Sunday, August 22, 2010

How'd I Miss This? Maxine Green Tribute

Journal of Educational Controversy has an issue devoted to Maxine Greene.


"My vision, in launching this Foundation, is to generate inquiry, imagination, and the creation of art works by diverse people. It has to do so with a sense of the deficiencies in our world and a desire to repair, wherever possible. Justice, equality, freedom - these are as important to us as the arts, and we believe they can infuse each other, perhaps making some difference at a troubled time."
Maxine Greene, Foundation for Social Imagination, the Arts and Education

An understanding of the role of public schools in sustaining the life of a democracy requires more than the occasional class in civic education. It requires the development of social imagination. Maxine Greene reminds us of the important role that the arts - visual art, music, performance art and literature - can play in such an education. We invite authors to explore the many dimensions of a vision for such an education within schools and colleges, or alternatively, outside these institutions. We also invite authors to contribute to a special section on Maxine Greene's lifetime work and writings on art, social imagination and education.
So much great reading to do. I began reading Chris Higgins' Working with Youth: In Search of the Natality of the Teacher.

With respect to sympathetic curiosity, unbiased responsiveness, and openness of mind, we may say that the adult should be growing in childlikeness.
- John Dewey (1916, p. 50)

A teacher in search of his/her own freedom may be the only kind of teacher who can arouse young persons to go in search of their own.
- Maxine Greene (1988, p. 14)


In teacher education, what one says about teaching is probably less important than how one addresses teachers. One of the things that make Maxine Greene's work singular and singularly important is her mode of address as a teacher educator. In her classes and her writings alike, she never forgets that she is speaking to teachers, and that in doing so she is speaking to human beings. This is not to say that others address teachers in an inhuman way. It is simply to point out that Greene reaches out to teachers, again and again, as fellow inhabitants of a set of typically human existential predicaments. Nor is this to suggest that she ignores the teacher qua teacher. To the contrary, she views teaching as a uniquely rich and important project, and personal projects are central to the ethical, existential terrain she is interested in.

From Teacher as Stranger (1973) to the latest posting on The Maxine Greene Foundation website (, Greene has been working to make visible the person in the role of teacher, and even “to make that person visible to himself” (1973, p. 271). Time and again, she has urged teachers to take an “interest in thinking about what it means to choose to be a teacher” (Greene, 1987, p. 181). She has offered us tireless and eloquent reminders that teaching is a transaction between selves in process, persons in need of meaningful projects and freedoms worth taking (see, e.g., Greene, 1986, pp. 76-79). She reminds us that the individual teacher, like any individual, needs some sort of studio space—some opportunity for retreat, reflection, and recreation—if she is to cultivate herself through her work (1973, p. 290). She reminds us that teachers also must fear the isolation that vitiates genuine action, which requires the catalysis and witnessing of others. And she reminds us that we are beginners, beings capable of breaking with the taken for granted, the routine and the mechanical (see, e.g., Greene, 1978, pp. 26-27; 1979). Greene's path-breaking work on these questions is the inspiration for the essay that follows. I explore the existential meanings, risks, and rewards of teaching through a close reading of two writers with whom she has frequently been in dialogue: Rainer Maria Rilke and Hannah Arendt.

Teaching and Natality: Recovery of an Untimely Question

Why teach? What draws us to this daunting practice and what sustains us there in the face of its inevitable difficulties? What sort of love does this labor express? Why might the practice of teaching be worth putting at the center of one's life?

One of the most stirring answers ever given to such questions appears in the last paragraph of Hannah Arendt's (1977) essay, “The Crisis of Education”:

Education is the point at which we decide if we love the world enough to assume responsibility for it and by the same token save it from that ruin which, except for renewal, except for the coming of the new and young, would be inevitable. And education, too, is where we decide whether we love our children enough not to expel them from our world and leave them to their own devices, not to strike from their hands their chance of undertaking something new, something unforeseen by us, but to prepare them in advance for the task of renewing a common world. (p. 196)

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