The older you get, the easier it is to learn

Helena Rodriguez

Well, I’m now halfway through my first full-time semester back in college after 13 years of working in the “real” world.
I’d be lying if I said I haven’t cracked open a book since walking off that Eastern New Mexico University stage with a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 1989. In fact, that’s when the real learning began.
Anyway, I’m back inside the brick buildings at ENMU. Somehow, I’ve managed to make it through mid-terms with my head just barely above water. I thought I was ready. I’ve wanted to get a master’s degree since I got my B.S. But the cart took off running without me in the carriage. I was still moving when the semester began. Then I switched my major from communications to English and completely changed my schedule a week after classes started.
But now, I’ve managed to catch my breath and can’t wait for spring break.
It’s hard to believe I’m an EON now. That’s what we called nontraditional students back in the days. EONS were those “older” people who went back to school with us fresh-out-of-high-school kids who were not even old enough to buy beer.
For my first semester back in college, I feel I’m covering just about the whole realm of education. I’m taking a combination of undergraduate and graduate classes during both the day and night. I’m even taking my first ITV class where we can see ourselves and students from other towns on TV.
I’m also taking racquetball, which has been a blast, not to mention a workout. Then there’s my Saturday morning science fiction and fantasy class which is really cool. We spend the first half of class in a regular classroom. After break time, us graduate students drive to the home of Jack Williamson and sit around a table talking about sci-fi. Sometimes it’s hard to believe we’re being instructed, one-on-one, by a world renowned grandmaster of science fiction.
The biggest change since my undergraduate days is the Internet. We now visit with professors and advisors through e-mail often and send some of our homework that way. The traditional blackboard is now an electronic one where teachers post messages.
It won’t be long before public school teachers utilize the Internet more, too. Student’s won’t be able to say, “The dog ate my homework.” Maybe they can say, “The cyberdog zapped my word document!”
I’ve heard the older you get, the harder it is to learn. It’s the old “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” theory. I disagree. I feel I’m more open minded now and I have this increased hunger to learn things I should have but didn’t learn in college the first time.
That reminds me of something one of my daughter’s teachers at Portales Junior High School told me when Laura was having trouble in social studies last year. Mr. Thatcher said this “magic light bulb” in our head sometimes doesn’t go off until we’ve matured a little. He said sometimes kids will be lagging behind and then one day they surprise everyone when that “magic light bulb” lights up.
I feel like that “magic light” in my head has turned on late in life. I remember as a college sophomore, sitting back all bored in art appreciation 101, wondering why I needed to learn about these dead dudes. Then 10 years later, I found myself standing in front of original Renoir and Picasso paintings in Abilene, Texas. It was suddenly my job to tell some 40,000 newspaper readers about this incredible French art exhibit in town. Where was that art appreciation teacher when I needed her? I gave myself a crash course in French impressionism and was impressed.
Lately, I’ve found myself watching the History Channel more and I’m suddenly interested in learning about the great Romantic and Victorian writers, and even more about the Civil War and world history. Somehow, it all ties in with the world we live in today.

Helena Rodriguez is a columnist for Freedom Newspapers of New Mexico. She can be reached at