Educational programs help seniors fulfill postponed dreams
Retirement brings with it the promise of time to pursue interests and passions postponed due to work and family pressures. But many retirees discover that fulfilling a dream requires replacing the old work-a-day discipline with a new structure.
Regardless of age or physical condition, intellectually curious seniors have many opportunities in the Los Angeles area to participate in an educational program that fits their needs in an enriching, stimulating and affordable environment.
In the Los Angeles area, lifelong learning programs such as PLATO, SAGE and OASIS each provide a framework for mature men and women in search of new challenges and new friendships with like-minded people. These college-based programs vary widely in their approach, so selecting the organization best suited to your needs and aspirations is important.
The PLATO Society of UCLA is the best known and most prestigious of learning programs for seniors in Los Angeles. PLATO, an acronym for Perpetual Learning and Teaching Organization, is an independent, self-financed program under the auspices of UCLA Extension.
Founded in 1980, PLATO has a membership of about 420 men and women, mostly in their 60s and 70s. Several members are significantly younger, like the woman who left PLATO to have a baby, while others are older, like Seba Kolb-Tomkins, who answered the mail for Eleanor Roosevelt’s syndicated “My Day” column.
PLATO is not a lecture series and features no instructors. Instead, the program offers what it calls “study/discussion groups,” or S/DGs, which deal with a wide range of subjects.
Each group generally features 14 participants, and a different member is responsible for making a presentation and leading the discussion during each weekly meeting. Among current PLATO members are former lawyers, doctors, teachers, professors, psychotherapists, journalists, business executives and artists, as well as a one-time ballerina and a flight attendant. Regardless how accomplished they were in their careers, “members leave their titles at the door” and are addressed by first names only.
The curriculum is planned by a coordinator and a co-coordinator — any PLATO member willing to devote the time and energy can become a coordinator — and the subjects are limited only by the members’ interests. Topics can range from astronomy to zoology.
Among the 26 different subjects currently offered are “A Matter of Opinion,” which examines the way the media influences national policies; “Middle East Quagmire: Part I — Zionist Thought”; “Shakespeare Then and Now,” comparing the original plays with their treatment in films and musicals; and “Natural-Born Killers,” which studies earthquakes, hurricanes and other natural disasters.
PLATO follows the UCLA academic calendar, which is divided into three 14-week semesters. A new selection of S/DGs is offered each semester, although some of the more popular topics may occasionally be repeated. There are no formal requirements for membership in the PLATO Society beyond intellectual curiosity and a willingness to devote the time necessary for meaningful participation. Annual dues are $425, and members may audit UCLA classes with the permission of the instructor.
For many members, PLATO plays a very significant role in their lives. A retired advertising executive who lost his wife to cancer said that PLATO saved his life, and a former Philadelphia broadcaster said, “It provided access to like-minded people when we first arrived in L.A.”
Although not intended to be a social organization, PLATO has also helped a number of single and widowed members to establish new relationships.
In addition to the groups, the society offers a variety of special programs and benefits, such as monthly lectures from distinguished speakers such as LAPD Chief William Bratton; Frank McCourt, author of “Teacher Man” and “Angela’s Ashes,” and L.A. Cardinal Roger Mahoney.
An annual conference regularly addresses a topic of vital concern (this year PLATO is scheduled to examine the state of health care in America), and a special three-day retreat at an off-campus residential setting during spring break provides society members with an informal learning experience.
The PLATO Society is located at 1083 Gayley Ave., adjacent to the UCLA campus in Westwood. For more information, visit Release of ‘Alpha Dog ‘ reopens Markowitz family wounds