Sunday, September 20, 2009

Plato for Pennies or Harvard on the half-dollar.

I've been hanging with Plato quite a bit lately. He rides shotgun as we go about town doing errands. And the more time we spend together, the more I find myself really liking this guy. Last Saturday on the way home from our zoo outing, my two year old son Kai fell asleep so I invited Plato to finish the fascinating tale of his teacher Socrate's arrest, imprisonment, and eventual execution via hemlock. Can this guy ever tell a story!

I'm hoping he'll join my new inner circle of friends which now includes Martha Stewart and Eleanor Roosevelt.

And no, despite any appearance otherwise, I'm not writing this from a padded cell;-).

Awhile back I was facing a tough personal situation for which I needed chutzpah, moxie, just plain guts. And courage has never been my strong suit. When I would read about the underground railroad or people risking their lives to hide Jewish families in Nazi Germany, my admiration was always tempered with a disappointment in myself for not knowing I too could have that strength.

Now my situation was not so dramatic, but I did need to find my inner steel magnolia and I had been simultaneously reading a book written by Martha Stewart and a self-help book.

The book, I wish I remembered the title but I've easily read hundreds in the genre, suggested that you expand your peer group beyond your flesh and blood family and friends to include those who have the qualities you'd like from any time in history, any continent, any gender, religion, or background.

I was drawn to this idea of having a "round table" discussion group and imagining what some of these people would do in my situation. I was drawn to both Martha and Eleanor for courage. Watching Martha go to prison and emerge, not cowed or afraid to go on in public life was inspiring to me. And Eleanor's quote, "You must do the thing you think you cannot do" had helped me get through my first college speech class. They were both women I wanted to get to know better.

Plato I must admit was added as a bit of a fluke. He had a good reputation and was available at my last used book library sale for a buck. I mean really, it was cheaper than buying him a coffee at Starbucks. And I find he's quite good company.

There is a second part to this new desire to get to know the "great thoughts" of some "great people". I read somewhere that if a New York taxi driver spent his or her average idle time between fares reading the classics in any area of interest, within a few years, that driver would have the equivalent of a PhD in that area.

That thought intrigued me as my day, like a taxi driver's, is also lived in bits and pieces. And as I get older and face the big questions of life and the inevitable question of death, I'm more and more interesting in getting a PhD in "Life" and finding teachers who've lived completely different lives than my own is quite instructive.

I think I had an excellent undergraduate teaching staff, at least if that can be assessed on the basis of tuition costs, but I'm not sure how much I learned. Mostly I remember hoping I would have someone to sit with for lunch at the cafeteria, hoping my new stone washed denim jeans would give me one iota of the casual chic of those sorority sisters, and being anxious, always so anxious about grades.

Now here at forty something, the thought of learning without any grades attached is positively lovely. Harvard tuition and fees as of last year were a bit over $36,000 per year. If someone were to give me a full scholarship and offer to take over all my duties here, and tell me there were no exams or papers, I would be delighted - who wouldn't?

But I figure I have some chance to get something of that opportunity here at home. I may not be able to attend lectures, but I can get through much of the same syllabus for free on book cassettes, or at most 50 cents in late fines from the local library. And I can rewind at will for the especially tricky parts; imagine asking your profs if they minded repeating that entire lecture? I'm starting with a sort of "For Dummies" version in that you hear the original dialogues, followed by Charlton Heston's soothing voice giving you the cliff notes of what it all meant - Much easier!!!!

I think I'm going to get a whole lot more out of my education this time around. Sophie Kinsella (Shopaholic series) will remain on my nightstand, but I'm widening the circle.

Gotta go, Plato and I have a grocery run tonight. And how cool is this.... he just told me he only gives out A's!

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