A SENSE OF MEANING AND PURPOSE

AARP is a worthwhile organization founded on altruistic principles. To help retired educators and others survive and find meaning in their advanced years. I am pleased to be associated with its work at the state level. To provide service within categories in which I am qualified and interested.

My service preference in AARP has been and continues to be building bridges to the education world. Which was AARP’s birthplace through the efforts of Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus, the first woman high school principal in California. Who founded the National Retired Teachers Association. Then AARP two years later.

AARP’s current CEO is Jo Ann Jenkins, who wrote the book, Disrupt Aging: A Bold New Path to Living Your Best Life at Every AgeThe organization now sponsors projects to advance the book’s principles, particularly in post-secondary education institutions.

Before the coronavirus pandemic I outlined a possible lifespan planning course for college students based on Jenkins’ book. I shared it with the Executive Committee of AARP Kansas.

Because of pandemic-induced turmoil, attempts to promote the course in Kansas’ higher education were curtailed. Campus decision-makers already had their hands full with day-to-day challenges.

A similar challenge remains today. The pandemic’s effect on university enrollment and program purposes is causing a retrenching and redirection of curricular content. Strategic planning in higher education might open the door to implementation of a lifespan planning course. But most efforts are to reformat curriculum to meet high demand careers. 

I continue to believe a lifespan planning course is a good idea. Both now and in the future. If four-year universities are not currently interested, implementation might first occur in community colleges and technical schools. They have a strong focus on the trades and development of applied skills. Those students also need to plan their lives around making good lifespan decisions.

 *******************

I am gratified to see that AARP is also concerned about what is happening in public schools. With special attention on the epidemic of student depression, anxiety, and suicides. No doubt Dr. Andrus would share that concern and support our responsibility, as elders, to do something about it.

In a Special Report appearing in the September, 2022 issue of the AARP Bulletin, Stephen Parrine and Jo Ann Jenkins explain the scope and seriousness of the problem: “Our Kids in Crisis.” Both the article and Jenkins’ commentary are incisive and dive deeply into the root causes of the despair experienced by so many of our nation’s youth. They make clear our responsibility as elders to find ways to help.

Parrine points to multiple reasons for the crisis, focusing primarily on the pervasiveness of social media and effects of pandemic-induced isolation. He also suggests that the prevalence of mass shootings in schools and intense political rancor in the nation are ongoing perpetrators of anxiety and concern about safety.

Both Parrine and Jenkins suggest ways to start mitigating the problem. Legislation to better control the variabilities of social media and its bad actors. More intense family intervention on the use of smart phones and other devices. Contacting and making use of community support services. Giving young people more attention and love. Improving the quantity and quality of mental health services in the schools and communities.

My proposal for a lifespan planning course at the post-secondary level does not specifically address the issues mentioned by Parrine and Jenkins. The crisis they discuss is most acute among those in middle and high school. However, since the course is based on Jenkins’ beliefs about disrupting aging, it does incorporate the importance of our developing a strong sense of purpose for our lives, undergirded by a powerful belief system.

Those aspects of disrupting aging are often soft-pedaled. They seem less important than financial and health preparations. Two elements both practical and clearly essential, often mentioned in the commercial and political world.

But they are, in the larger scope of things, just survival techniques. How to live longer, comfortably, and in good physical health.   

As an octogenarian, I think back on my early years. Acknowledge the extreme importance of having made decisions that included but transcended mere survival techniques: a dedication to a life of service and beliefs about who I am in the context of religious convictions.

One more point that must be accepted as important. And can be found in Jenkins’ book and the course on lifespan planning: the feeling of being part of something bigger than we are as individuals. It is hard to explain why that is so critical, but successful human societies in history have always included rites of passage. Culminating with a sense of belonging within the individual, being accepted as part of the family, community, or tribe as an essential contributor.

My hope is that Jenkins’ Disrupt Aging initiative results in a substantive national movement that does more than just play around the edges of the issues and recommendations for change. That it delves deeply into understanding who and what we are as we move through life. That it gives us a philosophical AND psychological roadmap for continuing growth and feelings of living a life well lived.

In the meantime, my upcoming book, The New Learning Infrastructure, examines deficiencies in our nation’s public schools. How they should and must be overcome. Suggestions in the book align with points made by Jenkins, but are also reflected in the work of the National Teachers Hall of Fame. Its inducted teachers are honored for their exceptional creativity, leadership, and methods for engaging students with imagination and a powerful sense of purpose. The teacher/members of the NTHF show what true education is, thereby building young people into a new kind of reality. A reality that underscores student inclusivity, purpose-filled dynamics, and a sense of accomplishment that goes far beyond the acquisition of a good grade point average.

All human beings need a strong sense of purpose and meaning in their lives. Restructuring our society and its education institutions is a way to acknowledge that truth. Then do something about it.

 ©2022 Stu Ervay – All Rights Reserved

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s