PHILADELPHIA REFLECTIONS
Musings of a Philadelphia Physician who has served the community for six decades

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Main Line School Night

{Radnor}
Radnor

There's a lot to learn from the Main Line School Night, and it isn't all taught in the classroom. The basic idea is life-long learning, going to school because it's fun. The idea started five or six decades ago in the Radnor, PA high school, that a lot of educated people wanted to become still more educated in topics of their own selection. No tests, please, and forget about academic credits; most of the students already have an excess of them. Forget about improving your income with advanced degrees; since this is Main Line Philadelphia, quite a few of the students already have all the income they could ever want. As related by the very low-key president of MLSN, David Hastings, the idea was an almost instant success. There were 1200 students enrolled for the second semester. They outgrew the original high school, and now teach courses in seven schools among 40 locations, to 14,000 students a year. There are 400 teachers in any given year, and the tuition charged is aimed at breaking even on the overhead. The academic world is inclined to say the courses lack rigor, by which is partly meant that if the students don't like the course, they walk out. Volley ball, yoga and nutrition certainly do have a California sound, but computers, foreign languages and science can be as difficult as you want to make them. If you get serious about contract bridge, you soon learn that isn't a simple child's game. Courses in wine tasting are given in the local senior citizens retirement communities, but mostly not to the residents. It's not welcome to give that sort of course in a high school. To some extent, this continuing education is an exclusive social occasion, but then so is a course in diplomatic history at Princeton. Mr. Hastings tells of a group of sixteen ladies in a bridge course who have been coming for years, and have learned to close the course rolls by all sending in their checks on the day of registration. This is, after all, the Main Line where exclusionary techniques once learned are hard to forget. There are clouds on the horizon. In the past three years, enrollment has leveled off and declined a little. Almost no major corporation continues to be successful for more than seventy-five years, and many of the people running Main Line School Night are drawn from the Executive Service Corps. In retrospect, for example, the owners and editors of the Saturday Evening Post should have sold out and closed down, as soon as they learned the first million television sets had been sold. Perhaps the decline of enrollment of Main Line School Night reflects the advent of the Internet, or the cell phone, or some other new technological competitor. Or maybe the venture just got too big and successful to maintain its original format; perhaps it's outgrowing its blood supply. But anyway, they have 14,000 students, and can be proud to be in a resting phase, when the rest of the city, or state, or country, hasn't even tried to get started on such a project.

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There are also other reasons that may help to account for the decline in enrollment at the Main Line School Night. One is that no provisions are made to meet the needs of left-handed students in computer courses held at Connestoga High School, at least not in the Power Point course I tried to take this semester. Then, when I withdrew from the course because of the school's failure to supply me with computer equipment that I could use, I was charged half of the course fee anyway. I wrote a letter of protest to the MLSN but received no reply, so I am going to dispute the charge with my credit card company. Another difficulty I have encountered is that there seems to be no way to communicate with the school by e-mail, other than for enrollment purposes, or at least no way that I have been able to find so far. I tried to log onto the School site this morning with no success. A dear family friend died and the funeral is on Monday, making it impossible for my brother-in-law, Charles Day, and I to attend Course #IM11095 on Monday afternoon, and we wanted to let the instructor know. I will keep trying, but the frustrations involved in dealing with these matters certainly serve as disincentives to continued involvement with MLSN.
Posted by: Dr. C. Suzanne Schneider   |   Apr 26, 2008 8:30 AM

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