24/7

May 31, 2014

24 Love Letters to Maxine Greene

(In no particular order)

Followed by 7 Questions

 

Dear Maxine,

I’m wandering along an open road tonight, wobbly and a bit unhinged, wondering where I’ll be by morning, writing you now under a sea of stars. You’re on my mind 24/7—I love you, you know—and here’s a simple sampling of letters from the day, one every hour, followed by a week’s worth of questions:

 

1)      Your eyes, yes, why not? Laughing eyes, and worried too. Wonderful eyes, burning day and night, aware, alert eyes.

2)      A sense rumbling beneath every conversation: you’re just waking up, at this very moment—this morning’s news! That cab-driver’s comment! The piece on the war in the New Yorker! Rachel Madow! The show at the Public! Bill T. Jones! Rashid Khalidi on Charlie Rose! Brecht!—and you’re breaking loose. You’re speaking to me (I know it’s a narcissistic illusion, but I allow myself, why not?) as if I’m just waking up too, and in our first waking moments I must pay urgent attention, gather whatever courage I can, and prepare to break loose as well.

3)      You offer me a bowl of soup and a bed for the night—me, the natural narcissism again, why not?—but you offer a bite and a bed for the night to many others, including the homeless man on 5th Avenue one night in a snow storm (my hopeful invitation in perspective!) and his aggressive rejection: What do you want from me lady?

4)      Your crazy question after that lecture: Was it OK? It was, yes, it was surely OK. It was only words after all—let’s not make more of it than it was—conceived and constructed and spoken by you for perhaps an hour, a bit more, in a crowded    room, a stuffy place at the start. And yet people who heard you were gasping throughout, some weeping, some laughing and reaching out to touch another’s hand. The air sizzled and crackled, until, as you would have it, fresh and startling winds began to blow through the room. No one left quite the same, not even you. It was OK—why not?

5)      Your one persistent rule, which is to reach, and your dazzling embodiment of the practice of it, the effort of it, trying again and again to speak beyond barriers and without bounds, to stretch, to reach.

6)      Those exaggerations, those excesses—all the little efforts and grand gestures, and why not, designed to clear the air of hum-drum, ho-hum, and all the tedious repetition and buzz.

7)      The admonition to create—right here and right now, in this community or in this school or on this corner—a place to do philosophy, and a bit of the possible world we might want to inhabit.

8)      Your inner rhythm: Wake up! Be astonished! Act! Doubt! (REPEAT!)

9)      Storming all those habitual barricades, the impositions and constraints, especially your own.

10)  Reminding us again what it means to be alive and in dialogue with others, unfinished and situated, in-motion and struggling to expand the public square as a place of balance and decency, human dignity and possibility.

11)  Your sense that we are all necessarily blind to our own blind spots, anesthetized, sleepy, and in need of occasional jolts and shocks into new awarenesses.

12)  Your contradictions and conflicts, your reversals, dialectcs.

13)  Another world—not necessarily a better world, possibly much worse, but another world nonetheless—is inevitable: Imagine a possible world you’d like to live in. Why not?

14)  All the echoes: Arendt and Camus and DuBois, for example, Addams and King and Horton, Ginsberg, Shelly, Hughes and Brooks. Orwell. Morrison. Saramago. DeLillo. Woolf. That wild unruly company you keep.

15)  Your invitations—to try once to construct a classroom on a base of fearless and relentless inquiry, for example, every established and received bit of wisdom, common sense, and dogma open for examination, interrogation, and rethinking.

16)  Your impatience with gurus of every stripe, and with anyone who would pin you, like a beautiful butterfly, to that particular board.

17)  Your invitations—to change the world, for example, or to change the people who will change the world.

18)  Embracing the rebels again and again, and glimpsing the ghost of Dewey behind the barricades.

19)  Imagining a classroom where all the messages, implicit and explicit, are built on the idea that we are swirling through history, alive and acute, that nothing is guaranteed, and that we are each a work-in-progress and an artist-in-residence, swimming shakily toward an uncertain shore.

20)  That elaborate and painful-looking tattoo you inspired on the inside of my student’s small wrist: I am…not yet.

21)  Your endless invitations—to act out the possibility that school, for example, far from being a preparation for life, is indeed life itself,.

22)  Your open meditation concerning the fear of imagination, the fear of choice and free will, that characterizes the people who are drunk on power, or to the men of facts without ethics, or to those cynics who can tell you the price of everything but the value of nothing. Your Dickensian dystopic description of the degradation that marks the classroom as slave galley where the teacher’s central task is to beat the drum mindlessly: “When thou shalt fill each jar brim full by-and-by, dost thou think that thou wilt always kill the robber Fancy lurking within—or sometimes only maim him and distort him!”

23)  Your self-designated task to follow the town crier through all the quiet streets as he puts the people to sleep with his constant, “All’s well” and to contradict that soothing lie: All is certainly not well, you say, lighting altogether different lamps for the night.

24)  Your invitations—to dive into the wreckage, for example.

 

 

Questions:

 

What does it mean to be human in the 21st century?

How can teachers who feel shackled, bound and gagged, develop a pedagogy of alert engagement with and activism for humanity—something that tries to tell the truth, tries to stand against violence and war and exploitation and oppression, tries to act in fairness and balance and peace, and tries to enact the power of love that does justice?

How can we look at the world of children—the sufferings, the accomplishments, the perspectives, the concerns—and develop an awareness, sometimes joyous but just as often painful, of all that we find; how do we account for every person, each entangled and propelled, and sometimes made mute, by large social forces, each with a wild and vast inner life—a spirit, a mind, a future?

How can we forge ourselves into artisans of a new humanity?

What are our wildest dreams?

What are you planning to do now?

What should I do with the rest of my life?

 

Bill

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A note from Joel Westheimer:

May 30, 2014

Maxine Greene passed away yesterday. Every single time I saw Maxine, she picked up the conversation exactly where we had last left it, as if I were one of only 6 people who had been in her apartment in the intervening months. But she had talked to hundreds, exchanged letters and notes and phone calls with hundreds more. “Did you finish that article on…?” “Do you still think Obama is…?” “How is your sister, Miriam?” “When Carol was here, we talked about Bill’s new book – have you read it?” There are only a few who know how to live life so fully. Salons. Students. Concerts. Lectures. Reading up. Dressing down. Imagining the possible for our children…and their children.

As so-and-so in this novel by so-and-so, she would say, as if all of us were as intimately familiar with the characters of every book written in the past 200 years as she was…But it didn’t matter. The quotation from the fictional character captured the point perfectly, brought us to those places in our imagination that so often so often pass unnoticed and yet, when given the attention they deserve, nourish our curiosity and the sense of the possible. She inspired teachers and scholars alike, in fact blurring that very distinction.

Mary Oliver:
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?

Maxine, a mentor and friend to so many of us, lived a wild and precious life.


Maxine Greene

May 30, 2014

MAXINE GREENE was at the forefront of educational philosophy for well over half a century as a teacher, a lecturer and author.

She was the Founder and Director of the Center for Social Imagination, the Arts and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University where she has been on the faculty since 1965 serving as Professor of Philosophy and Education since 1973 and the William F. Russell Professor in the Foundations of Education from 1975 to 1998, and was Professor Emeritus. Since 1976, she had served as the Director of Teachers College-Lincoln Center Project in the Arts and Humanities: “Philosopher in Residence,” Lincoln Center Institute for the Arts in Education. From 1966 to 1973, she served at the Editor of the Teachers College Record. From 1962 to 1965, she was an Associate Professor of Education at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York. Between 1949 and 1962, she taught at New York University serving as an Instructor of Philosophy and History of Education and Associate Professor of English Education; and was an Assistant Professor of English at Montclair State College in 1956-1957.

Maxine Greene lectured widely at universities and educational associations throughout the United States, and was a past President of the Philosophy of Education Society and the American Educational Studies Association, and the American Educational Research Association. She also served on the Executive Council of the John Dewey Society, the Evaluation Committee for the Department of Curriculum at the University of North Carolina in Greensboro, the National Council of Teachers of English, the Modern English Language Association and the American Philosophical Association. In 1984, she was elected to the National Academy of Education and received Educator of the Year Awards from Columbia University and Ohio State University.

She was the author of six books: Releasing the Imagination – Essays on Education, the Arts and Social Change (Jossey Bass Publishers, 1995); The Dialectics of Freedom (Teachers College Press, 1988); Landscapes of Learning (Teachers College Press, 1978); Teacher as Stranger: Educational Philosophy in the Modern Age (Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1973), which was awarded the 1974 Delta Gamma Kappa Award for Educational Book of the Year; Existential Encounters for Teachers (Random House, 1967); and The Public School and the Private Vision (Random House, 1963). Her monographs included Active Learning and Aesthetic Encounters (Talks at the Lincoln Center Institute, NCREST, 1994); A Teacher Talks to Teachers: Perspectives on the Lincoln Center Institute (Lincoln Center, 1980); and Education, Freedom and Possibility (Russell Lecture, 1975).

Maxine Greene held a PhD (1955) and M.A. (1949) from New York University and a B.A. from Barnard College, Columbia University (1938) in addition to nine honorary degrees from universities across the country.

Selected Publications

Books Include:

*  Variations on a Blue Guitar (Teachers College Press, 2001)
*  Releasing the Imagination – Essays on Education, the Arts and Social Change (Jossey Bass Publishers, 1995)
*  The Dialectic of Freedom (Teachers College Press, 1988)
Landscapes of Learning (Teachers College Press, 1978)
*  Teacher as Stranger: Educational Philosophy in the Modern Age (Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1973)
Existential Encounters for Teachers (Random House, 1967)
*  The Public School and the Private Vision (Random House, 1963)

Monographs include:

*  Active Learning and Aesthetic Encounters (Talks at the Lincoln Center Institute, NCREST, 1994)
*  A Teacher Talks to Teachers: Perspectives on the Lincoln Center Institute (Lincoln Center, 1980)
*  Education, Freedom and Possibility (Russell Lecture, 1975)

Please visit Maxine.Greene’s web site for details: http://www.maxinegreene.org/books.php


Maxine Greene: December 23, 1917–May 29, 2014

May 29, 2014

Teacher, mentor, visionary activist and friend.

She lives on in the many people she touched with her dazzling mind and her generous embrace.

I miss her very much.


An edited/shortened version of this letter appears in the June 2., 2014 New Yorker

May 29, 2014

Dale Russsakoff’s thorough report on the Newark schools rescue (5/19/2014) contains echoes from social reform efforts a century ago. When Cory Booker, Newark’s “rock-star mayor,” calls for top-down reform because an open political process would be messy and could potentially be “taken captive” by opponents, he sounds eerily like the social reformer John Purroy Mitchell, the wondrous “Boy Mayor” of New York City in 2014. Convinced of his own pure motives and good heart, uniquely capable of wielding “sophisticated data” to transform the lives of the down-trodden and the new immigrants, Mitchell never bothered to consult the folks he was uplifting. Neither mayor thought serious participation could be a positive force in their grand plans, neither encouraged broad participation, neither appeared to believe that the people with the problems are essential to crafting the solutions nor that the dilemmas and messes in a democracy are best addressed through more, not less, democracy. It’s a long tradition—child-savers, social engineers, Lady Bountiful—and it rests on an ugly assumption: only “the best and the brightest” are endowed with a sufficiently deep understanding of history or are capable of exercising their own agency, while the rest of us can be written off by our statistical profiles: age, race, income, and place of residence. Mitchell was driven from office after a single term, and the New Republic concluded that people had “revolted against the consequences to themselves of government by capable and disinterested experts,” an undemocratic “autocracy of experts.” The election of Ras Baracka is one more echo.

William Ayers


“Warning: The Literary Canon Could Make Students Squirm” NYT, May 18, 2014

May 26, 2014

The call for “trigger warnings”—a recent censorious trend gaining traction on American college campuses—is designed to alert students of any potentially troubling, unsettling, or upsetting course materials. The impetus is benign enough, and the context includes the important recent mobilization to deal seriously with epidemic levels of rape and sexual assault on campuses across the country. But objections to this trend are also clear: art and literature, education and growth are characteristically disturbing. When a few years ago Judith Shapiro, president of Barnard College, told a faculty meeting dealing with the discomfort some students experienced when exposed to criticisms of Israel that she thought no Barnard student should be uncomfortable in any class, I thought she had lost her way if not her mind. As a professor my goal was that every student would find in my classes every day the familiar and the strange, the comforting and the discomfiting—and I wanted to find those things for myself as well. I mostly wanted everyone to be moved to leap forward, to launch themselves into the going world, and to embark on voyages into the unknown.

The trigger warning—if it is to be used at all—should appear on the application to college itself: Please be aware that you will be challenged here, you will be exposed to ideas you cannot now imagine, you will experience times of cognitive dissonance and intellectual vertigo, and you will likely be transformed in some unscripted and unpredictable ways. If that doesn’t appeal to you, stay home in the comfort of your couch and your familiar books and things.

Oh, and if that set includes the Bible, here’s a trigger warning for that: This good book contains graphic scenes of murder including patricide and matricide, fratricide and genocide (spoiler alert: in the serial genocides that occur in the opening chapters, God takes the wrong side every time), rape including gang rapes and incestuous rape and child rape, torture, tribal warfare, human sacrifice, and slavery—if any of that might trigger bad feelings or icky reactions, stick to the Bible Stories for Children. It’s so much more comforting


“Warning: The Literary Canon Could Make Students Squirm” NYT, May 18, 2014

May 26, 2014

The call for “trigger warnings”—a recent censorious trend gaining traction on American college campuses—is designed to alert students of any potentially troubling, unsettling, or upsetting course materials. The impetus is benign enough, and the context includes the important recent mobilization to deal seriously with epidemic levels of rape and sexual assault on campuses across the country. But objections to this trend are also clear: art and literature, education and growth are characteristically disturbing. When a few years ago Judith Shapiro, president of Barnard College, told a faculty meeting dealing with the discomfort some students experienced when exposed to criticisms of Israel that she thought no Barnard student should be uncomfortable in any class, I thought she had lost her way if not her mind. As a professor my goal was that every student would find in my classes every day the familiar and the strange, the comforting and the discomfiting—and I wanted to find those things for myself as well. I mostly wanted everyone to be moved to leap forward, to launch themselves into the going world, and to embark on voyages into the unknown.

The trigger warning—if it is to be used at all—should appear on the application to college itself: Please be aware that you will be challenged here, you will be exposed to ideas you cannot now imagine, you will experience times of cognitive dissonance and intellectual vertigo, and you will likely be transformed in some unscripted and unpredictable ways. If that doesn’t appeal to you, stay home in the comfort of your couch and your familiar books and things.

Oh, and if that set includes the Bible, here’s a trigger warning for that: This good book contains graphic scenes of murder including patricide and matricide, fratricide and genocide (spoiler alert: in the serial genocides that occur in the opening chapters, God takes the wrong side every time), rape including gang rapes and incestuous rape and child rape, torture, tribal warfare, human sacrifice, and slavery—if any of that might trigger bad feelings or icky reactions, stick to the Bible Stories for Children. It’s so much more comforting