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Sunday, October 18, 2015

Returning to college ‘in an adult way’

Photo: Carolyn Scott Kortge
Carolyn Scott Kortge, former register-Guard editor and writer, and author of “The Spirited Walker.” summarizes, "At UO Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, teachers and students find ways to feed their passions."

UO Osher Lifelong Learning Institute
Most of the chairs were full when I reached the lecture room at the Baker Center in downtown Eugene. Parking had delayed me.

For several years, I pulled into an assigned parking space outside this building when it housed The Register-Guard newspaper. I had climbed the back stairs to my desk in the second-floor newsroom. I knew where I was going.

But now I fumbled for parking-meter quarters and fretted about arriving late for the first day of school! I was heading back to the classroom for University of Oregon prof Mark Johnson’s talk on the power of metaphor to change my life.

Metaphors! How could I miss this presentation — me, a confessed wordy wont to quip that metaphors fall unbidden at my feet. The talk was part of a fall “Day of Discovery” event introducing educational opportunities for students 50 and older at the UO Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.

I slipped into a back row chair and joined about 80 listeners as Johnson tossed my understanding of metaphors in the air and juggled the concept so skillfully my eyes widened in amazement. This was fun!

And that, of course, is the goal of adult education. To return us to the eager openness that can emerge in the process of learning.

“As a senior, the tendency is to close down one’s life,” says David Kolb, council president for the Eugene-Springfield OLLI-UO program. “We are trying to pry it open. Stop reading Facebook so much. Get beyond Time magazine. Ask questions.”

The crowbar worked for me. My mind was bubbling as I left the metaphors lecture.

I felt the buzz of a fresh point of view and wondered what I’d been missing in the years since I put structured classrooms behind me. In those years, school was a proscribed prelude to life — a training program for the bigger things to come.

Now, I felt a pull back to the classroom. To reconnect with the bigger things of life that loom as the span of life grows briefer.

Maybe it was our long, dry summer that left me longing for this change. By September, an unusually strong back-to-school urge had aligned with my eagerness to clear cobwebs from my head and home.

Even before the Osher lecture, I responded to the call of a symbolic school bell and signed up for a monthlong Insight Seminar, another University of Oregon adult education program.

The goal of Insight Seminars, says retired UO English professor Jim Earl, is on-campus seminars in which mature learners explore “meaning of life” questions through monthlong programs guided by experienced faculty.