Being a Lifelong Learner in Style!

by Tamara Luanxy

Posted on Friday 7th of October 2011

“Finishing” one’s education is often considered a necessary landmark to growing up. It is an important period, but eventually you have to put it behind you in order to start being a “real” adult. Career academics often joke that they are stuck in arrested development, and hence are unable to leave the ivory tower. This is a play upon the idea that you have to leave school behind once you have learned what you need to learn. However, is this really a healthy attitude towards education and human development?

In the United States, there is an increasing trend towards older people returning to school. For many, this “back to school” move is a means to an end: it is a way to earn credentials to gain a competitive edge in a beleaguered job market. Indeed, always being open to new techniques and methods is linked with business success. The tycoons of yesteryear can be left behind by new developments because they have not kept up to date.

The concept that we “finish” our education at a particular stage in time is not only unhealthy because it might lead a person to be a stick-in-the-mud who is not open to learning new things. Unfortunately, it also leads people to “cut” their lives into specific pieces in order to fit rigid notions of maturity. Actually, life need not be divided into strict, mutually exclusive parts. Truly, there is nothing wrong with carrying over some activities and perspectives of a “young” person, even as you get older.

The common practice of retirement can actually be rather dangerous. This is because the resulting inactivity and solitude can facilitate physical deterioration, loneliness, despair, and dementia. The “retirement” culture prevalent in the West may be one reason why dementia, memory problems, etc. seem to be more prevalent among the Caucasian elderly than people of other races. Of course, this does not mean that you have to maintain a punishing workload, even as your natural energy level decreases. Rather, “retire,” but remain active, even if it is not through a conventional job.

Indeed, we can bring the concept of holding on to one’s vitality back to education. An older person who takes or teaches classes will, by definition, be getting some physical and mental exercise. Some regular activity can help keep a person’s bones and muscles in shape, as well as staving off hypertension and heart disease. Keeping one’s brain in working order can help prevent the onset of diseases like Alzheimer’s. Still, this may seem to be a rather limited, utilitarian view of continuing education: simply as a means to pass the time and hold on to one’s sanity. However, participating in a community through giving or receiving education has a far deeper and wider significance. It can give the lie to contemporary ageism, and show that getting older does not mean that you should allow others to marginalize you. Society can and should have a place for all of its members, no matter what their age.

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