Maxine Greene passed away on May 29 2014, a couple days after this article went up. As such, this was her final interview. We spoke to her a little over a week before she died at her home. During the interview, she was funny, witty, and engaging. She spoke about her career, her life as a teacher and writer, her concerns for the field, and her interest in public space. Poignantly, she chose to close the interview with a question
By Tim Ignaffo
Last week we had the privilege of speaking with Maxine Greene at her home. Maxine Greene is Professor Emerita, Philosophy and Education. She is the Founder and Director of the Center for Social Imagination, the Arts and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University and 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 as the Editor of the Teachers College Record. Maxine is past President of the American Educational Research Association (AERA), Philosophy of Education Society, American Educational Studies Association, and Middle Atlantic States Philosophy of Education Society. For a detailed listing of articles and books, please visit her webpage http://www.maxinegreene.org/books.php
Special thanks to Daiyu Suzuki for his help in arranging and facilitating this interview.
How does it feel to be an icon?
(laughs). It feels like people are inventing myths about me, so let them go off with their myths and have a good time. I don’t think I’m an icon, and I don’t think that any icon admits they’re an icon. You have to be dead first.
Do you have any reflections on your career at TC, and are you still teaching?
Oh yes, I never want to stop… When I think about my time of TC, I’m reminded that when I first came to TC they did not welcome me, because I was a woman. I was brought in to be the editor of the TC Record before being a Professor, after receiving my PhD. I liked that job, because I was at getting outside contributors, so it was varied, not just discursive essays, we had poetry, art, etc. I remember I was sitting in the department [waiting for an interview] and a male professor came in and asked me to get him a cup of coffee. That was 1965. I became a Professor a few years later…
In terms of my career, I think about students. Students are the most important thing, and it’s important to remember they will be teachers. I think about the students, the teaching and writing, which should go together – writing as an extension of teaching, and vise versa.
And you’ve been teaching ever since?
Yes. People didn’t always like me, because I was active, and I had a big mouth, and I spoke up about issues. I was active for a lot of causes, not just education. I was active against the war. I remember I organized a bus to go down to Washington to protest from TC, and it was too early so very few professors showed up, it was mostly students. When I think of my career, I am proud of that. I had a nerve – not everyone can say that. So many were too afraid to speak up, but I had a nerve.
As President of AERA in 1982 you gave a lecture on “Public Space and Public Education.” Recently you’ve been speaking of TC in relation to Public Space. What is important about TC as a ‘public space’?
Well, it should be much more important. It should open up, it doesn’t engage students as well as it should. Public spaces emerge out of human connections, when people who have relationships and shared commitments and obligations.
TC as an institution is too inactive as a public space, they’re in business to impose policy on society and the practice and profession of teaching. But it often forgets the children. I don’t think this is a good time for radical thinkers. Faculty remains so aloof, they don’t really engage students as they should.
TC as an institution is far too inactive as a public space, they’re in business to impose policy on society and the practice and profession of teaching. And some of this policy is good in some of the things it addresses, but it also ignores some things, like students.
What advice do you have for new faculty? Current students?
This is very important. I would tell them to have courage! I would tell them not to get frightened by the possibility that you might get thrown out, and not to worry so much about tenure. Make your voice audible, make sure it’s heard, and don’t conform. When there was a cause that I cared about, I got involved. Far too many conform, and that’s very dangerous. If you give up your ideas to be loved, it would be a terrible thing. Stay true to your commitments. Too many people make excuses for inaction, and in education it’s intolerable – cowardice is too common among faculty, and it’s disgusting. Take responsibility and fight against apathy, don’t follow the crowd.
Currents Interests and Concerns?
Humanizing our literature. I would like to have more concern for the arts, for the humanities, I think it’s important to connect education with the arts, with literature and with theater. A lot can be accomplished by integrating art and education, and its important because they form connections, different types of connections. They get people to commit. People are inspired. Literature also cultivates thinking in a unique way, and a kind of skepticism that I want to keep open. This is all too often ignored in teacher education.
I don’t think this is a good time for radical thinkers. But then again, maybe it is a good time for the few that are paying attention. My worry is that too many young people give way to comfort and apathy. That worries me. This is an important question, how do you wake people up?