Archives for posts with tag: maxine greene

To  be in touch with our landscapes is to be conscious of our evolving experiences, to be aware of the ways in which we encounter our world.

The above statement comes from Greene’s preface to Landscapes of Learning (1978, page 2).  As she sets up her book, the role of the landscape takes center stage to the process of learning and understanding the world.  The landscape is the lived life of an individual, the experiences that create one’s world.  As an artist, the concept of this landscape opens up a new way of conceptualizing what happens to each of us as we learn.  Just like portraiture as a research method changed my own perspective on my role as an educator, a researcher, a student and an artist, the landscape has opened up a way for me to understand Polyani’s personal knowledge in a new light….an aesthetic one.

Looking at the more colloquial concept of landscape, fresh in my mind is that of Indiana cornfields.  Having lived in Indiana for all of my adolescence and into adulthood, I am extremely partial to both the Northern Indiana landscape of cornfields, tree lines, and big, open sky, as well as the very green, hilly, and luscious vista of Southern Indiana.  While to many people, these landscapes are simply a daily part of life.  They are so ingrained as the landscape to their daily life that they don’t often appreciate the effects they have.  But coming from an urban landscape as a child, I was always a little more attuned to it in Indiana.

Road back from the Triangle

Road back from the Triangle

I’m generalizing a little here, I know.  But I think it is a safe assumption to make that sometimes we need to be away from home in order to truly appreciate it.  It’s easy to walk the same streets, drive the same roads, and not be aware of everything around you.  Looking back at my time in Indiana and how it feels when I return now,  I am glad I have always been able to enjoy the fields alight with fireflies, the random huge tree in the middle of acres of soybean, and the way the state road seems to disappear over a hill.

So how did I miss the fifty year old “NO BALL PLAYING” sign on the corner of my block here in Chicago?

With the physical landscapes of our lived lives, we come into confrontation in different ways – by leaving for a while, from carrying previous perspectives, from artistic approaches, and so on.  Greene is referring to a landscape that is interior, but she also says that we need to experience a self-confrontation.  This self-confrontation is closely related to her concept of wide-awakeness that has guided my graduate study (among other aspects of my life) since I encountered it.  She defines self-confrontation as a discovering of “new vistas of personal vitality” (page 32) arousing us from a kind of submergence.

This self-confrontation can create a transcendence that can “allow one to go beyond what one has been” (page 36), but it requires finding what Greene calls openings.  I understand these openings as spaces within one’s landscape that will allow the light to change, the perspective to skew, the tone to shift, the story to emerge a little truer, a little deeper.

With a new frame to view the work of Greene, and the work of mine, I continue and hope to seek ways to develop opportunities for students to confront their landscape in meaningful ways, looking for spaces, and a stronger ability to walk their paths wide-awake.


I have begun my focused obsession with Maxine Greene with her work The Dialectic of Freedom (1988).  I chose this text because I have struggled with wrapping my mind around the idea of teaching for social justice, mainly because I struggle with what social justice looks like (or would).  While the book does not address social justice curriculum, per se, it does address an important conceptual ingredient to that – freedom.

Greene works her way through the discussion of freedom starting with schools’ role in democracy and its relationship to freedom, to the American pursuit and value of it, into a discussion of women in the arts (and society) and their struggle with creating a free space in their lives.  She continues into a look at the cultures and communities that make up our plural society and ends with ideas about creating spaces of freedom in classrooms and through the arts.

While part of me (the practicing teacher I suppose) is always somewhat seeking implications for my classroom, I find myself again and again adhering to ideas that stand out.  In Dialectic of Freedom, her basic definition of freedom, connected greatly to the ideas of Hannah Arendt, is what emerges for me the most.  Freedom is this space that is created – partly by ourselves and partly by the world in which we live.  Freedom as a space – I never thought of it like that before, and that space is completely connected to the actions that must take place within it.

Not only do we need to be continually empowered to choose ourselves, to create our identities within a plurality; we need continually to make new promises and to act in our freedom to fulfill them, something we can never do meaningfully alone.

This is where I find myself understanding teaching for social justice, the role of the arts, and the role of myself as a teacher.    One of my favorite eras of American history is that of the New Deal.  Maybe I romanticize (well..I know I do!), but it seems to me that they indeed created that space during the projects associated with the Works Progress Administration.  Greene also addresses this era, and she describes it as an exemplar because it created “the kinds of support systems that made freedom attainable for many who were excluded before” (p. 50).  It created a community that transcended those existing at the time.


She ends Chapter 2 focusing the rest of the book’s journey around searching for “freedom developed by human beings who have acted to make a space for themselves in the presence of others…for those willing to take responsibility for themselves and for each other” (p. 56).  It is this focus, this perspective that I can see myself taking as an educational researcher: collecting the stories of others who have done this, in order to further expand the community concerned with freedom and justice.

Greene’s examples throughout the book are inspiring: her discussion of women, most of who I had never heard of, her recount of Harlem Renaissance and civil rights writers and artists, her philosophical connections to those also concerned with the pursuit and construction of this space.  Yet the final chapter, I found myself drawing even more arrows and asterisks and writing more questions in the margins.  Greene is beyond inspiring (which is why I am here), but why I find myself most connected to her is she embodies the philosophical in a way that is truly practical – although the word practical kind of makes my stomach churn.  There is no separation with her ideas and work, and too often, our actions and our ideas do not exist harmoniously.

I am beyond excited at the notion that I might be able to further connect this for people in the field of education and with the arts as a centering role.  Greene includes a portion of Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer in her final chapter.

The search is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life.  This morning, for example, I felt as if I had come to myself on a strange island.  And what does such a castaway do?  Why, he pokes around the neighborhood and he doesn’t miss a trick.

To become aware of the possibility of the search is to be onto something.  Not to be onto something is to be in despair. (1979, p. 13)

This resonated in me in ways concerned with my own life, the work I strive to do as an educator, and the images and experiences I long to continue as an artist.  It is more than easy to get “sunk in everydayness” – especially as a public school teacher.  Greene, again, continues a discussion about this other space we can live in.


Next semester I will begin an independent study on Maxine Greene.  If you have ever read any other part of this blog, you might have noticed that I am a little obsessed with her.  Her Text and Margins started my doctoral pursuit, and she has continued as a major and ever-present thread in my interest and work already.  In the last essay that I read, The Avant Garde in the Classroom, I feel like I have found a focusing theme for my exploraiton of her work.  The essay is full of ideas, some of which I addressed in my previous post Eisner and Greene, but central to her paper is the idea that teaching the humanities is a means of bringing students into a situation that allows them to create themselves.  This concept of meaning-making is exactly that which I hold truest to my goal of teaching and learning, and she puts it most eloquently in this writing.  This pursuit of form and sense making is central to what can be learned through the arts.

Greene has melded my interests in what we can learn from the past and present in terms of what who we are and want to become.  She ends the paper with these statments.  I want to further explore her work – and in turn my own – in regards to this idea.

The polarization we have spoken of will continue to advance; divisions will deepen; rebellion and repression will increase.  In the humanities classroom we can serve the human cause if we are willing to work with students as human beings, diverse and restless exemplars of the avant-garde.  Confronting past and present in their changing relationships, we can still free individuals to go in search of form.

While I take this as my guide as I delve deeper into Greene’s work, I also think that this could be very well the central idea of my dissertation work.  In the statement lies the leading ideas I want to further explore: the humanity and diversity of working with students, the connection that contemporary and non-traditional (outsider, intuit, and folk) art offers towards better understanding human experiences, and the role of the teacher as a collaborator in meaning-making that assists students in better becoming themselves.

Recently in class, we viewed the documentary Exclusions and Awakenings: The Life of Maxine Greene. While many things continue to strike me about her thoughts and work, the idea that most moved me had to do with embracing the tragedy we all encounter in life. Working in a school where we experience tragedies too often, it is hard to come to terms with ideologies of democractic education and objectives of learning the content before us. I believe that there is a natural connection between theory and practice, as long as we want there to be one and strive to keep it alive. But when the theories seem so removed from the practice that is taking place, it gets hard to remain connected to the ideologies we hold dear. Greene’s existentialist thoughts on the realities of life – and the tragic sense the permeates romantic realities –  addresses the  insufficiencies sometimes present in progressive theories.  If anything, it starts to address how these progressive practices and ideas work in the urban classroom – beyond Montessori and Lab schools.

Maxine Greene discusses wide-awakeness as a goal for education.  More than objectives, more than test scores, one can reach for a new kind of living as a goal for students and for ourselves.  Wide-awakeness is a philosophical approach to life and it has such an important place in public education – especially in urban education.  When I think of what my students really need, it has nothing to do with test scores.  It has to do with a way of thinking – reflecting on self and the world in which they live in order to make change.

“I use the term wide-awakeness,” Greene states. “Without the ability to think about yourself, to reflect on your life, there’s really no awareness, no consciousness. Consciousness doesn’t come automatically; it comes through being alive, awake, curious, and often furious.”

I find this concept so important, so central and guiding.  I think of myself as an adolescent.  I was frustrated with how things were – in my school, my community, my family.  It was that frustration, that fury at times, that caused me to make choices that would fulfill my identity in greater and more substantial ways.  I don’t know where my reflective nature came from exactly – whether it was nurtured or part of my being – but I know it emerged through the arts.  The arts question our worlds – whether through a painting by Picasso or a novel by Hemingway.

This is a reflection I wrote following the first few weeks of my class at UIC and readings of Greene and others:

Being Wide Awake

In just these few short weeks, I find myself with a very different understanding towards curriculum. I have been fueled by the richness of my content area, visual arts, since entering the field of teaching. I have been deeming art education worthwhile and important and could list and promote the many reasons one is taught to advocate for the arts in school with sincerity. Yet I hadn’t realized the authentic reasons education and arts education is so captivating for me. This is not about teaching students the basics of visual design or enabling them play with new materials. This is about creating the possibility for “a new dimension of a self-in-the-making” (Greene, 2007). It is not about what I deem important to know or understand – but what our lives do.

Coming into this program, my interest for study lies in the very human link between storytelling and social history in art – how we can better grasp the understanding of human experience when approached through the arts. Maxine Greene illustrates that facts are just starting points when approaching history but through imaginative works we can find “the human presences” (Greene, 2007). While she was referring to literature at this time, she applies it to aesthetics throughout her writing. I first felt the power of this with the artist Robert Warrens’ paintings about the events in New Orleans with Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. In front of those paintings at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, I knew I had to pursue curriculum study in regards to that power.

This approach to understanding is mirrored in Turning Points in Curriculum and Curriculum Books through the contextual lenses within which the history of curriculum is discussed. The relationships of social and political events towards the curriculum field and in turn the children and young adults makes real understanding of and value for the field that much more possible. The lack of effect of the 8 Year Study on policy and the very impacting effect of Sputnik still have me reeling – wanting to better understand.

I knew that my curriculum would have to be student centered in the classroom in order for what it to be meaningful to me as a teacher and artist. But when I met my students, it took on a whole other meaning because they have a richness of experience walking into my room that has been ignored and unvalued for too long. It is with all these connections – with a wealth of questioning, storytelling, and searching – that changes are made in greater being. Greene talks about living wide awake, and that has to start by teaching, learning and modeling wide-awakeness.

Some links to explore: