Pasatiempo - - IN OTHER WORDS -

MUCH LIKE THE FEED­ING FRENZY AS­SO­CI­ATED WITH buy­ing con­cert tick­ets, the minute that on­line reg­is­tra­tion opens for a new se­mes­ter at Re­ne­san In­sti­tute for Life­long Learn­ing, stu­dents rush to their com­put­ers in the hopes of se­cur­ing a spot on one of the field trips to his­tor­i­cal and cul­tural sites. They have to click fast be­cause trips fill up quickly. Af­ter the first rush, as their pulses slow, stu­dents can take a more leisurely stroll through the course cat­a­log. Shake­speare’s Prosody, Con­tem­po­rary Ice­landic Lit­er­a­ture, Roles of Amer­i­can Women in World War II, In­tro­duc­tion to Ama­teur As­tron­omy — the list of choices is lengthy and im­pres­sive. At around $15 per in­di­vid­ual ses­sion, Re­ne­san classes are quite af­ford­able for a num­ber of peo­ple, and there are no tests to take, re­search pa­pers to write, or grades to worry about.

Re­ne­san classes, lec­tures, book groups, and cur­rent-event dis­cus­sions are held at St. John’s United Methodist Church (1200 Old Pe­cos Trail), on the cor­ner of Old Pe­cos Trail and Cor­dova Road. Re­ne­san was es­tab­lished in 1995, when a group of Santa Fe res­i­dents de­cided to ar­range aca­demic classes for re­tired peo­ple. An Elder­hos­tel pro­gram, lo­cated at what was then the Col­lege of Santa Fe, of­fered a des­ti­na­tion learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for trav­el­ing re­tirees, so the Re­ne­san group — which stands for “Re­tire and Re­new in Santa Fe” — searched their mail­ing list for lo­cal zip codes in or­der to get the word out. For a time, Re­ne­san was loosely af­fil­i­ated with Elder­hos­tel and held classes at the col­lege, but they have rented space on the church grounds since 2003. In the first years, just a few cour­ses were avail­able, but by 1999, the or­ga­ni­za­tion had 300 stu­dents at­tend­ing 16 classes, five lec­tures, and a night walk at Ban­de­lier Na­tional Mon­u­ment. Though num­bers slightly fluc­tu­ate from se­mes­ter to se­mes­ter, the pro­gram has seen reg­u­lar an­nual growth. In fall 2016, Re­ne­san had 62 of­fer­ings, to which they sold 2,269 spots — many of which were filled by peo­ple tak­ing more than one class at a time.

Santa Fe may be home to five col­leges, but it is not known as a col­lege town. Stu­dents at St. John’s Col­lege, Santa Fe Uni­ver­sity of Art and De­sign, the In­sti­tute of Amer­i­can In­dian Arts, Santa Fe Com­mu­nity Col­lege, and South­west­ern Col­lege may not have a hop­ping late-night bar scene, but they do have one an­other. Thus, they make their own fun — or they even­tu­ally leave for greener pas­tures, some­times grum­bling that Santa Fe is for old peo­ple and that there’s noth­ing to do. That view is fair enough, al­though night­time en­ter­tain­ment op­tions are im­prov­ing, but what if Santa Fe is ac­tu­ally a great col­lege town — maybe not for twenty-one-year-olds, but for seventy-one-year-olds?

“It’s an ideal sit­u­a­tion for teach­ing and learn­ing, from my point of view,” said Lois Rud­nick, a Re­ne­san fac­ulty mem­ber whose hus­band, Steven, is pres­i­dent of the non­profit group’s board of di­rec­tors. Be­fore mov­ing to Santa Fe in 2009, Rud­nick was a pro­fes­sor for many years in the Amer­i­can Stud­ies de­part­ment at the Uni­ver­sity of Massachusetts in Bos­ton. “I’d never taught re­tired adults be­fore. It’s a delight to be in the class­room with peo­ple who do all the read­ing with­out hav­ing to be asked more than once. I hes­i­tate to call them stu­dents, be­cause they’re my peers. Many of us came of age at the same time, in the ’60s and ’70s. That shared gen­er­a­tional ex­pe­ri­ence and knowl­edge base of­ten al­lows class dis­cus­sions to go as deep as they did in the grad­u­ate-level cour­ses I’ve taught.”

Re­ne­san teach­ers are re­tired aca­demics as well as ex­perts in fields like po­lit­i­cal sci­ence, law, and psy­chol­ogy. They wind up teach­ing for Re­ne­san when a mem­ber of the cur­ricu­lum com­mit­tee ex­tends an in­vi­ta­tion af­ter meet­ing them at a so­cial gath­er­ing, see­ing them present a lec­ture else­where, or read­ing about them in Pasatiempo. “We keep up with what’s hap­pen­ing in town,” said Margie McGre­gor, vi­cepres­i­dent of the Re­ne­san board. “There was one head of the cur­ricu­lum com­mit­tee who used to travel to Chicago fre­quently, and she met peo­ple in line at the air­port who wound up teach­ing for us.”

Barry Gold­farb, a re­tired pro­fes­sor from St. John’s Col­lege, took his first Re­ne­san class five years ago and now en­rolls nearly ev­ery se­mes­ter. “A friend took me to a class that was on a book I’d read, Fy­o­dor Dos­toyevsky’s Notes From Un­der­ground. I was very im­pressed with the qual­ity of the lec­ture and the dis­cus­sion,” he said. He ex­plained that at St. John’s, all pro­fes­sors (who are re­ferred to as “tu­tors”) teach across the cur­ricu­lum, mean­ing that some­one whose aca­demic back­ground is in sci­ence must also teach lit­er­a­ture, French, and other sub­jects. “Re­ne­san is much more tra­di­tional than St. John’s — and it turns out that it’s nice to hear some­one who is truly com­fort­able with the ma­te­rial they’re pre­sent­ing. The dis­cus­sion can be very rich — though that de­pends strongly on the peo­ple who are in the class. The other thing that’s dif­fer­ent from St. John’s is that ev­ery­one in Re­ne­san classes has a his­tory. Ev­ery­one has done in­ter­est­ing things. It’s not the same as classes full of un­der­grad­u­ates.”

Kay Bur­dette is a re­tired sec­ond-grade teacher and cur­ricu­lum spe­cial­ist from Ohio. She and her hus­band, Robert, a re­tired physi­cian, moved to Santa Fe in 2000 and found Re­ne­san in 2011. “We’ve taken some classes to­gether and some separately. He’s more in­ter­ested in sci­ence, while I like lit­er­a­ture and his­tory. I took a class with Lois Rud­nick that com­pared and con­trasted F. Scott Fitzger­ald and Ernest Hem­ing­way — that was fan­tas­tic. This se­mes­ter, I’m tak­ing her class on im­mi­gra­tion in lit­er­a­ture and film,” she said.

McGre­gor said that friend­ships blos­som among the stu­dents, as class­room dis­cus­sion fol­lows them to cof­fee dates and other get-to­geth­ers. Lit­er­a­ture classes lend them­selves to easy con­ver­sa­tion, as do the wealth of his­tory and po­lit­i­cal sci­ence classes, many of which con­cen­trate on ur­gently im­por­tant top­ics, such as the spring 2017 of­fer­ings, “Con­ser­vatism From Its Begin­nings to Today,” led by Don­ald Gluck, and “The Is­lamic World,” led by El­iz­a­beth Manak, as well as a sci­ence course with Steven Rud­nick, “Global Warm­ing: Cur­rent and Pre­dicted Ef­fects, Adap­ta­tion, and Mit­i­ga­tion.” Bill Ste­wart, a for­mer U.S. For­eign Ser­vice of­fi­cer and jour­nal­ist, teaches a re­cur­ring class on al­ter­nate Tues­day af­ter­noons called “Hot Spots: Where in the World?” that cov­ers a wide range of global his­tor­i­cal and po­lit­i­cal events. Classes and lec­tures are held in fall and spring semesters; spring 2017 classes be­gin Mon­day, Jan. 30. Reg­is­tra­tion is open on­line at­ne­ or in per­son at the Re­ne­san of­fice at St. John’s United Methodist Church. Some, but not all, sec­tions are al­ready filled. Thurs­day af­ter­noon lec­tures, how­ever, do not re­quire pre-reg­is­tra­tion.

Mere days be­fore classes started, Gold­farb still wasn’t sure what he wanted to en­roll in this se­mes­ter. “I’m pretty sure there’s a course on Tam­ing of the Shrew, which I will cer­tainly take. I think there’s one on Joseph Con­rad — but maybe I want to take a his­tory class? Once in a while I take a so­cial sci­ence class. Once, I took a class on food and cul­ture that was amaz­ingly good, about caloric in­take and changes in dif­fer­ent so­ci­eties. Some­times the classes are off-the­wall but in­cred­i­ble. I have to go scour the cat­a­log.”

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