Every day, from 5 to 7 a.m., Michael Epner wakes up and reads 25 newspapers. Ever since he was a child, the retired pediatrician has been obsessed with current events, and now he uses that obsession to teach other like-minded retirees about what is happening in America and around the world.
Epner teaches the News Room, a discussion-based class that focuses on current events. His goal is to help his students understand what they’ve been reading in the papers and how to share their perspectives with others.
“Everybody here reads all the newspapers, or at least all the good ones, and so we’re well informed and we want to talk about everything,” said News Room student Jim Dempsey. “We don’t always get a chance to share our thoughts about politics or what’s going on in China. We’re all dressed up and need a place to go, so we come here.”
Dempsey has attended the News Room for the past 10 years. The Bureau of Jewish Education hosts the weekly class every Wednesday morning at 10 at the Valley of the Sun JCC (The J).
Originally, the class was a part of Scottsdale Community College’s (SCC) Adult Learning program. Epner started attending classes there as a student, but became the leader of the class when the original teacher had to leave. The class moved from SCC to different locations, from Temple Chai to the Mustang Library in Scottsdale, before making The J its home for the past three years.
At a recent News Room class, Epner led a lively discussion that covered several topics, including desalination efforts to get clean water, the government shutdown, the Super Bowl, the Oscars and more.
One man stood up and said he believed the next president would be a woman. He pointed to his wife, who was sitting next to him, in explaining why he thought a woman would make a more capable president.
During his morning newspaper ritual, Epner selects topics he knows will interest the class and are the most relevant. Some of the papers he reads include a more worldly perspective, including English-language articles in Mexican and Chinese publications.
When Epner begins the class, he writes more than 100 different topics on a whiteboard and opens the class to discussion.
“I always try to make sure that everybody who wants to speak can,” Epner said. “I got this style of teaching from my wife. She told me that nobody wants to sit in a lecture. Everybody wants to talk and be involved, and I welcome that.”
Though talking about the news can be dicey these days, conversations in the News Room remain friendly. Epner said that every student follows the tenets of respect and fairness. Each person has the right to share their thoughts and opinions, but nobody can attack anyone else.
“You have to remember that this is also a social engagement,” Epner said. “We’re all friends here and we all want to continue that outside of the classroom.” JN