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MEMBERS OF THE OLD SCHOOL : Adults Are Going Back to Class, Too, to Learn About Everything From Sailing to Computers

September 02, 1993|RICK VANDERKNYFF | Rick VanderKnyff is a free-lance writer who contributes regularly to The Times Orange County Edition

"Whoso neglects learning in his youth," wrote the Greek playwright Euripides, "loses the past and is dead for the future."

And how about this, written by Abigail Adams to her son John Quincy Adams? "Learning is not attained by chance; it must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence."

Perhaps if I had paid more attention to my own studies, I could pluck such pearls of wisdom from my memory. As it is, I've had to look up "learning" in the index of Bartlett's "Familiar Quotations" to come up with a pithy line or two and simulate erudition.

Such is the fate, I fear, of most products of our educational system. The focus is on that piece of paper held out like a prize at the end of our tenure in high school or college; information (knowledge is too kind a word) is something we retain only long enough to get through the next test.

Luckily, learning doesn't have to stop once the official "schooling" ends. A survey of Orange County's universities and community colleges shows a wide variety of ways for adults to keep learning--Euripides be damned. At most locations, the next session of classes gets underway in the next couple of weeks.

The range of offerings is wide, from technical courses to "personal growth" seminars, from sailing to cooking to the history of American war films. Professional training and enhancement programs are a staple, especially at a time when many people in the defense industries are either trying to solidify their grip on an old job or are looking to find a new one.

One of the newest certificate programs offered through Cal State Fullerton's extension program is in the new field of object-oriented computer programming. Harry Norman, dean of extended education for the university, admits with a laugh that he's still not quite sure what object-oriented programming is, but he notes that it has been extremely popular and is just the kind of cutting-edge program he hopes to continue developing.

"We've had people go through (the program) and save their jobs," said Norman. "That's happening in a number of areas."

Professional training programs at local colleges and universities also include real estate, medical fields, criminal justice, transportation, hazardous-waste management--the list is extensive. Other practically oriented classes are a variety of personal finance classes and language programs, including plenty of ESL classes for the recently arrived and foreign languages (particularly Spanish, French, German and Japanese).

On the other side of the coin are classes designed specifically for personal enjoyment or enrichment. Recreation classes offered at the community colleges include yoga, aerobics, self-defense and dance--lots of dance. Saddleback College, for example, offers country line dancing, country two-step, swing (East Coast and West Coast), nightclub freestyle, New York hustle, "Funtango," rumba, waltz and a general "social dancing" class.

Probably the most extensive college recreation program in the county is the Orange Coast College Sailing Center in Newport Beach, which offers courses to students enrolled in the college and to the public. Beginning sailors learn on 14-foot dinghies; students who stick with the program can graduate all the way to the Alaska Eagle, a 47-foot sailing yacht.

"We have extremely knowledgeable instructors. Most of us have at least crossed an ocean or done some major sailing," said Karen Prioleau, the center's instructor coordinator. "We have at least 3,000 people come through a year. . . . It's a pretty unusual facility in that we have a lot of different types of boats. We take the neophyte to the experienced (sailor)."

Beginning sailing classes are taught over five four-hour weekend lessons (Saturday or Sunday), with new sessions beginning every month. The range of courses graduates to classes and seminars in such advanced topics as offshore navigation, sailmaking, yacht design and marine weather.

Students in the beginning classes vary in motivation. "A lot of people use it for a social event, a way to meet people," Prioleau said. Others are more serious about seamanship and move on to the more advanced classes: "They've come through as beginners and now they're cruising."

The social aspect of adult education is directly addressed in numerous seminars offered through the community colleges. Some address general speaking and social skills ("How to Talk to Practically Anybody" is one offering at Rancho Santiago College) while others go straight to dating and relationship problems and strategies ("Men, Sex and Intimacy" is the title of one seminar at Saddleback College).

There are a wide range of classes on parenting, on arts and crafts (Golden West College offers classes on everything from Depression rag dolls to batik), on cooking ("The Art of Biscotti" at UC Irvine extension) and on gardening and interior decorating.

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