Where to Get Your Learning On

The world of lifelong learning is a huge one.


Illustration by Minnie Phan

I am embarrassed to say how many years “Take a watercolor class” was on my New Year’s resolution list. I’ve always enjoyed painting, and my journals are full of enthusiastic, if highly amateur renderings of travel images. But when I finally gave myself a watercolor workshop this year as a birthday present, I kept saying, “What in the world took me so long?” The class was well-taught and fun. I brought away paints, brushes, a watercolor sketchbook, and quite a few hints on what I could do to improve my painting efforts. Result so far: an enthusiastic, and slightly less amateur rendering of an orchid, framed in the bathroom.

The irony of this long-delayed gratification is that I created and teach three continuing education classes, all literature-based. I’ve witnessed firsthand the light bulb that goes off above students’ heads when Shakespeare begins to make sense to them. I’ve seen them crack up with Midsummer Night’s Dream and cry with the death of the “sweet prince” in Hamlet. A former student, who enrolled only because her son was studying Shakespeare in school and kept asking her questions she couldn’t answer, still emails me about journeys she now takes to see productions.

Even if a continuing education class isn’t a life-changer, there’s no doubt it can be a life-enhancer. Whether it’s “Comparative Philosophy,” “Beginning Mandarin,” “Garden-to-Plate 1A,” or “Ukulele 2D,” something is calling your name. The phrase “lifelong learning” may have become a little hackneyed, but what it represents absolutely hasn’t. Why not hone your brain cells so you can better understand Sister Wendy on art or Neil deGrasse Tyson on black holes? Why not spend time re-learning American history to understand its impact on today’s world? Why not torment your long-suffering friends and relatives with your new mastery of “Ukulele Lady?”

The best thing is: There are no grades! It’s all for fun (and occasionally, profit). There may sometimes be “homework,” as in, “Skim through the final three acts of Midsummer Night’s Dream before next class,” but these are assignments you’ll want to complete. You’re in a class where everyone wants to be there, not has to be to graduate, and it’s a wonderful place to make new friends who share your common interest.

Colleges and nonprofits that offer continuing education classes almost always have informative pages on their websites that list current offerings. One good idea is to get on the nearest college’s continuing education or extension mailing list, so that you get the seasonal course catalogs. If there’s a nonprofit near you that offers classes, it will be delighted to add you to its email list for announcements of upcoming sessions. Aware that students are often busy during weekdays, most institutions offer classes at night, or on weekend days.

So — what are you waiting for? I can guarantee there’s a class out there that needs your name on its roster. In my case, bonjour “Beginning French.”

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