Lifelong Learning with Silver Frogs
The American philosopher Mortimer Adler said, “The purpose of learning is growth, and our minds, unlike our bodies, can continue growing as we continue to live.” Education does not end with graduation. Learning is a lifelong undertaking, whether it be professional accreditation courses or simply reading books about a topic that fascinates.
Many of us are immersed in guiding our children through their formal educations and in advancing our careers right now. We bound out of bed in the morning to make lunches, brush hair, and run the carpool lane gauntlet before heading to our jobs. We come home and try to remember how to divide fractions and who won the Battle of Glorieta Pass, to say nothing of making a scale model of a newt chromosome that is due tomorrow. And we have to take professional accreditation and certification courses to stay at the top of our professions. But what happens when our children are grown, and we retire? How can we continue to learn and nourish our minds? Why does it matter?
Numerous studies have shown that participating in educational and social activities that stimulate the brain during late middle age and early old age seems to help prevent Alzheimer’s and other dementias. The more socially and intellectually engaged a person can be, the better it is for the brain. This, of course, leads to the next question: where can a retired person participate in educational and social activities that stimulate the brain?
Fortunately for those of us who live in Fort Worth, there is a program designed specifically for the more mature learner. Texas Christian University is home to the Silver Frogs Lifelong Learning Institute. Quite a few of you reading this may have taken a Saturday class at the Fort Worth Botanical Gardens or wine-tasting class one evening through the Extended Education program, and you know the quality of the courses offered. An adjunct of TCU’s Extended Education program, Silver Frogs is specifically geared toward over-fifty learners who have the time and the desire to learn.
Started in January of 2015 with 160 members and just 24 classes and lectures, Silver Frogs has grown to over 450 members with a total of 92 courses and lectures in just three short years. Courses offered this semester cover a wide range of topics, from “’60s Rock & Roll: When Music Was Hum-able & Lyrics Mattered” to “Homeless Young Children: The Most Voiceless and Invisible” to “Understanding Soccer for Beginners.” Later this month, there is a luncheon lecture by author and historian Quentin McGown on “Fort Worth – How Our Past Makes Our Present.”
Unlike the other Extended Education classes offered by TCU which are pay as you go, Silver Frogs is run on a membership model. As the old advertisement says, “Membership has its privileges.” For a flat fee, Silver Frogs can register for up to three daytime classes held in one of two locations on the TCU campus. They may also participate in up to three one-time lectures and attend up to three luncheon lectures presented by TCU faculty and Fort Worth worthies.
Julie Lovett, Assistant Director of TCU’s Extended Education program, has been with Silver Frogs from the beginning and at TCU for 18 years. She says that one of the first questions people ask is if you have to be an alumnus of TCU to become a Silver Frog. “You do not have to be an alumnus. This program is open to anyone.” Additionally, there is no educational requirement. “Anyone from someone who stayed at home to CEOs of major companies are members,” Lovett says. The only requirement, other than being over 50, is having an open, questioning mind.
In addition to finally understanding soccer or learning about the challenges faced by homeless young children, Silver Frog members are part of a vibrant, dynamic community. Members form discussion groups, dining groups, and walking groups. New friendships grow.
In order to bolster the sense of community that the Silver Frogs program engenders, members have started a monthly newsletter. Called the Silver Streak, the newsletter is full of member and instructor profiles, book reviews, recipes, and information about future classes and lectures. Contributors are all members of Silver Frogs.
In an interview with Bill Moyers, writer Isaac Asimov said, ““People think of education as something that they can finish… If you enjoy learning, there’s no reason why you should stop at a given age.” TCU’s Silver Frogs Lifelong Learning Institute offers Fort Worthians an opportunity to continue to learn, to engage with like-minded people, and to enjoy life after 50.
This article first appeared in the March/April issue of Madeworthy.