Older Women Learning: Now and Always
BY MARGARET KIDD
There are a great many doubts to be dispelled about learning and older women. Since the increase in the number of universities in our country in the 50s and with the advent of community colleges in the 60s, there are more opportunities for learning. There are now many alert, older women attending both credit and non-credit courses and completing formal and informal learning programs. Older women CAN and DO learn!
Unfortunately there are still employers and personnel managers who will not accept women over 50, claiming that they are too old to adjust to a new job.
The research tells a different story. Studies now challenge beliefs long held by scientists and the public, and suggest that among those who remain physically and emotionally healthy, intellectual growth can continue throughout a person's life. Research also suggests that declines in intelligence can be reversed in some instances. This view emerges from a broad range of current studies, from recent literature in the field and from interviews with gerontologists, psychologists and researchers in related health sciences. Some have compared the brain to a muscle: it improves with use, and older people who use their brains continue to learn!
Unfortunately social attitudes change slowly and older women have been exposed to "traditional attitudes" for many years. Women over 50 years old in 1990 went to school in the fifties, when they were taught to believe that their participation in the workplace was temporary. Middle class women were expected to stay home and raise families. Working class women were shuffled into low-paying, female job ghettoes. Women gave little thought to education required for some career planning and long term goal setting. There was little counselling in those years. School was an experience you lived through; never a means to fulfilment, either personal or economic. Few women came to appreciate the excitement of learning and develop real motivation to continue.