It's not a typical setting for a classroom. But then the 47 students listening to a lecture on the American Revolution here at the Minute Man National Historical Park aren't typical, either. They are senior citizens - a small fraction of the growing number of older adults discovering an inexpensive, enjoyable way to learn. They've come from all over the country to participate in Elderhostel - an international network of education programs for senior citizens that has grown from 275 participants in 1975 to 142,000 this year.
Elderhostel expands on the idea of the popular European youth hostels. Adults 60 years old and older can study subjects from archaeology to zoology on campuses and at education centers around the world - sharing dormitory rooms, libraries, and recreational facilities.
The low cost (between $215 and $225 for programs in the United States) and one-week course duration allow many Elderhostelers to travel regularly. Jack and Frances Karlan from New Jersey, for example, have attended 15 Elderhostel courses in the last several years, on campuses from New Hampshire to North Carolina. The number of institutions that host Elderhostel programs has grown from the original five New Hampshire schools to 1,100 today.
For a higher cost (and longer stay), seniors can attend an overseas program such as the Great Barrier Reef course offered at the University of Queensland on Lady Elliott Island in Australia, or a course on great painters of the 20th century held at the University of Madrid.
Elderhostel was founded in 1975 by Martin P. Knowlton, an activist and educator with a commitment ``to the belief that retirement does not represent an end to significant activity for older adults but a new beginning....''
Mike Zoob, vice-president of Elderhostel, says that though it began as a summer program, ``the fastest-growing aspect of the program is its expansion into the academic year.''
``These people are motivated by an interest in learning new ideas and getting a different outlook,'' said one New York Elderhosteler attending the course at the Minute Man Park. It's not unusual to find students in their late 70s and 80s, she says. Her particular group has come to Concord to take part in a course sponsored by the Center for American Studies called, ``The Constitution Through Our History.''
``I got a different perspective on how the Constitution developed,'' said Mr. Karlan after the course was completed. He never realized that American Indian philosophy might have had an influence on the formation of the Constitution. ``There was a lot of good stuff there,'' he said.
Course catalogs are avialable from Elderhostel, 80 Boylston St., Suite 400, Boston, MA 02116.