Ahead of the Curve

Ahead of the Curve: Never Stop Learning

Where to go for courses that’ll catch your fancy and make you smarter

BY November 7, 2017


As a younger man, I was a big proponent of homeschooling. Whenever it came time to go to school, I preferred to stay home. Each and every morning I’d pout and whine and fake an illness in an effort to stay at the Korb manse with the staff—all of whom have long-since been deported. But now that I’m older, it turns out I’m not particularly wiser. (I know this comes as a shock to you, dear reader.) And I’m looking to change that. 

In fact, I’m reminded of Fort Myers’ second-favorite dead resident, Henry Ford, who once said, “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at 20 or 80. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.” (Though “greatest” might be overselling it, it’s in my top five.)

Luckily, it’s not too late for me or you to learn things that will make us appear more interesting at dinner parties, in coffee shops or on long-distance flights and, in turn, stay young. All it will take is attending a few courses, lectures and/or seminars offered to locals and snowbirds alike, now through spring at Florida Gulf Coast University’s Renaissance Academy (fgcu.edu) or Hodges University’s Frances Pew Hayes Center for Lifelong Learning (hodges.edu). Both institutions want to make us smarter, and they’ve got their work cut out for them.

The FGCU program’s name invokes an era of great intellectual and creative energy, not to mention one of the few times a guy could get away with wearing leggings with a powdered wig (a look we’re all praying comes back sooner rather than later). Nevertheless, if you’re looking for something to help build a bridge toward lifelong learning, the academy offers more than 2,000 programs at 15 locations throughout Collier, Lee and Charlotte counties. And each year more than 14,000 people take advantage of it.

It offers a wide range of programs on topics such as: art and art history (i.e. Bernini and the Birth of the Baroque Style in Rome); archaeology (i.e. Historical Geography of the Biblical World); business and finance; computers and social media (i.e. Computer and Internet Security: Understanding the Threats and How Best to Stop Them); ecology and environment; film; fine arts; history, law and government; life enrichment; literature and language; music and opera; philosophy and religion; photography; psychology and sociology; science and medicine; and much more. Best of all, many of these lectures are in the 90-minute range and cost $25 or less. (Remember, we’re just looking to make ourselves interesting to the person in seat 6B.) Many of these lectures are offered on multiple dates at multiple locations.

And because it utilizes FGCU faculty, members, visiting speakers and resources of other affiliated programs, the academy offers everything from programs to lectures, concerts, day trips and even travel abroad.

To me, nothing says “smarts” like knowing world affairs. And the Renaissance Academy gets deep into the weeds of messes such as the Middle East and unholy alliances from World War II. Some of my favorites:

Syria—What Is Going On, and Can It Be Fixed?

The short answers must be “Ugh” and “No.” But in an already complex and dangerous world, Syria stands out as the most intractable place on earth. Who are the good guys, if any? Assad, Putin, ISIS, Shia, Sunni, Saudis, Iranians, Iraqis, no-name rebels, Turkey? Red lines. Who’s on whose side? Oh, did we mention the Kurds? Thousands dead and hundreds of thousands flooding Europe. Hopeless? Any chance for peace? This lecture examines the facts and history and tries to come up with some solutions.

Saudi Arabia—Friend, Foe or Both? 

Despite the fact that 15 of the 19 hijackers of 9/11 were Saudis (as was their mastermind, Osama bin Laden), that the goal of millions of Wahhabi Saudis is the destruction of the West (including the U.S.), and outrageous human rights violations (over a year in prison and 300 lashes for possessing homemade wine!), the U.S. and the Saudis have maintained relatively good relations. A mutual distrust of Iran and lots of oil still buried in the desert sands of the Arabian Peninsula play a significant role in that. How fragile is the relationship? What is the future of the House of Saud? What or who is next?

The Louisiana Purchase—The Ultimate Real Estate Deal

Thomas Jefferson had a vision to explore the Louisiana Territory. He wound up buying this land in, arguably, the greatest land investment in U.S. history—which virtually doubled the size of the country. Simultaneously, he convinced Congress to fund a scientific and commercially based expedition of the area under the leadership of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. What were Jefferson’s and Napoleon’s motives in this transaction? Why were Lewis and Clark chosen for this effort? What were their successes and failures, and what role did Sacagawea play during this 28-month journey? Was this with no money down? Do you think they’ll be serving drinks on this flight?


Over at Hodges, they’ve got an equally great selection of lectures and seminars that’ll make you think.

Life on the Visa Line

Visas were issued and denied in great numbers even before the era of “extreme vetting.” This talk gives a brief overview of how visa and refugee decisions are made, and it addresses the topic with a very light (dare we say humorous) touch. Speaker Bruce Beardsley rose from vice consul to supervisory consul general, overseeing the largest visa operations in the world, taking breaks in his career to run what was then the largest United States refugee processing operation.

Million Letters Campaign

Andrew Carroll, best-selling author and director of the Center for American War Letters (CAWL) at Chapman University, is traveling the country to seek 1 million war-related letters from every conflict in United States history, including handwritten missives from the Revolution up to emails from Iraq and Afghanistan. Along with showing audience members extraordinary, original letters from CAWL’s collection, he’ll discuss his latest book, My Fellow Soldiers: General John Pershing and the Americans Who Helped Win the Great War. Veterans and others with war letters they are willing to donate to CAWL (either originals or photocopies) are encouraged to bring them to the event. For more information, visit warletters.us. This particular lecture is free and open to the public.


Starting in January and continuing through March, Hodges also has the Sixth annual Elliott Katz Lecture Series on the Holocaust. Lectures are $12 each or $60 for the entire six-part run.

And if you feel the need to learn on the go, the Renaissance Academy is offering day trips that’ll knock your socks off. Among the day trips offered this season:

  • Miami South Beach and Art-Deco Walking Tour, $105
  • Ikebana Floral Design Workshop, $40
  • Birding Field Trip, $40
  • The Wick Broadway Costume Museum, lunch and a cabaret performance, $115


Of course, it doesn’t always have to be about examining other cultures or external forces. Sometimes, it can be all about you. And though I don’t personally agree with this next statement, the person teaching Memoir Writing at the Renaissance Academy says, “Each person’s life is a series of thought-provoking, emotional experiences. This topical approach to memoir writing will result in a treasure chest of memories for each and every person who will one day read your anecdotes. This class will stimulate each person to leave a written legacy of who you are, your thoughts, your experiences and what you would like to be remembered for.” Because sometimes a smirking face next to a poop emoji just doesn’t convey the many layers of your time on earth. 

I sure hope someone sits next to me on my next flight.

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