Celebrating Wellness, in All Its Dimensions
Published in Inside - Volume XVI, No. 7
TC’s third annual Academic Festival reflects a holistic approach to education embedded in the College’s DNA
“Our festival theme today – ‘Learn to Live Well: Bringing Education to the Table’ – is so TC, because it reflects our holistic approach to understanding and promoting physical health and emotional wellbeing. The education that we bring to the table of wellness, so to speak, is interdisciplinary and dynamic. It draws on our collaborative scholarship and experience in nutrition, psychology and education.”
Speaking in TC’s Cowin Conference Center, President Susan Fuhrman kicked off the College’s third annual Academic Festival, a day that ultimately saw more than 900 alumni and friends (as well as a throng of newly admitted students) descend upon the campus to hear lectures, panels and presentations on topics ranging from physical fitness and healthy diet to sexual literacy and the health of the New York City school system. The events included the Phyllis L. Kossoff Policy Lecture, delivered this year by city’s newly appointed public schools chancellor, Dennis Walcott; a keynote address by the health guru and media personality Ian Smith (MA ’93), who received the College’s President’s Medal for Excellence; the presentation of awards to a slate of distinguished alumni whose fields of expertise ran the gamut from genocide scholarship to autism to the legalities of charter school creation; and a line-up of panel discussions that included a talk and Q and A (to an overflow audience) by Dr. Ruth Westheimer (Ed. D. ’70); a Lincoln Center “WeBop” session for young children, led by Patrice Turner (Ed. D. ’09); a look at how TC is creating social studies programming to accompany the HBO series “Master Class”; and much more.
All of which, Fuhrman said, was “right in sync with the expansive vision of our founders… who understood that learning is an organic process, engaging the whole person at all times and in all theaters of daily life – in the classroom and beyond. ” With that historical breadth of focus, she added, “linking education with personal wellness, healthy communities and inclusive societies is in TC’s DNA.”
To prove it, Fuhrman showed a brief clip from an oral history the College is creating to celebrate its upcoming 125th anniversary in 2012. The clip included excerpts of interviews with major figures associated with TC, including former faculty member and U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala; Sharon Lynn Kagan, co-director of the College’s National Center for Children and Families; and nutrition emeritus professor Joan Dye Gussow, mother of the “eat local” movement, who mused that the United States has come a long way in protecting the environment, but still has a long way to go.
“Joan is right,” Fuhrman told the audience afterwards. “The challenges we face across the board are real and daunting. Yet I believe that we are on the road to solving many problems related to health and education, in large part because Teachers College is hot on the trail.” As the Festival itself would amply document, “we have faculty, students and yes, alumni… all joining forces to tackle these complex challenges.”
Before welcoming Walcott to the podium, Fuhrman thanked longtime TC Trustee Joyce Cowin (MA ’52) for funding the creation of the Cowin Center, calling the facility “a gift that keeps on giving.” She also led a round of applause for Phyllis Kossoff (MA ’48), a TC alumna and member of the President’s Advisory Council, for “creating a fabulous forum that makes headlines for TC and headway in education.” The Kossoff Lecture has “helped TC secure its distinction as the nation’s premier address for presenting and debating education issues,” serving as the venue for a series of speakers over the past two years that has included U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and the two top education officials in New York State, Regents Chancellor (and TC alumna) Merryl Tisch (Ed. D. ’05) and then-state education commissioner David Steiner.
Fuhrman called Walcott, who had been named to his post only days before, “a schools chancellor out of central casting – the grandson of immigrants, a proud graduate of – and former teacher in – the city’s public schools” and praised his “sophisticated mindset, talent for building consensus and passionate devotion to the democratic values and principles of public education.”
Walcott, for his part, pledged civility in the debate around school reform and pledged to work with teachers and principals, the United Federation of Teachers, and parents, to engage in honest discussion and meaningful reform.
For example, the charter-versus-traditional public school debate “has gotten out of hand,” Walcott said. “For me, whether it’s a traditional public school or charter school—I don’t care, so long as it’s a good school. That’s what this is supposed to be about: what is best for our students, not what it’s called or who is managing it or what the rules are in the building.”
At the conclusion of his remarks, Walcott underscored the city’s commitment to the new pre-K—8 Teachers College Community School, which will welcome its first kindergarten class this coming fall in a temporary location. Fuhrman thanked him for “the huge vote of confidence” to TC and predicted the new TC school would “not only deliver superb instruction, learning supports and enrichments in a cost-effective manner, but also will be a game changer in persuading urban universities to assume more responsibility for the quality of neighboring public schools.” She also announced a new gift from the JP Morgan Chase Foundation in support of TC’s community partnerships in Harlem.