Some 150,000 people around the country participate at more than a hundred OLLI locations. The story focused on a couple in Rockville, Md., that takes classes at Johns Hopkins University, which itself has five locations throughout Maryland. "The institutes, affiliated mostly with colleges and universities, are among the best-known advanced adult educational programs in the country," according to the Times. "The lifelong learning programs position themselves as communities where the participants not only take on challenging subjects but also seek to engage more deeply with their fellow students."
I, myself, do not take classes at OLLI or anywhere else, even though I sometimes feel like I should. After all, B works at a library, so she's learning all the time. Both of my sisters take classes. The one who lives in Florida audits a course every semester at a nearby university. My other sister is learning Italian and has been taking classes for two or three years (and also has made two trips to Italy).
I instead volunteer at an educational institution -- though one not nearly so prestigious as Johns Hopkins University. I go to my local community college. I help students write their essays, which involves helping them understand what they're reading and then coaching them how to write a coherent report. I also help students with transfer applications, scholarship essays, resumes and job applications.
|State House in Annapolis|
They say travel is a good way to learn. I'm not sure if a trip to Florida with all the Snowbirds is particularly educational -- I wouldn't trust the Orlando, Fla., version of history -- but thinking back to my work at the college, I realize I have learned a few things.
I've learned about the many ways that a piece of writing can go wrong, as well as some of the essentials of what makes a piece of writing work. It doesn't have much to do with vocabulary or grammar. Of course, an essay has to be comprehensible. And it should have a point to it, a thesis. Beyond that, it should have a voice -- something that makes it real.
One of my last students before I left for Christmas vacation was a young woman who came to the writing center with an essay about discrimination faced by transgenders. She wrote about how friends can ostracize a person who changes gender. She cited the sometimes-horrified reactions from parents and teachers. She discussed the negative signals that transgender people get from the media and society at large.
I didn't know anything about transgenders before I met this young woman. But reading her essay, I felt as though I had learned something, and I also felt like I had shared some of the transgender experience.
And I learned something about why we all write. Perhaps we have some observations or opinions; perhaps we have something to say. But most of all, I think, we just want someone to know: We are here. This is who we are.