I wake up on Mondays with a sense of dread. Not because of work, which I often enjoy more than the weekend, but because Monday nights, I have Italian.
For the past several years, I have taken Italian classes in the local adult education program. Having suffered through two years of college Italian 40 (!) years ago and having squandered the home field advantage of having had a native Italian father, I am determined to learn it now. My lousy middle-aged memory makes it impossible to learn all the verb conjugations, my shyness makes me terrified to speak, and I am exhausted from a full day of work. My wonderful teacher, an 80 year old former member of the Italian army, loves to teach so much that he would go for four hours, if we students didn’t eventually just start packing up our books. (His teaching method is to stand in the front of the room and declaim loudly into the middle distance, just like my father, who was a math professor. It must have been how things were done in Fascist-era Italian schools.)
So why bother? I’ve come to the conclusion that we have a human impulse to learn; that it just feels good to exercise the brain. I have a friend at work who goes to a weekly study of Hebrew texts. I bumped into a neighbor rushing to catch a train to his biochemistry class at Penn. Another neighbor regularly engages a French tutor to help her improve. Even though we’re tired, it’s somehow worth the effort. It’s satisfying to have a goal and push yourself towards it, no matter how slow and painstaking the progress.
That’s one reason why college feels wasted on the young, sometimes. When I read Ben’s post about “party schools,” I get a little mad. Don’t these students realize they have all these wonderful opportunities, right at their fingertips? Never again will they be able to learn about poetry, or Roman architecture, or economics, so conveniently. Why let this chance slip through their fingers, with a focus on getting drunk and just getting by.
So while the young count the minutes ’til graduation, we middle-aged plod off to our enrichment classes. Why? As we say in Italian, “Non lo so!”