Eight months ago, shortly after my 70th birthday, I began my quest to conquer calculus. I justified my interest in higher-level math by recalling what I missed in skipping fifth grade. I was able to keep up in all other subjects, but I never made the transition from whole numbers to fractions. Throughout the remainder of my schooling, I decided I was just not good in math, crossing off all careers that required training in it.
I became, instead, a teacher of high
school English. After five years of that, having no interest in school
administration or counseling, I accepted a position as an admissions
officer at a local university. Thirty years later I retired, still
lacking fifth grade arithmetic skills.
Unwilling to return to the
classroom, I enrolled in the online Khan Academy, which enrolls about 10
million students worldwide, most of whom are decades younger than I.
Currently, I’m struggling to graph quadratic equations, enjoying the
freedom to learn at my own pace, without a teacher prodding me along. I
also like Khan’s requirement for mastery of a concept before being
permitted to move on to the next. That’s a far cry from the days I
earned a grade of “C” in Algebra I and be happily passed on to earn
another “C” in Algebra II, without mastering either level.
months after I began my math quest, my wife and I signed up for our
first adult education class through California State University San
Marcos. It was titled Unbridled Obsessions: The Uncommon Interests and
Bizarre Tastes of the Victorian Age, a fascinating class conducted by a
fascinating lecturer. It was offered by the University’s Osher
Institute, a program designed for students 50 years of age or older. The
30 of us attentive senior students were enraptured by Dr. Jack
Williams’ rendition of a quirky time in history with remarkable
connections to our own.
We liked the class so much we enrolled in
another Osher class last month, titled, Oil, Politics, and the Mideast,
taught by an Iraqi-born American, Farouk Al-Nasser, formerly the
Executive Director of Iraqi Operations for a San Diego Fortune 500
company. The title caught our interest, not only because of the current
world turmoil, but because our son is currently an aid worker stationed
in Beirut. Dr. Al Nasser’s presentation has been far more insightful
than anything we’ve seen on TV.
Cal State San Marcos is one of 122
colleges and universities from Maine to Hawaii offering Osher Lifelong
Learning Institutes designed for students age 50 and older. The founder,
Bernard Osher, well known as “the quiet philanthropist,” created the
Bernard Osher Foundation in 1977, seeking to improve quality of life
through support for higher education and the arts. In 2008 the
Foundation provided CSUSM with a $1 million endowment for its program,
which now enrolls more than 500 students each year in 13 locations
throughout North County.
I’m not sure why going back to school has
become so important to me. Maybe it has something to do with my
93-year-old mother, who had to quit high school to help out on the
family farm and is struggling today with dementia. It might also be the
absence of assignments and grades. This time I go to class only to
learn, not to be judged.