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Resolved: More School

Jim Wasserman, 1:56 am ET

MOST FOLKS DON’T teach and write about a topic until after they’ve earned a degree in the subject. Owing to my career path, and the nebulous nature of my specialty, I’ve done the opposite—with the next step coming in 2022.

I went to law school just after college because—frankly—I had no better plan. I enjoyed being a lawyer, but I knew it wasn’t my passion, so I went into teaching. I loved it. I taught various humanities, mainly at the high school level.

One subject that stuck with me was economics. A school administrator asked me to teach econ because he figured I knew about it as an attorney. The man clearly didn’t know lawyers. Still, I liked it, except that the texts kept addressing students as “future participants” in the world of economics, even while I watched them work, shop and otherwise already be a part of consumer culture. On top of that, the world of textbook theory—with its assumption of conscious rational decision-making—isn’t actual reality.

I also saw how my sons, still in elementary school, were already having their consumer habits shaped like stalagmites by constant media drips. Adult marketers told them saving wasn’t as fun as spending, and that they were a nobody if they didn’t show their individualism in the same way everyone else was or didn’t collect all of whatever was the latest hot thing.

I started reading. I dug up my old college psychology books. I studied behavioral economics from Thorstein Veblen  to Richard Thaler. I pored over books on how to market to young people, and then used their strategies to create lessons on how to counter them and empower youth. I published articles and wrote books in the then-nascent area known as consumer economics and media literacy. The field was new, so no one had a degree.

Now, I’m retired. My wife and I call this our “third life,” our time to wander and wonder. If you’ve read our stuff, you know we have done just that. We traveled and lived abroad. We have now returned to Dallas, but that doesn’t mean our wandering and wondering have stopped. We’re taking it inwards—by going back to school.

There’s still no degree specifically in media literacy, but the University of Texas at Dallas offers an MAIS, or Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies. With much trepidation, I wrote the dean a long letter that basically asked, “Am I crazy?” She wrote back and then we spoke on the phone, sketching out a program combining a bit of economics, marketing, communication and psychology. She offered to waive the GRE and other entrance requirements, given that I already had a law degree. She made it easy and welcoming. How could I say no?

At age 60, I plan to be back at school this spring. I’m scared and excited. It will probably cost $36,000 to $45,000 when all’s said and done, plus a lot of time and effort. Can I remember how to be a student after 35 years? Can I hack it academically? And what do you wear to school dances nowadays?

It’s daunting. But I feel that—in my retirement—I now have the money and time to follow my passion. It’s just taken a lifetime of experiences to figure out what that passion is.

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Dwain Sims
Dwain Sims
5 months ago

I am impressed! Good for you.

Michael1
Michael1
5 months ago

Jim, congratulations on your decision. I think frequently about more study in a number of areas, none of which I previously studied or worked in. (Oddly enough, one I’ve always thought about is law school, but that actually would be crazy!) Great that you’re doing this.

William Perry
William Perry
5 months ago

I have read that some state universities allow older and senior state residents to be eligible to attend college on a limited hour, space available basis at a reduced tuition. I did a quick internet search and found that opportunity may apply in Texas. http://www.collegeforalltexans.com/apps/financialaid/tofa2.cfm?ID=563
I look forward to reading about your next adventure on Humble Dollar.

Jim Wasserman
Jim Wasserman
5 months ago
Reply to  William Perry

Thanks, William. We actually looked into that program, but unfortunately at 60 I am a bit too young (how often do I get to say that these days?!). The 55+ doesn’t apply to our program. Still, you make a great point that anyone looking into higher education should look into and avail themselves of all financial aid and scholarships. There are apps and websites that one can search, plus inquiring at the particular institution one desires.

SCao
SCao
5 months ago

Congratulation, Jim. Econ is an amazing subject, dealing with human nature (rational or irrational). You are a big inspiration by continuously learning with strong growth mindset. Have fun with school! A quote I like a lot is: if you are done learning, your life is through.

Rick Connor
Rick Connor
5 months ago

Jim, Congratulations. I’m quite impressed and think your choice is great. I’m a strong believer in lifelong learning. At 57 I took the CFP curriculum and passed the test, and two years later did the same with the RICP. I had thoughts of a second career, but mainly did it for my own benefit and interest. My older brother has been a great inspiration; he discovers and shares online classes he has taken. I just started one at MIT on crypto by the SEC chairman. Use it or lose it. Good on you.

Jim Wasserman
Jim Wasserman
5 months ago
Reply to  Rick Connor

Thanks, Rick, and same to you. It is amazing how revitalizing learning is. I hear a lot has changed since I was last a full-time student in the 1980s. I keep hearing talk of this thing since then called “the internet.” Maybe it’s a new dance or something?

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