Many years ago, I taught a “big ideas” class to a group of summer citizens. These are retired folks who live in Arizona but come up to Logan for the cooler weather in the summer. I taught the course, under one title or another, for a couple of years. Many of the people in my class were Jews from the east coast who had had very successful careers and substantive educations. (One of my regulars was a guy who had taken philosophy courses from Morris Cohen back in the day, at City University. Because this is the way the world works, I happen to own a teaspoon that belonged to Morris Cohen, given to me by his grand-nephew, who is a dear friend.)
Anyway, these folks really put me through my paces. I was young and not very wise, but I was earnest and clever, and they liked that. They raised questions and objections that I could not shrug off lightly, as they were coming from so much background in education and the world. I like to think they enjoyed the chance to exercise that knowledge and argumentative skill, even at my own expense. But they made clear after class that they felt kindly toward me. One day after class, a lady told me very fondly that I reminded her so much of her son, who is a rabbi.
I remember that one summer there were three guys who seemed to me to different versions of the same guy, at 70 years, 80 years, and 90 years. They sat in rank, one row behind the other, escalating upward since the room had stadium-style seating. The 70-year-old guy would raise a point or question, and I would do my best to field it. The look on his face suggested the answer was okay; the 80-year-old would look dubious, but willing to accept it for now; and I never could please the 90-year-old, who would shake his head in a way suggesting I’d made a grade school blunder. Tough crowd. I tried once to introduce Rawls’ theory of justice, and that’s the class that came closest to an all-out riot.
I’m not even sure there is a program anymore for the summer citizens, which is too bad. At some point the university seemed to phase it out in favor of more lucrative ventures, like cheerleading summer camp. While the program existed, many of the classes seemed to be of the “how to use the Internet” variety, but I think these “students” (though the term here does not fit) were eager for greater intellectual stimulation than the usual life of the retiree typically affords. And, boy, for me it was a real education.