Loose Ends 2/15: Princeton Adult School continues to inspire

by Pam Hersh

Happy birthday to the Princeton Adult School (PAS), which turned 80 years old in January. I am particularly enthusiastic about PAS, because it has two ageless and appealing characteristics:

  • it is older than I am; and
  • it has an inspiring motto – “Learning Never Ends” – a phrase that pushes me daily to keep getting better as I get older.

The school’s birthday present to the entire community was the catalog that arrived in the mail and presented hundreds of diverse learning opportunities. One offering that particularly impressed me for its ability to challenge my aging brain was a course on blockchain, which, until recently, I would have defined as a necklace chain of clunky three-dimensional gold squares. According to course creator and instructor Lindsley Medlin, blockchain, in fact, is a clunky chain of blocks, but instead of those blocks being made out of gold or silver, they are made out of encrypted data.

The catalog’s description of the course “Introduction to blockchain and cryptocurrency,” being offered in two sessions April 2 and 9, produced a high level of anxiety within me. It comprised too many words about which I was clueless – reminding me of an SAT exam nightmare, asking me to define: blockchain, cryptocurrency, bitcoin or Bitcoin, Ethereum, wallets (the non-leather, virtual kind). Instead of using the anachronistic phrase Greek to me, I now should say the course description and other undecipherable elements in my life are all crypto-virtual-verbiage to me.

“The technology most likely to change the next decade of business is not the social web, big data, the cloud, robotics, or even artificial intelligence. It’s the Blockchain….”  (Harvard Business Review).

“Blockchain technology will innovate and disrupt almost every industry including our personal lives, data privacy and new job creation. Many existing jobs will require a new knowledge of and ability to work with blockchain. Blockchain is more than bitcoin and cryptocurrencies. Blockchain solutions are having an impact on healthcare, data privacy, supply chain, finance, banking and more. In this class, you’ll learn what a blockchain is, the benefits of it and why it is important. You’ll also understand how it works, learn about Bitcoin, Ethereum, smart contracts and other current use cases,” according to the catalog.

I decided to seek answers about whether I was mentally competent to take this class, not by searching the Internet but rather by using non-virtual interaction – conferring in person with Medlin. A Certified Blockchain Expert™, Certified Blockchain Professional™ and Certified Ethereum Expert™, Medlin is a change-agent business consultant, who helps CEOs and entrepreneurs build and grow their businesses. His passion is helping small and mid-sized companies, and he understands how crucial blockchain is to the success of these businesses.

Blockchain “should be” perfectly comprehensible to techno-challenged individuals like Pam, he said. “Think of it as a distributive digital ledger.” As each transaction occurs – and the parties agree to its details – it’s encoded into a block of digital data and uniquely signed or identified. Each block is connected to the one before and after it — creating an irreversible, immutable chain. Blocks are chained together, preventing any block from being altered or a block being inserted between two existing blocks. “By allowing digital information to be distributed in blocks of data but not copied thanks to encryption, blockchain has created the backbone of a new type of Internet and is now finding other potential uses for the technology,” Medlin said.

When the Princeton Adult School accepted his proposal for a Fall 2018 course about blockchain, he was unsure whether anyone would show up.

“I filled out the paperwork that asked, ‘What is the max number of students you would accept in the class?’ I said, ‘I do not care, as many as the room will hold.’ The registration was so hearty that we had to move to the room location twice to accommodate all the registrants,” Medlin said.

Even though I refuse to try to explain blockchain any further (individuals who want more explanation, please sign up for the course), I can state blockchain’s impact on business operations is becoming so significant no one can ignore it. In 2018, the fastest growing job was “blockchain developer,” according to ‘Linked In’ – which my old ignorant self might have defined as some sort of singles dating site.

According to the PAS website, “in January 1939, two local women, Ruth Schleifer and Laura Peskin, took their hopes for a ‘leisure hour school’ from idea to reality.” I am fairly certain their reality had no clue as to the virtual reality world of blockchain, bitcoin, internet, Linked In, etc. that would be a prominent part of the Princeton Adult School’s curriculum in 2019. But for the more than 3,600 adult school registrants last year, PAS represents a reality of virtually everything anyone could want to learn.

For more information and to register, visit princetonadultschool.org. The school’s executive director is Anne Brener and board president is Tamara Turkevich Skvir.