Published in The Sault Star Sept. 9, 2021
More old Canadians are taking college and university courses. That’s just awful.
I have a couple of reasons for thinking it’s a horrible idea for seniors to limp down the hallowed halls of learning, dodging throngs of grandkids.
One is that this particular senior citizen can’t seem to lay his mouse on the news story that sparked this column. I read it just the other day but now I can’t find it.
Yep, most of us old fogeys fall somewhere on the spectrum between frequent forgetfulness and demented dysfunction. Neither is a good prerequisite for scholarship.
Educators don’t accept “Now, where did I put that thesis?” as a proper footnote.
But my main reason for disapproving of the greying of colleges and universities is that I remember Mrs. Macbeth.
Mrs. Macbeth was the moniker my fellow university undergrads and I applied to an old lady — she had to be at least 50 — who audited our Shakespeare course.
Back in the day a mature student was someone who had taken a year or two off after high school to backpack across Europe and smoke a lot of dope. So Mrs. Macbeth seemed positively prehistoric.
Gather round and let me tell you how she got her nickname.
As you might have guessed, Macbeth, the Scottish play, was the first of The Sweet Swan of Avon’s dramas on the curriculum.
Our instructor was discussing how the dynamics of the relationship between Macbeth and his Lady helped them to a fulfilling career in regicide, when our fossilized classmate chimed in.
She felt the class could benefit from examples from her own long marriage to explain how wedded couples work together to achieve things — such as murder most foul — that they couldn’t dream of doing alone.
I suspect her too-lengthy contribution would have fallen on skeptical young ears anyway; we were a generation bent on rejecting all of the values and experiences and beliefs of our parents (only to embrace way too many of them almost immediately upon graduation).
But she sealed our scorn by referring to Shakespeare’s protagonists as “Mr. and Mrs. Macbeth.”
She did that repeatedly, even after the instructor gently urged her to use the less workaday titles by which the sanguinary couple are commonly known.
I half expected her to add that if Mrs. Macbeth had used a little baking soda and elbow grease she could have made short work of that “damned spot.”
We smirked and we snorted. But we did invite Mrs. Macbeth to join us for a post-class beer at the student pub. To her credit, or perhaps her folly, she did.
I don’t think Mrs. Macbeth appreciated how apropos it was for to order a bloody Mary. She left most of it behind before we had had time to down more than four or five rounds of draft, saying she must head home to prepare dinner.
That was the last we saw of her. I guess we drank her under the seminar table.
Looking back from my more advanced age, I’m confident I could have acquitted myself better on the drinking part.
But I’d be no less prone to fogey-splaining in the classroom.
Only a few months ago in a virtual book club session I rattled on and on to a younger audience with my recollections of the social prohibitions of the mid-70s that Margaret Laurence confronted so boldly in The Diviners.
Face it: Too many seniors feel that a long life obliges them to draw lessons from their experience and pour them forcibly into the deaf ears of yawning youths.
This column might be a good example, if any young person was reading it.
But students in their teens and twenties pay full price for their courses (seniors often get them free), so shouldn’t have to be led along endless time-wasting tangents by a gnarled elder, unless he or she is their professor.
Consider as well that technology, which plays a huge role in modern post-secondary education, is the Great Divide between youth and age.
Put a few seniors in a classroom and way too much time will be spent on the rudiments of accessing and submitting class material online.
They’ll want to know what an app is and how to download it on their phone. Next class they’ll want someone to explain why the app doesn’t work and how to turn on their phone.
Then there’s remote learning. Fogey fumbling could make a Zoom session seem like a seance. “Someone’s trying to communicate with us. We can hear them but can’t see them.”
Seniors will Twitter when they should TikTok, Facebook when everyone else is Instagramming.
Shakespeare himself foresaw this technological chasm: “Crabbed age and youth cannot text together,” he wrote.
Fortunately, colleges and universities don’t seem to be acrawl with shuffling slipper-clad seniors who stop young people in front of Room 324 to ask them where Room 324 is.
Post-secondary enrolment statisticians don’t even bother with a demographic category for older people, lumping them in to over-35 or over-40 demographic groups.
Even in continuing education courses, often taken “just for interest,” only 2% of Ontario college students are over 65.
That might make Shakespeare, who wrote “Age, I do abhor thee; youth, I do adore thee,” happy. If he weren’t 457 years old.