This morning I teach the third class on Plato's Gorgias in Duke University's Osher Lifelong Learning Institute [OLLI], a learning-in-retirement program where I have taught a number of courses as a volunteer. I really like teaching in OLLI. The students are all senior citizens, and they have lives, they are actually people, not just bundles of potentiality. The trouble with spending fifty years teaching undergraduates and graduate students is that although at first you and your students are roughly the same age, after half a century, you have grown rather older and they are still the same age they were when you started teaching.
For a while, I bridged the gap with references to Star Trek, but that grew old in about the '90s. Now, I am so out of touch with the cultural references of the young that when they make an allusion, I cannot tell whether they are talking about a rock group or a venereal disease.
My worst moment came several years ago when I taught a required graduate seminar for the UNC Chapel Hill Public Policy Department on "Normative Dimensions of Public Policy." The students were bright and serious and had done a number of fascinating things in government or the non-profit sector before coming to graduate school, but they were clueless about certain things that I took for granted. One day, a propos I cannot recall what, I made a passing reference to Gilbert and Sullivan. It turned out that not a single student in the class had ever heard of Gilbert and Sullivan. I am afraid I failed to conceal my dismay.
Today should be fun. I will be talking about Plato's hilarious theory of true and false technes, or "arts." After I finish with Socrates' claim that the laws urged on Athens by Pericles are to the souls of the Athenians as cosmetics are to their bodies -- making them look fit and healthy when in fact they are politically flabby and out of shape -- I will draw parallels to the 1960 Kennedy/Nixon presidential campaign. I shall not have to tell the class who Kennedy and Nixon are. They were there.