Imagination, Possibility, and Wide-awakeness: Maxine Greene’s Salon at the Creativity, Imagination, and Innovation Symposium

Photo by Heather Van Uxem

I have not seen Maxine Greene since the final day of the life-changing course that I took with her last Fall: Education and the Aesthetic Experience. And now here she is, perched in the middle of the stage, one delicate hand grasping the other across her belly. She looks fabulous—dressed to the nines, lipstick, gold necklace, hoop earrings, and sunglasses.

I remember the sunny afternoons we spent in her living room—gathered around her chair like Socrates’s followers must have gathered around his robes—Central Park glowing an otherworldly peach across the street, thousands of leaves emitting their last breaths in the form of pale light, bathing us in yellow and orange luminescence.

Joan Jeffri introduces Maxine as someone who “urges us to avoid the crust of conventionality.”

So true.

“Actively refuse to see people as part of the familiar—pay attention!”

Maxine floats from one idea to another like a butterfly in a field of flowers—a journey as spontaneous as it is beautiful, and an absolute joy to watch. She starts with one of her favorite quotations: “Emily Dickinson says, ‘Imagination lights the slow fuse of possibility.’”

A life without possibility is a life of boredom, which, for Maxine, is a fate worse than death.

“Without imagination, you live in a small room with the windows closed. Imagination opens the windows and shows us landscapes, horizons that we would not otherwise perceive…I want education to empower people to see possibility.”

“To look at possibility is to be free.”

“Move beyond the sense of the given, toward possibility—not predictability, but possibility.”

(A charge that Maxine admits is as terrifying as it is exciting.)

“Imagination is the capacity to think of things as if they could be otherwise.”

What seems to come so naturally to us as children oftentimes gets beaten out of us through schooling; we must find it again—grasp it, foster it, and engage with it.

“Imagination is a habit.”

“I’m obsessed with the idea of imagination, and I try to infect others with the same obsession.”

“My slogan is ‘wide-awakeness.’ To be awake is to take risks, to see things that you probably would not want to see. We have to teach that—an awareness, a courage to see. Without it, we’ll just be for profit, and not for meaning.”

“I’ll tell you the secret to good teaching: make possible an experience without predetermining what that experience will be.”

Teaching is not about filling students’ heads with knowledge; it is about helping them develop the ability to construct their own meaning.

“Part of teaching is helping people create themselves.”

Identity is never fixed; we are always becoming.

“I am what I am not yet.”

Maxine takes a long drink from a bottle of water and says, “Any final words on this great novel that we’re writing?”

Yes, Maxine: Thank you.