had seniors participate in credit-bearing classes, but we’ve treated it as a kind of afterthought.  They tend to cluster in humanities and social sciences, taking seats on a space-available basis.  The idea is to avoid crowding out students who need the class for a degree, and that’s valid as far as it goes.  

But I’m wondering if there’s a better, more thoughtful way.

Seniors can be incredible assets for class discussions.  They also sometimes form bonds with younger students that become almost parental (or grandparental).  Seniors have both political and economic clout locally that can redound to the benefit of a college for which they feel affection.  And they have a legitimate need for mental stimulation that a college is particularly well-suited to address.  Mental stimulation is what we do.

The audit-where-you-can approach is better than nothing, but I wouldn’t call it thoughtful.  

Wise and worldly readers, have you seen (or participated in) a well-designed program that made regular classes available to local seniors in a way that treated everyone with respect?  I’m hoping to steal some ideas here.  Single-day talks are great fun, but we could do so much more.