Doing battle with daily dragons

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

A Non-Traditional Education

LawGirl sent me a little note this morning with a touch of the ridiculous to it:

There's this non-trad, first-year law student who finished his undergrad at Harvard who has submitted a formal proposal to the faculty to improve Valpo's (Valparaiso University, Indiana) school rank by requiring all students to stand up and enunciate when they answer in class. Upon being informed of this in Honor's ConLaw, a student remarked ..."I don't know if it will improve our rank that much when I stand up and they see that I've peed myself..."

Ah, the glorious, time honoured tradition of the non-traditional student.

It seemed that every class I took at college had one. In subjects such as Intro to Physics or Latin American History from 1700 to the Present, (yes, I reall did take that class) they blended into the rest of the note-taking throng. However, in classes like Sociology, Christian Ethics or Aesthetics, they made right nuisances of themselves. I imagine they used this equation when working out their role within the class:

my age > age of classmates
professor’s age > age of pupils
professor = me

therefore if
my age > age of classmates
age = knowledge= right to an opinion
my knowledge/ right to an opinion > knowledge/right to an opinion of my classmates

Now, obviously I'm totally for education at any stage of life. If I get a Master's one day, its likely I'll be a good deal older than I am now, but I hope I'll still be cool. There was one grandmother on my theatre course who listened to club music, drove like a maniac, drank like a fish and had us in stitches the whole time. The kind of non-trad I’m talking about is the overweight 50-ish bald guy who sits at the back of the room, tries to co-teach the damn class along with the professor and asks complicated questions that require 20 minute answers in the last 2 minutes of the session. Does anyone else know that guy?

However, following my non-traditional student rant, this very much related story has been being followed by the BBC for about a year or so. Since Kenya made primary school education free in 2004, huge numbers of poor children have been able to take advantage of some basic learning, but the big story is this guy. An 85 year old man called Nganga Maruge has also taken advantage of the system to receive the education that he never had. He’s in the same class as several of his 30 grandchildren and even wears a school uniform. "To me,” he said, “Liberty is going to school and learning." This week, he boarded a plane for the first time in his life and travelled to the UN to call attention to the plight of children denied an education due to extreme poverty. This guy is doing something extraordinary in his twilight years when most of us hope to be sitting comfortably in a big chair watching re-runs of Coronation Street. He is as non-traditional as it gets. In fact, he holds the Guinness World Record for the oldest person ever to start school.

When sorting through all of the awfulness of the daily headlines, this story has a coolness factor of 20 out of 10.