Graduate Admissions Blog

Book Discussion with President Shael Polakow-Suransky

On October 29th, I had the opportunity to attend a book discussion hosted by Bank Street’s new president Shael Polakow-Suransky. Over the summer, Shael sent an email to everyone in the Bank Street community and invited us to read the book, Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World by Tracy Kidder.

Once I started reading, I couldn’t put this book down. It tells the story of Paul Farmer, a medical anthropologist who sets out to provide health care for the poorest of the poor, or the people the rest of the world has forgotten. He starts by setting up a hospital in the poverty-ridden mountains of Haiti and ultimately travels the globe helping struggling populations from the slums of Lima, Peru to the prison populations in Russia. He and his charity organization Partners in Health helped change the views of the World Health Organization (WHO) and how they now treat certain infectious diseases. I could write about the book at length, but I don’t want to spoil too much, and what I really want to share is about the event!

Shael and his wife Cynthia graciously opened up their home to host the book talk. The first thing Shael asked the group was, “What about this book moved you?” The book as a whole is very moving, but what stood out to me and many others was the way Paul Farmer treated his patients. He took the time to get to know each patient as an individual. He would take a six-hour long hike through the mountains of Haiti to check on one patient. He genuinely cared about their health and well-being, believing that each human life is precious and deserving of care. One of my colleagues pointed out that we try to do this in education. At Bank Street we talk about knowing the whole child, and we strive to know each child as an individual like Paul Farmer did with his patients. If we form real, authentic relationships with our students we can have a deeper impact on their lives.

Mountains Beyond MountainsThe evening continued with brilliant parallels of how Paul Farmer’s work in the third world can relate to the American educational system and our direct relationship with children. One of Farmer’s amazing accomplishments was his work in treating a multi-drug resistant strain of tuberculosis. He not only developed the protocols to treat the disease, but was also able to convince the WHO to change their stance on treatment. Now his method is being adopted all over the world. Partners in Health were also able to drive down the price of the treatment drugs by more than 90 percent. The idea of treating the drug-resistant TB in poor countries was almost impossible when he started but he persevered in making it possible, affecting many lives around the globe.

What does this tell us about Bank Street’s role in the education community? How can we translate the kind of impacts that Paul Farmer made in world health to our work in education? This is something that we as a community will always be working on. An example of recent Bank Street impact was our role in helping to start universal pre-K in New York City. Bank Street held a training program for all new pre-K teachers over the summer. A recent New York Times op-ed piece from faculty member Nancy Nagerand our President gives insight into our stance. We are always looking for more ways to make a positive impact in the world of education.

The discussion led to fruitful conversations about the book, but it was also a great opportunity to network with people from every corner of Bank Street. It is easy to forget just how large the Bank Street family is while in the “graduate student bubble.” I was so happy to have the opportunity to not only meet and get to know Shael, but many other people in the community. It was a lovely and inspiring evening and I feel so lucky to be a student at a school that facilitates these types of events. It really adds to the collaborative, enriching environment that the school promotes.

Have any of you read the book? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!