Older auditors keep minds active by attending classes, offering perspectives

Herb Bobman traded friendly barbs with Ed Blake before their class began Tuesday, jokingly asking Alfred Feingold in the row behind them whether he wanted to switch seats with him before class. History 341 was about to begin at 11 a.m., covering a period of history that all three were alive for during Nazi Germany.

Bobman, Blake and Feingold are 80, 86 and 74 years old, respectively. They chat before class begins, take notes and sometimes speak up when a professor’s question to the class goes unanswered. They are a few of around 20 senior citizens who audit classes at University of Miami through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI). Unlike other full-time students, they do not take tests or write papers.

The three auditors do not lack knowledge; rather, classes keep them mentally active. Blake and Bobman graduated from the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn). Feingold graduated from Dartmouth, went to Tufts University School of Medicine and has also spent time at the University of Chicago. Auditing classes helps them battle their fears of boredom and stagnation.

“I’ve never been bored,” Feingold said. “It is so rewarding to return to UM to listen to [professors] who have spent their entire life trying to understand a subject.”

Feingold, a former anesthesiologist who taught at UM briefly, said his ideal class teaches him two new things each hour. When he retired and started working part time 15 years ago, he audited classes in the business school in order to manage his finances in retirement. He moved on to philosophy and is currently taking classes on Nazi Germany, anthropology and Middle-Eastern art. He started driving to and parking on campus, but decided the 20-minute walk was easier and healthier for his body.

Blake ran his own architecture practice in Newark, New Jersey, which is now run by his son. Bobman owned and operated a chain of men’s retail apparel stores before retiring. Bobman and Blake have driven together to classes from their homes on Key Biscayne ever since Bobman, who first audited classes through a similar program offered at UPenn, convinced Blake to take classes five years ago.

All three mentioned how technology changed the way classes operated, but Blake and Bobman also pointed out societal differences they can see in class.

“We used to smoke in class,” Blake said, laughing. “But the variety of languages here, I’d like to stand somewhere and count them – ask each person what language they are speaking and where they are from.”

“The dress is much more informal now,” Bobman said, pointing out a student wearing a pair of flip-flops.

All three said they limit their participation to moments when they think they can offer a unique perspective. Some professors have asked them to refrain from asking questions, while others actively invite them into discussions. Feingold spoke up during a history class when students were discussing the period of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s hearings on the threat of communists in the United States – a major part of the “red scare” of the 1950s. He told the students that his high school would broadcast the hearings live in their gymnasium and that people would go to watch. Sometimes they even took tests or wrote papers.

“One time I chose to write a paper on idealism for a class; under bibliography I wrote ‘book of life’ and my age,” Bobman said with a grin.

One business professor asked Feingold to take the tests for class. Feingold said he had a B at the end of the course.

“These are individuals who have lived accomplished lives and want to stay intellectually and artistically invigorated,” Bruce Oliver of OLLI said. He said that auditors, who have to be 50 years or older and a member at OLLI, pay $400 dollars for up to three classes and another $400 for each additional class. Auditors can take any undergraduate class that has space.

All three mentioned certain professors they would take, regardless of the class’ subject matter. This can lead them to take the same class, such as the Nazi Germany class taught by professor Hermann Beck of the history department. Usually,  though, their interests lead them to take different classes.

“I go through the whole course catalog, A through Z, looking for interesting classes,” Blake explained. He has taken cases on anthropology, geography, geology, religion and history.

Bobman is taking classes on the Chinese political system as well as one on globalization and human rights.

“There is something good in everything you learn,” Bobman said.

None of the three anticipate an end to their auditing.

“One thing you appreciate is when you have very intelligent, engaged students [in class],” Feingold said. “Seeing the gears turning in their heads as they become adults.”

Feature photo courtesy Pixabay user geralt.