Learning Our Way Out

| January 3, 2011

Last Spring the Library Director asked me to consider doing a book talk with Jane Boorstein, an alumna of Teachers College. As he handed over a slim paperback with a modest cover, he inquired if I knew her, mentioning casually that she developed a novel educational approach in Ethiopia. I quickly read the title, Learning Our Way Out, and hesitated a moment at the subtitle, Innovation for Family Planning and Reproductive Health (Institute for Rural Reconstruction, 2010).  Contraception…where would this talk lead? Curiosity got the best of me: I studied the preface; procured contact details from the Provost’s Office; dialed the number; and offered to meet Jane Boorstein at her Park Avenue home.

It was soon an early June morning – and quite sticky a trek down the red begonia boulevard — the flowers coping well with the sun that slipped its fingers deep into the concrete crevices. As I waited in the cool, dark lobby of the Boorstein’s building, I stared at the yellow taxis zooming by, reminiscent of the flow of strong currents in the steely gray bends of the East River. I leafed intermittently through the pages in the thin book, noting the black and white line drawings which complimented the “writeshop process,” a collaborative approach to the text. The doorman kindly remarked that Mrs. Boorstein had just stepped outside and would soon be back.

The flurry of city life seemed to cease when Jane Boorstein stepped from the well-kept sidewalk over the marble threshold – evoking a similar sensation to my perusal of the subtitle just a few weeks before: pause for thought. Her spritely manner and clear voice drew my full attention when she introduced herself. We went quickly to first names, and I somehow sensed that things were about to change, or had changed, in good and remarkable ways. We rode the elevator to her landing, lightly stepped out, and strolled slowly down a long hallway with egress onto a large sitting room full of unusual pieces of African and Oriental art. I thought of the luxury of an evening saunter – appreciating a certain rural slowness in the heart of one of the world’s largest cities.

Jane returned a couple of minutes later with two tall glasses of iced water, rippling slightly from her delicate gait. We sat side by side, as she, soft spoken, began, “I like my green spaces, you see.”  Her forest eyes illuminating her sense of global responsibility, she referenced the futurist Robert Theobold and spoke humbly of her commitment to overcome overpopulation. Yes, there was a true role model, not just in the method that Jane developed, but in her person — an ambassador for social change. For an hour and a half we talked – she, weaving a sincere and noble narrative — I, learning steadfast of the extraordinary ways in which she empowered people – learning my way out of the preconceived notions that tended to direct movement in her field.

Jane proudly delivered her talk at the Gottesman Libraries in mid October and is now planning a global forum to explore ways in which the Learning Our Way Out approach to family planning can be extended to countries beyond Ethiopia.

Referencing Our Guest Speaker: Jane Boorstein on Learning Our Way Out, Tuesday, 10/19, 4-5pm

Video by Michelle DeLateur