From Lecture Hall to Graveyard

BY Elizabeth Shell  June 11, 2013 at 2:26 PM EDT

Professor Ronald Stockton is happy leading his classes on long hikes through the cemeteries of metro Detroit. He’ll only retire when he can no longer inspire his eager students at the University of Michigan, Dearborn.

Ronald Stockton has been teaching political science and international relations for decades at the University of Michigan, Dearborn. But rather than sit at his desk, this septuagenarian slips on boots and a wide-brimmed hat and leads his students through hours-long walking tours of the area’s historic graveyards.

These tours, he hopes, will teach his students more about the area’s — and their own — history. Many of his students are Muslim with Arab genealogy.

“Living in Detroit, there’s a very large and old Muslim population,” he said in his office on a rainy morning last fall. “When we think of Muslims we tend to think of Arabs, and in Detroit that means people mostly from Lebanon or Iraq.

“But then you discover there are Albanians and people from Afghanistan who were here 100 years ago. And from India and Pakistan and China — Chinese Muslims. You see people from all around the world that are here and you suddenly realize how complex and amazingly interesting this community is.”

Why does the 72-year-old continue to work long past when he could have retired?

“I feel I’m doing good. If I think I’m not really relating to my students and they’re not learning from me then I’m not going to do this just out of vanity. I’ve always said that I’ll know it’s time to retire when I tell a joke in class and it doesn’t work because I know I’m losing my class.”

So, is retirement as we know it a thing of the past? How long are we likely to work? We have spent the past year looking at the factors — demography, economics and just plain personal preference — that help explain what’s happening to the American workforce as it ages in our special project, New Adventures for Older Workers.

PBS NewsHour profiled Dr. Stockton as part of an in-depth look at the so-called “death of retirement”: folks who are working well past the “traditional” retirement age due to a variety of factors. We’ve already introduced you to Babs Tatialas and Mike Kemp. Stay tuned when we launch our interactive project, “New Adventures for Older Workers” Wednesday.