They're not afraid to ask questions. They're certainly not shy about offering their opinions, and they're definitely not reluctant to share what the have learned through the years.
Senior citizens -- more than 35,000 -- went back to school this past summer as participants in the nationwide Elderhostel program. For $140 a week, including room, board, tuition, and special activities, they spend a week of study and recreation at any of more than 400 colleges and universities in the US and Canada.
Elderhostel is based on the time-tested youth hostel concept. For years young people have been able to tour Europe on a limited budget, traveling from hostel to hostel where they could find simple accommodations, wholesome food, and hearty companionship. Now hosteling has come of age. The idea has been adapted to provide new experiences and inexpensive vacations for citizens 60 years old and older.
A central national office handles all bookings. With a single registration a person can arrange an entire summer of hosteling -- leapfrogging across the country to visit grandchildren or see the sights -- or just visit a nearby college for a change of scene. Elderhostel can now even coordinate hosteling in Europe.
Each week participants can take three minicourses on a variety of topics -- or none if they wish. Elderhostel courses, activities, and events, which vary from college to college, are offered but not required. There are no exams, no papers, not even a textbook to buy. The object of Elderhostel is to encourage senior citizens to get out experience and enjoy.
And enjoy they do. Elderhostel is not all work -- not by any means. Morning stretch sessions might begin the day. Picnics, movies, hobby sessions, or a party may end it. In between are hearty meals, warm companionship, and quiet walks on campus and beyond.There's time, too, to go "off the reservation" and tour nearby points of interest.
While Elderhostel is undoubtedly a stimulating experience for the participants, college faculty have found taht teaching senior citizens is equally challenging and rewarding.
"This is a well-read group," said Dr. Robert I. Weiner, associate professor of history, who taught his first Elderhostel class this past summer at Lafayette College.
"They are politically aware and definitely not reluctant to offer their opinions and observations. These are people who have valued education all their lives and are continuing their interest into retirement."
Dr. Weiner's course on contemporary issues delved into such problems as Soviet-American relations and the Arab-Israeli crisis. His class, which consisted of many retired teachers, college professors, and other professionals, and other professionals, as well as persons who had never gone to college at all lingered well beyond the scheduled end of the period.
"I've taught every age group from pre-school to college," said New York artist Doug Mason, who came to Lafayette to teach an Elderhostel course on painting. "it's a whole new experience to teach these senior citizens. They're eager to learn, quick to get down to work, and creatively expressive."
"If regular day students were this enthusiastic," said James P. Schwar, a professor of computer science at Lafayette, "we wouldn't have any problem."
After only three classes of preparation the Elderhostelers were having their first hands-on computer session. Heads were bowed over the keboards, brows furrowed in concentration. a forest of hands waved in the air. The professor and several assistants responded to calls of "Teacher!" "Professor!" "Directr!" or simply "Help!" as the class struggled to communicate with the computers.
For more information on Elderhostel, write the Elderhostel National Office, 100 Boylston Street, Suite 200, Boston, Mass. 02216 or call (617) 426-8056.m