PBS NewsHour features a “Brief But Spectacular” lesson from NYU Tandon’s Allan Goldstein
NYU Tandon School of Engineering Senior Lecturer Allan B. Goldstein has imparted a great deal of wisdom in his almost two decades of teaching in Brooklyn, but when he was featured in a recent installment of the PBS NewsHour segment “Brief But Spectacular,” the challenge was to see how much he could impart in just about three minutes.
Within that short span, Goldstein — who has been hailed as a “Teaching Innovator” by the Chronicle of Higher Education — compellingly explained his attitude that everybody is capable of learning, a mindset he developed after becoming the guardian of his younger brother, Fred, who had been housed for 16 years in the notorious Willowbrook State School. Despite what had been labeled a "severe developmental disability," Fred proved to be a loving person with a zest for life, appreciation for humor, and ability to think abstractly, as well as a talent for art and poetry. Beyond learning how to turn on a radio, he began asking questions about how it actually worked — exhibiting intellectual curiosity and excitement for the world around him.
Everyone learns in their own way, Goldstein says in the segment: “Doing everything with two arms and two legs and speaking a certain way is not particularly the only way,” he explains. At NYU, Goldstein, who describes his brother as “the reason I do everything I do,” has developed a popular Disability Studies course that teams student innovators, inventors and entrepreneurs with community members living with impairments. “We learn best about people by working with them,” he says. (The course is the subject of an award-winning 2016 documentary, The Ability Exchange.)
Goldstein — who is part of the NYU Ability Project, an innovative interdisciplinary initiative dedicated to developing assistive technology and improving accessibility — was instrumental in establishing the university-wide initiative that allows aspiring engineers to earn a minor in Disabilities Studies; educates them about the historical, social, and legal circumstances that shape the experience of disability; and helps them discover ways in which they can put their engineering knowledge to use in the field. “People with disabilities are just living differently,” he asserts, “and an engineer with an understanding and awareness of that can make an enormous impact.”
As can a teacher like Goldstein.