Retirement Talk

WHAT to do with the rest of your life?


Episode 703 Human Touch

This is Retirement Talk. I'm Del Lowery.

Dottie Ross was retired. We both served on the Mayor's Advisory Board for Greenways. We bought land and turned them into environmental sanctuaries, parks and bike trails. Dottie was in her seventies; had been retired for over ten years and kayaked for recreation. She also worked as a volunteer at a local junior high school. She went in twice a week for two hours each time and helped two different students learn to read. She worked one on one and made a difference. Her students were recent arrivals to America and the English language. They appreciated her help.

Economic demands are cause for developing a new attitude concerning older Americans. They want to redefine what retirement is all about. They are pushing for more productivity from this age group. Retirement no longer lasts from age 65 to 68 as it did when Social Security was first established. The monetary demands now run over twenty to thirty years. We no longer retire and die.

Older people hope that the system doesn't abandon them. Middle aged Americans worry that the system will be completely broke by the time they reach retirement age. And the youth of America still don't think they will ever be old enough to retire (some things never change). 

Thoughts about increasing demands on our social security system brought a former vision of mine to the surface. Human Touch was the title of my Master’s thesis work. I wrote up a proposal  to the State of Alaska for the creation of a program that would benefit seniors, students and society: probably forty to fifty years ago.

At least one senior would be scheduled for every classroom for every hour of the day. Their role would be to provide historical perspective and individual attention to students. They would be able to say, "I remember when that happened to us.” Or, “I remember when that happened to me,” etc. They would provide a tie to the past. I taught some classes of history when it would have been invaluable to have someone in the room who had lived through the last seventy years. Someone who could offer first hand knowledge of the way things have changed - for the good and for the bad.

The seniors would move from classroom to classroom just as the students do. This might provide a calming effect during these hectic minutes as classes change. Hopefully, a bit of civility would emerge.

One of their most important functions would be to provide a grandparent effect. They could talk to students with personal problems or relationship issues. They could go for a walk and a long talk. They could listen to students - a demand that is very rarely met anywhere in our society today.

They could ride the school bus to and from school. They could eat in the lunchroom or classrooms. They would receive the attention of the school nurse. This could have a benefit to their health as well as the cost of Medicare. They would no longer be faced with one of retirement’s greatest problems - loneliness. They would develop new friendships with other seniors and with young students. They would be making a difference in their community and their years of learning would find a place of value. 

"Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society," said legendary Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.This is an excellent example. The program would cost and the benefits to our civilization might be priceless. My plan was that the Alaska State Legislature would fund it on a trial basis. One or two high schools would be the testing ground. Unfortunately the oil boom that had provided an abundance of money for education took a sharp turn just as the proposal was completed. Not sure of exactly where but I have read of programs similar to this that have been established in this country.

When I conceived of the program I was a classroom teacher and could see the distinct advantages to the total educational environment. Now I am a retired person and I can see more clearly the distinct advantages to the retired community. Skills, abilities and knowledge that have been acquired over a lifetime would find a useful role in society. And the youth of our country would find assistance in understanding and living in a demanding world.

The Social Security dilemma, climate change and health care are going to demand change; big change. Now may be a good time to let your imagination run wild.


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