UPDATE: Thank you Peter Tibbles for correcting the count of years among us on Millie Garfield's 90th birthday post. Inevitably things go wrong - not important when it was only meant to be fun but still you want to be as accurate as possible. Just because.
So I did some more accounting this morning and the total number of years of the readers celebrating Millie's online birthday is 6576 plus or minus a few other errors.
Thank you all - that was fun.
Nearly every week – or frequently enough to call it that – there is a new study announcing that old people, to stave off dementia, should exercise and keep our minds active.
I'm not sure there is yet any solid proof about the dementia prevention part but there is no doubt that active bodies and minds are healthier bodies and minds and that has been known for a long time.
Back in February, Jeffrey J. Salingo wrote in the Washington Post, that once upon a time, the purpose of college was to “explore courses and majors before settling on a job and career...”
”[as opposed to]...today’s view that it’s all about getting a job...
“Freshmen now list getting a better job as the most important reason to go to college in an annual UCLA survey of first-year students. Previously, the top reason was learning about things that interest them.
“The number of bachelor’s degrees awarded in traditional arts and sciences fields (English, math, and biology, for example) has tumbled from almost half of the undergraduate credentials...The most popular undergraduate major [today] is business."
In another kind of learning inquiry, last year the Gallup organization set out to test the mission statement of nearly every American college which is, to promote lifelong learning as a core value in life.
From decades of their own research, the company believed being “engaged in your work and thriving in your overall well-being” is an excellent demonstration of lifelong learning and that it can be measured with a simple question: "Do you learn something new or interesting every day?"
So here is what they did [emphasis mine]:
”Gallup asked this question of a representative sample of more than 170,000 adults across the U.S. in 2014, and we cut the data by varying levels of educational attainment,” [they explained].
“What we learned is there's no difference whatsoever in the likelihood that college graduates agree with this question compared with those with any lower level of education - even those without a high school diploma!
“What an unbelievable disappointment. So much for the promise of a bachelor's degree leading to lifelong learning.”
Even though I too lament the debasement of the purpose of higher education, if, as Jeffrey Salingo tells us, high-minded intellectual goals have given way to hardcore job skills in college, then disappointment that a bachelor's degree confers no more advantage than high school or less can hardly be a surprise.
But I read the Gallup study differently. I think it's great news for elders – well, for anyone of any age but at this blog I speak about and for old people.
What I believe their study confirms is that a curious mindset and the eagerness to follow it is all anyone needs to continue learning and maintain an active mind throughout life.
The study also reveals that we should not necessarily put as much value on the importance of undergraduate degrees or, at the very least, should not assume that people without one are any less educated or less informed.
One of my pet peeves are the surveys on huge varieties of topics that measure results by educational attainment. They regularly imply that respondents with less education are dumber or, at least, less well informed. It's just not so.
I'm a pretty smart cookie and although I have a high school diploma, I got that in 10 years rather than the standard 12 and didn't spend a moment anywhere near a college.
As I repeat here occasionally – one the things I've LEARNED in life – is that if it is true for me, it is true for thousands and thousands of other people.
If there is something highly particular you want to master – a language, a musical instrument, the history of eastern Europe between world wars, trigonometry or anything else where an expert can point the way, then those lifelong learning classes at colleges and senior centers can be invaluable.
But I am wary of the too-common belief that the phrase lifelong learning almost always is applied to formal teaching. All it really takes to continue learning is to have a curious mindset and follow your interests whether it's a simple question that needs a yes-or-no answer or a long-term project.
For many people I know, the bigger problem about learning is how to keep it to a manageable volume. But old age is fine time for learning however you do it.
What new or interesting thing have you learned today? Do you take formal classes or do you follow your interests on your own?