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Continuing education

Nenad Stojkovic

The great education machine is back in action as teachers and students launch into a new semester.

I don’t subscribe to the cliché that "Education is wasted on the young." The more you can learn when your brain is young the better. But I do believe that ignorance is wasted on the old.

Life experience without knowledge leaves a person, as it were, half finished. But education for adults is back in fashion. It was last in vogue in the 1930s, when all the attention and most of the money has gone to traditional education for young people. The assumption was that education should happen fast, in one compact package, like charging up an electric car. The charging should be complete by one's mid-twenties at the latest, when serious careers should begin and continue until the battery runs out, and you pick up your pension.

The phrase “continuing education” conjures up a rather utilitarian picture of vocational courses designed to recharge flagging workers for the job market. But that’s not education, that’s training. What encourages me is the growing number of impractical educational activities that people undertake for their own satisfaction or just for the fun of it. Courses that aim to teach us not how to improve ourselves — usually a lost cause — but how to improve our minds. A t-shirt I saw at one adult education session said, “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts,” which seems to sum up the entire enterprise of continuing education.

You can find opportunities at any age and in any place. Local libraries, universities, community colleges and school districts put on hundreds of courses for older folks. There are education companies like Roads Scholar and One Day University, as well as courses to follow at home on CDs and DVDs, and of course untold numbers of books, available free online and from the library.

What would you like to learn? Short story writing, Quilting, Tai Chi, Greek philosophy, English literature, languages, music, art are all available, as well as an infinity of other things, even deeply complicated and virtually impossible topics like quantum physics or how to raise children. All that knowledge is out there and much of it is free.

There’s really no excuse for ignorance except laziness but, unfortunately, we all suffer from laziness.

Learning IS work. We can’t be reading or attending courses all the time — it’s exhausting. But there’s a less strenuous form of continuing education that you already enjoy, perhaps without realizing it. The constant background of the radio throughout my childhood and long afterwards, often half-consciously heard and unconsciously absorbed, taught me a great many things about politics, literature, music and just about everything. I never thought about it at the time, but it occurs to me now that a good radio station, a serious radio station, a public radio station is the very definition of continuing education.

David began as a print journalist in London and taught at a British university for almost 20 years. He joined WSHU as a weekly commentator in 1992, becoming host of Sunday Matinee in 1996.