Mom Spelled Backwards: Adult Education

Mother-centric reflections on Rivertown life, and the precious time it takes to teach old dogs new tricks.


Old dog, new tricks. Such was the subject of a recent Brian Lehrer show, with guest Gary Marcus, author of Guitar Zero: The New Musician and the Science of Learning, about his journey to learn to play guitar at the ripe old age of 40-something.

I have one friend who has dedicated her life to education — she is studying for her PhD and seems to have been doing this to avoid the working world ever since she graduated from college many years ago. Then there are the rest of us, who happily stop learning when they hand out the diplomas. 

Not to say we don't read, listen, try new things, take a class here and there, but attempting whole new bodies of knowledge, entire new skills, real mastery of something, seems rare...and hard

Witness me, backward rolling down hills as I try to drive to stick for the first time in my driving life. Not happy, and not making much progress. Since we've bought the darn car in October I've probably driven it a total of a few hours in five-minute increments, as I have some technical glitch every time (stalling in intersections, cars honking at me) that ruins my nerve. 

Oh to be 16 again, when the learning came easy. Or did it?

"We used to believe that that was the case — that if you didn't learn by the time you were 16, you'd never become fluent," Marcus said on NPR. "What we know now is that some adults actually do become fluent. And although it's definitely easier to learn some things when you're a kid, it's not the case that you just absolutely lose the ability later in life. There's more of a gradual decline, but it is still possible."

Marcus said the edge kids do have over us is patience. But I think there's other more important things the youth have (since I consider myself pretty patient): less self-consciousness, more fearlessness, more time. 

Time. Who has the time to learn new things once kids, work, life really sets in? I think I'll be fluent in driving a stick shift when I retire.

Krista Madsen January 25, 2012 at 01:23 PM
I am most impressed with adults who take on a new language. Is anyone doing this? I realized years back I just don't have the brain for it. Or something.
Krista Madsen January 25, 2012 at 07:06 PM
Submitted to me: Learn something new every day -- or at least once a week -- at the Bronxville Adult School! Spring registration starts next Wednesday, February 1, and the new catalog is brimming with over one hundred classes to choose from. Classes begin March 5. www.bronxvilleadultschool.org


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