Greetings from the Director
To current and prospective IRP Students as we approach our 50th anniversary:
In The Creative Age: Awakening Human Potential in the Second Half of Life, gerontologist Gene D. Cohen points out that, in a single generation, our society's view of life after 50 has changed dramatically as a result of shifting patterns of work, leisure, and home life and the unprecedented growth in the number of people surviving the “golden years.” Such changes in popular images of older people and advances in medicine and health care offer us all the promise of richer more active lives as we age. According to Dr. Cohen, the combination of experience and creative endeavor promotes growth at all stages of life—but particularly the “second half.”
These ideas are familiar to all of us connected with the Institute for Retired Professionals (IRP) at The New School. We are not surprised by studies showing that people of all ages can increase the number of connections between brain cells, including those involved in memory and response. Throughout its history, the IRP has seen that people can continue developing intellectually well into a person’s eighties when they challenge themselves through reading, writing, and critical discussion.
At the time of our founding, the idea of life after 50 as a period of growth and development had little currency. Contributing to the changing awareness was the IRP, which was started in 1962 by a group of retired New York City schoolteachers dissatisfied with the limited intellectual activities available to them in one of the richest and most diverse cities in the world. They found a home in Greenwich Village at The New School, a pioneer of adult education in the United States since 1919. The New School and the original group of 151 students developed a unique community of peer learners, all sharing responsibility for the program. Every member was a curriculum creator, learning leader, and student.
That the IRP was welcomed and nurtured at The New School is not surprising. The New School has always been part of the movement to make higher education more inclusive and more welcoming to women, people of color, and other underrepresented groups.
The model developed by those retirees in 1962 turned out to be influential for two reasons: It welcomed back to college campuses people who had long been separated from the academic community, and it contributed to a dialog about the changing paradigm of aging and retirement. The IRP inspired the Lifelong Learning Institute (LLI) movement; more than 400 university-based programs currently follow the IRP model.
The IRP at The New School is still unique in the New York metropolitan area, however. Here, mature students from many backgrounds develop and participate in their own regular weekly courses, which meet college academic standards. IRP students are also involved in many other aspects of university life at The New School as part of its diverse student body.
Today’s IRP students, ranging in age from 55 to 92, create and take part in a wide variety of challenging study groups. The IRP curriculum is constantly evolving and is limited only by the imaginations of the members. IRP study groups are non-credit-there are no exams or grades-but all members take their responsibilities seriously. The active role played by members in shaping and leading the program help ensure its continuing vitality and make the IRP a model of positive aging.
If you find the concept of peer learning exciting, you’re in the right place. If you’re not yet a member, talk to us about joining. If you are a member, broaden your role and become a leader. The IRP is you.
Michael Markowitz, Director