Selected Moments of the 20th Century

A work in progress edited by Daniel Schugurensky
Department of Adult Education, Community Development and Counselling Psychology,
The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT)


Retired school teachers start the Institute for Retired
Professionals, a community of peer-learners

This year, a group of 152 New York City retired schoolteachers founded a scholarly home for themselves in Greenwich Village where they organized a learning community at the New School for Social Research (now New School University). This learning community was called the Institute for Retired Professionals (IRP).

Part of a burgeoning sense of empowerment that was stirring in formerly overlooked groups, these pioneers soon identified themselves with other empowerment movements of the time - the IRP came shortly after the founding of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), but before either the March on Washington, the Stonewall Uprising or the publication of the Feminine Mystique.

The Institute for Retired Professionals started its activities under the leadership of retired schoolteacher Hy Hirsch, who responded enthusiastically to the teachers' reaction to the paternalistic nature of other programs for retirees. The original IRP students developed a unique community of peer-learners in which all shared responsibility for the scholarly adventure. They were simultaneously curriculum creators, teachers and students.  Allen Austill, the New School Dean who coordinated with the group, had spent many years at the University of Chicago and was familiar both with Saul Alinsky's thinking on community-based organizations and Paulo Freire's work on involving people in the management of their own destinies.

Today, IRP students, who range in age from 50 to 90, develop and participate in challenging study groups such as a yearlong consideration of Joyce's Ulysses or Marcel Proust as well as a study group called The Intersection of Science and Philosophy.  Other study groups include Mathematics and the Arts, The Experience of Place in Contemporary Memoirs, Darwinism and Post-Darwinism, and a history of Censorship. 

The model that these retirees developed in 1962 with the creation of the Institute for Retired Professionals (IRP) was very influential. Among other things, it resulted in welcoming to college campuses people who had formerly been excluded, and at the same time contributed to a dialogue addressing the changing paradigm of aging and retirement. With the passing of the time, the IRP grew into a broad organization known as the ILR (Institute for Learning in Retirement) movement. Presently, almost 400 campus-based programs follow the ILR model. Many of them are affiliated with the Elderhostel Institute Network, founded in 1989, which acts as a clearing house for existing ILRs and assists in forming new groups.

Related links

Elderhostel Institute Network
Boston MA

ALIROW, The Association for Learning in Retirement Organization of the West

The University of the Third Age (UK)

Academy for Lifelong Learning
Carnegie Mellon University Pittsburgh PA

College for Seniors/NC Center for Creative Retirement
University of North Carolina at Asheville, NC

Harvard Institute for Learning in Retirement
Cambridge, MA

McGill Institute for Learning in Retirement
McGill University Montreal, QC

Northwestern University Institute for Learning in Retirement
Evanston, IL

University of Wisconsin at Madison

Prepared by Michael I. Markowitz, Director Institute for Retired Professionals

July 2001

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Last updated on May 26, 2002.


Number of visits to the 1960s