Education

Out of the rocking chair and into the classroom

Diane Francis June 23 1980
Education

Out of the rocking chair and into the classroom

Diane Francis June 23 1980

Out of the rocking chair and into the classroom

Education

In 1932, when Saul Lean graduated in pharmacy from the University of Toronto, less than five per cent of the population was over 60. In those Depression days, aging often seemed to imitate Norman Rockwell covers in The Saturday Evening Post: the rocking chair and the radio, living with the kids and minding the grandchildren. Now, in the not so cozy days of the nuclear family, the elderly—like Saul, 71, and his wife, Lillian, 66—comprise about 10 per cent of Canada’s population and, despite the lingering stereotype, they’re far from ready to be content rocking the night away in front of the television set. In fact, it was after a spirited game of tennis at his Florida condo that Saul

Lean was convinced by his tennis buddies to return to university for kicks.

Uninterested in a degree-oriented paper chase again, the Leans last year enrolled in a one-week summer course offered by Elderhostel, a nonprofit organization based in Boston. In just five years it has single-handedly fostered what may very well become a boom in education for the elderly. Founded by Martin Knowlton of Boston and supported by five New England colleges that wanted to put their facilities to use in the summer months, the program is now being implemented by 300 institutions in all 50 states. And, for the first time this summer, five Canadian universities and colleges will participate.

“The interest in this program absolutely floored us,” says co-ordinator Erika Pipher of Trent University in Peterborough, Ont. Within two weeks of

advertising its one-week session for 40 people, enrolment was full, with students coming from as far as California and Florida. At least four sessions will be offered next summer, says Pipher. The other Canadian schools offering courses are Sudbury’s Laurentian University, the University of New Brunswick and Toronto’s York University and Humber College. Altogether, Elderhostel expects to attract 20,000 students this year, 7,000 more than last.

To qualify, every participant (or a spouse) must be at least 60 years old. Fees are $130 a week, which include room and board in campus dorms as well as tuition. Classes are taught all summer by faculty members and are

offered from Sunday to Saturday, enabling pupils a day’s travelling time to move on to another university. “Some people have ‘elderhostelled’ their way right across the United States,” explains Boston Elderhostel spokesman Mike Zoob. “They spend a week at school near the grandchildren, then take off for a week to a school near a national park.”

For people such as the Leans of Toronto, the Elderhostel experience is truly complete: travelling, meeting people and sharing the joy of discovery.BuU as at all schools, some suffer from uninspiring teachers or courses. “ That’s no problem,’’explains Saul. “A few of us couldn’t stand the creative writing course, so we played hooky and golfed during that class.” Diane Francis