Last night, December 4, 2007, I attended my last class of the semester, in a course called Communication Research Methods, CMC 600. There is nothing unusual about this except that I am 61 and the student closest in age to me in this class of 10 was 31. Most of these graduate students are 23, 24, 25. It is the first time I have been in a classroom as a college student since 1972, 35 years ago. I have taught college classes as an Adjunct professor in Health Education and Social Work but it is the first time I have been on the other side of the desk as a student again.
It was a very interesting experience. First, I was struck with how the professor was pedantic and pontificated on his personal views of politics and the arts and society which had nothing to do with the course. As students we politely listened as he went on and on. I wondered to myself if I ever did that in my classes and I am ashamed to admit that I probably did. The use of power in a classroom where a superordinate gets a bully pulpit to indoctrinate subordinates is an interesting dynamic and one easily ripe for abuse. As most professions have codes of ethics I am not aware that college professors have a similar code. It there were such a code, there should be a section prohibiting the use of professional authority to gratify ones own emotional needs at the expense of clients (students).
Secondly, I was impressed with the level of intelligence of my fellow students. Even as young people they are very smart. I think they probably had much more to contribute to the learning experience than the professor allowed them to contribute because he seemed to have a need to maintain almost total control and he always got the last word on any discussion.
Having said this, I learned a great deal in this class and found it a very worthwhile experience and certainly would do it again. Most of my learning came from the reading assigned, the studies analyzed, and the 3 papers we were asked to write on quantitative communications research, rhetorical criticism, and ethnographic research.
I am now wondering if I should take another class next semester? It certainly is more stimulating and a better use of my time than watching TV, but then again, I don't watch much TV anyway.
I am taking courses an a nonmatriculated graduate student and I could matriculate for a Master's Degree in Communications but I am not sure whether the commitment and effort is worth the benefit. Professionally this degree has no value to me, but for shits and giggles it is a hoot. Interestingly, I am doing this for the love of learning while my fellow students obsess about what grades they are getting because they are hoping to use the degree for professional purposes or to get into graduate school for a Ph.D.
The university today has become a vehicle for vocational training more than an institution for the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake. For whatever it's worth, I will get an A in this course, but it has no bearing on my life other than the satisfaction and enjoyment of learning. And I feel somewhat validated in my notion that one is never too old to learn.