Academic Festival III: The Sessions | Teachers College Columbia University

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Academic Festival III: The Sessions

Presentations at TC's Academic Festival focused on topics ranging from creativity to nutrition to the study of genocide
HBO’s MASTERCLASS: Designing educational activities in support of creativity, imagination, and mastery

This session focused on TC’s recently formed partnership with the Young Arts Educational Foundation to create a study guide to accompany the first year of the critically acclaimed HBO television series, Master Class.

As explained by Hal Abeles, Professor of Music Education, the Foundation nurtures and supports young artists at critical junctures in their careers.  Each year, it provides a select group, winnowed down from thousands across the country, with cash awards and mentoring opportunities with established artists in different fields. 

Master Class, which aired in nine installments last year, focuses on the latter, capturing encounters between high school students and a group of stellar artists that includes playwright Edward Albee, choreographer Bill T. Jones, actress Liv Ullman, architect Frank Gehry and opera singer Placido Domingo.

“What struck us is that this is a wonderful teaching tool,” said Margaret Crocco, Professor of Social Studies and Education, who with Abeles is co- principal investigator on the study guide project.  Crocco previously led creation of TC’s “Teaching The Levees” curriculum, about Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. “Our curricular task is to take these nine episodes and think about how lessons and conversations could be put to use for grades 6-12. The arts and social studies today are endangered species because of the important emphasis on literacy and numeracy. Our focus is on 21st century thinking skills – creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and communication –which are central to all disciplines. But we’re also asking, ‘What does it mean to become a master of your craft?  How can a mentor help you? How can we use success and failure as a valuable learning tool? We’re hoping students will connect to local masters in their everyday lives and see that it’s not just about talent, but also about the importance of bringing passion to their craft and persevering in face of difficulties. “

The TC study guide, which will be shipped free of charge along with a DVD of the HBO series to 50,000 schools nationwide, is being published and distributed by Ed Lab, a creative services unit within TC’s Gottesman Libraries.

Dr. Ruth’s Guide to Sexual Health

In this session, the longtime sex therapist and media personality (and 1970 TC graduate) addressed the issue of sexual literacy (the G-spot may be a myth; mothers are still mistaking nocturnal emissions for bedwetting) before moving on to the Q and A format in which she excels.  Among the many pearls she shared with her overflow audience:

“Everyone has worries – put all yours in a package and leave them outside the bedroom door till the next morning.”

“The first time I was on Johnny Carson, I told him he’s responsible for America’s problems in the bedroom. He said, ‘Why?’ And I said, ‘Because they stay up and watch you, and then they’re too tired.’”

“The decision of when to have sex depends on people’s religious or moral attitudes. The only thing you can say for sure is, ‘Don’t put pressure on someone who’s not ready.’”

“Anything two consenting adults decide to do in the privacy of their own kitchen floor is OK.”

“We say to our kids, ‘What’s the matter, why are you home on a Saturday night?’ But schools should be open on weekends, chaperoned by parents, so kids have a place to go.”

Asked a long and rather scientific question about the connections between sex and sense of smell, America’s favorite  dispenser of advice on intimacy pondered briefly and replied:  “If someone’s dirty, I don’t want to have sex with him.”

Asked by a woman from Brazil if it’s okay to fantasize about someone other than your partner, she replied, “You can fantasize about the whole Brazilian soccer team – just don’t  tell the person you’re with.”

Her ultimate message:  “Enjoy and rejoice in having a partner.”


WeBop! is  an early-childhood jazz education program at Lincoln Center in which children (ages eight months to five years) and their parents or caregivers learn about jazz's improvisation, creative process, instruments, styles and great performers.  WeBop! sessions at Lincoln Center are produced in conjunction with Lori Custodero, TC Associate Professor of Music Education.

The session at Academic Festival, in a fifth-floor music classroom in Horace Mann, was led by WeBop! instructor Patrice Turner, Ed. M ’06, Ed. D, ’09, and Romaine Collin, a Lincoln Center pianist from Lincoln Center who toured with Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock. It started off mellow, with four or five youngsters playing on the floor with bells, maracas and tambourines while Collin comped along a recording of John Coltrane’s Giant Steps. Then Turner started singing, “Good afternoon, blues, how do you do?,” after a while substituting the children’s names – Amber, Iris, Charlie, Dashiell.   And then everyone, grownups included, was on their feet.

“All right, let’s improvise, which means we make it up however our bodies tell us,” Turner shouted over a Latin beat that evolved into a song with the chorus, “We gonna shake, shake, shake till we stop,”  with everyone freezing in place on the final word.

There was drawing to music and even a brief quiz session.

“What does anyone know about Duke Ellington?” Turner said after putting on a recording of Ellington and Coltrane.
One little boy frantically waved his hand.

“All right!” Turner said. “What you can tell us?”

The room grew quiet. The boy, suddenly self-conscious, squirmed in place. “Well… I know he was really good.”

The Art of Aging Starts Early

How do human beings become artists, and, once they do, how and why do they keep making art? The easiest answer might be, “because they must.” But in their presentation at Academic Festival, “The Art of Aging Starts Early,” TC faculty members Judy Burton and Joan Jeffri dug deeper, taking their audience into the minds and work of artists young and old.

Burton, Professor of Art Education and Curator of TC’s Macy Gallery, walked observers through the developmental stages of becoming an artist, from the toddler who picks up a crayon or marker to the adolescent who might make intricate pencil drawings or paintings or sculpture of images from his experience or from a fantasy.  Validating these impulses is critical to enabling young people to see themselves as artists – something Americans have done fairly well -- but so is training and awareness of tradition, which other societies have given greater emphasis.

Jeffri, director of TC’s Research Center for Arts and Culture, is spearheading a project to document the work and lives of artists, ages 62 to 97, in the New York City area. She spoke about the importance of social networks to the survival of aging artists – and, conversely, about how being active as an artist appears to sustain older people as social beings.

Social Media: Tools for Learning – Really!

It’s one of the more troublesome paradoxes of American public school policy:  The vast majority of middle- and high-school students—and many teachers, as well—use social networking sites like Facebook to communicate with their friends, yet most schools ban them on the grounds that they are distracting, waste time or encourage bad behavior, like cheating or cyber-bullying.

“Social networking sites can be good instructional tools in some situations,” said Nabeel Ahmad (Ed. D. ’09), an Adjunct Assistant Professor in TC’s Math, Science & Technology Department who teaches courses on how to use the sites effectively in educational settings. Young people also enjoy using technology, said Ahmad –and for many, it has become a medium as fundamental as pen and ink are to older generations. By allowing students to locate people anywhere in the world who are interested in the same topics and want to share information, social networking sites have the potential to break down the figurative walls of the classroom and open the universe to students.

With other TC alumni, Ahmad has co-developed an iPhone sports trivia app called Junkie Status and a Web-based personnel management application called Team Chemist that is designed to enable NBA general managers to evaluate players they're thinking about acquiring in trades or via free agency.

The Suffering Doesn’t End Once the Killing Has Stopped: The Plight of Those Who Survived the 1994 Rwandan Genocide

Samuel Totten (Ed. D ’85), a recipient this year of the Distinguished Alumni Award, gave a stirring update on the survivors of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda that took the lives of more than 500,000 people. Totten, a genocide expert at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville (and a Fulbright scholar in 2008 at the National University of Rwanda), is the co-author with Rafiki Ubaldo of We Cannot Forget: Interviews with Survivors of the 1994 Genocide (Rutgers University Press, 2011). He outlined the survivors’ many continued challenges today, including flashbacks and depression; inadequate psychological assistance and mental care; and a shortage of adequate housing and educational opportunities. For example, a government scholarship fund established for surviving children was recently shut down, leaving many young people who were orphaned by the war with no resources for college.

Totten, a former English teacher, is the co-founding editor of Genocide Studies and Prevention: An International Journal.

Urban Health Partnerships – Essential Ingredients for Building a Healthy Community

It takes a village to raise a healthy, well-fed child, and several organizations in New York City have stepped up to the challenge. At Academic Festival, Pamela Koch (Ed. D., ’00), TC Adjunct Associate Professor of Nutrition and Executive Director of the College’s Center for Food and the Environment, led a panel of experts – including Laurie M. Tisch, Vice Chair of TC’s Board of Trustees, and Kristen Mancinelli (MS ’08) of City Harvest -- who are working to increase the number of healthy food, nutrition and fitness programs in neighborhoods in the city where they are scarce.

Koch described TC’s cooperation with Foodworks, a New York City Council project that works to support the survival of small farmers and open wholesale markets to them, increase regional and local production of healthy food, and get it to “food deserts” in the City where it is not available.

Foodworks also advocates for strengthening the safety net of food and nutrition programs for poor. Koch displayed two maps, side by side, which showed that the “food deserts” are the very areas of the city where obesity, diabetes and heart disease are highest. 

Tisch described the work her nonprofit Illumination Fund is supporting, to increase the number of food cart vendors who sell fresh produce in “food deserts.” “These are areas that have a high risk of obesity and diabetes and other health problems, and they lack alternatives to fast food and processed food that you see so much of now,” Tisch said. Cooperating with Montefiore Hospital, the Illumination Fund supported a free blood pressure program that included a coupon for a food-cart purchase. The fund has produced a cookbook by celebrity chefs.

Mancinelli ’08, who works at City Harvest, coordinates a local alliance of organizations that support the renewal of the federal child nutrition law, which funds school lunches and breakfast programs, meals in daycare and childcare centers, and the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program.

Taken together, the activities described by the panel are designed to “improve the health of New Yorkers, help the state economy to flourish, and help the natural environment,” Koch said. “It is a vision to improve New York City’s food system.”

Published Wednesday, May. 4, 2011