The 'Wisdom of Age Project'

Students in one English class visit elders and tell their stories in an effort to counter stereotypes.

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Lifetimes of stories and wisdom from area elders are available online, thanks to the work of Dr. Terry Lee’s Community Storytelling and Documentary Studies class, a multimedia web project that sends students into the community with audio and video recorders.

“Our goal in the course is twofold,” Lee, professor emeritus of English, says. “First, we work to challenge ageist stereotypes by spending some of our time in the classroom studying issues in aging. Second, we work the entire semester in the community, visiting elders.”

The stories move in close to elders' personal lives. "No Longer Afraid to Love" is the story of learning to live with loss. Another story details a man's dream come true: an adventurous trip to Antarctica. "Driving Ms. Veta" tells the story of a campus fraternity that drives a food service worker to and from work every day, while "Courage and Quiet Fortitude" chronicles a woman overcoming temporary blindness as a young adult, which inspired her to become a special education teacher and help others as she had been helped.

“This is a challenging class, partly because of its interdisciplinary emphasis,” says Lee. Students study sociology, narrative writing, audio documentary and video production, and then apply what they learn by producing the documentaries, what Lee calls “immersion documentary work.” They learn quickly that by spending time with elders at daycare, at their homes and places of worship, and even their favorite restaurant, that ageist stereotypes and the cultural bias against elders are harmful and mostly wrong.

“We made no effort to select any particular group of elders for our documentary work,” he says. “Students produced multimedia projects that show active wit and intelligence, active community involvement, and moral force.”

The documentaries are available at the link below, including the project archives, which date to 2009.

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