Summer school is in session for seniors in Palm Beach Gardens.
Life isn’t just golf, card games and relaxing by the pool for residents of the Devonshire retirement community at PGA National. Their first “class,” a lecture with Lynn University Professor Robert Watson, made history come alive in a way memorizing dates or reading from a textbook never did. Watson’s talk June 24 was the first in a four-part summer lecture series.
Watson talked about how difficult it is to verify facts from history as more time passes, when all the witnesses are gone. Resident Bob Frasier described Watson as a passionate teacher and said his whole life could have been different if he had taken a course like Watson’s.
“If I had a history professor like that in college, I probably would have taken more history classes,” Frasier said. “He’s that kind of teacher that can stir up interest in making you want to know more.”
Some of the residents who listened to Watson’s lecture have also taken courses through Florida Atlantic University’s Jupiter Lifelong Learning Society. The 15-minute drive was a selling point when Frasier and his wife, Joan, decided to move to Devonshire, he said.
Watson said most people don’t like their history classes because it’s rote learning of dates, lists of kings and battles. Like any good TV show or novel, history has triumph and tragedy, love and scandal. He approaches it from those compelling personal angles.
Well-educated, well-traveled, well-read South Florida seniors he’s spoken to at Devonshire and in other places have lived through World War II, the Holocaust and Watson’s favorite president, Harry Truman. He said he considers it a privilege to teach them.
“You have to bring your A-game. You can’t walk up there and give them the same stale stuff from a textbook,” Watson said.
Both Frasier and resident Polly Sherk said they’d like to read a book about Alexander Hamilton after a compelling discussion during the question-answer period. Hamilton had a true rags-to-riches story, growing up on a Caribbean island as the illegitimate child of a Scottish father and a mother with, at best, “loose morals,” Watson said.
“It’s like an episode of the Kardashians, only it ends good,” Watson said. “…It’s a matter of finding these really compelling people from history and finding the real story.”
Sammy Weber, a violinist who attended The Julliard School in New York and teaches courses at the society, will give the next talk, “The Killer B’s: Bach, Beethoven, Brahms and Bernstein,” July 13. Irene Malanga, Director of Life Enrichment, said because of the “heavy topics” in the world, she tried to book a good balance of speakers. The sessions aren’t open to the public.
Jeffrey Morton, a political science professor and a fellow at the Foreign Policy Association, will give the August talk about the Crisis of ISIS. Resident Joan Kurtzman said she always goes to his classes. Continuing education keeps your mind active, she said.
“Lifelong learning is wonderful because you have no prep work, no papers to write and no exams,” Kurtzman said.
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