Maxine Greene Essay

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Maxine Greene uses her skills as philosopher, imaginer, and inquirer to explore the meaning of human existence and the means to engage in epistemology. Through her inquiries into sociology, history, and especially philosophy and literature, she explores living in awareness and “wide-awakeness” in order to advance social justice. To engage in such living, Greene argues, requires active attention to the beautiful spaces of souls and landscapes as well as shadows and darkness. Although it might be easier to withdraw from literal and metaphorical burned-out buildings, doing so disconnects oneself from a significant realm of human experience, she believes.
The full range of human experience is not available to most individuals, but it can been explored, according to Greene, through literature and the arts. The arts represent full expressions of experience and imagination, and fundamentally provide ideal vehicles to learn capacities for living. Her thinking about existence and the power of imagination have been brought to life through her study; her academic appointments, including at Teachers College; her essays and books; and her founding appointment as the philosopher-in-residence of the Lincoln Center Institute for the Arts in Education. This entry summarizes her accomplishments.
Greene received her doctorate in education from New York University in 1955. After teaching at New York University, Montclair State College, and Brooklyn College, she joined the faculty at Teachers College, Columbia University, where she is the William F. Russell Professor in the Foundations of Education (emerita). In 1976, Greene became philosopher-in-residence of the Lincoln Center Institute for the Arts in Education. In 2003, she founded the Maxine Greene Foundation for Social Imagination, the Arts, and Education, which supports the creation of and engagement with works of art with the goal of enabling people to actively envision and create humane communities. She is past president of the American Educational Research Association, the Philosophy of Education Society, and the American Educational Studies Association.
Greene found herself perpetually an outsider, as echoed in much of her life and an early book, Teacher as Stranger: Educational Philosophy for the Modern Age (1973). As a young woman growing up in New York City, she longed to be a writer rather than assume the traditionally feminine career of teaching; writing was a foreign occupation to her family and friends. She traveled alone in 1963 to the civil rights march on Washington. Her full-time appointment in 1973 to the faculty of Teachers College established her as a lone female voice among her male philosophy of education colleagues, who found her “too literary.” Throughout her prolific writing, her distinctive language continues to set her apart from her contemporaries. Her persistent references to art objects, particularly literature, reaffirm her conviction that, through art, the full imagination of the human spirit is manifest. In her teaching, Greene desires to educate rebels who speak, write, and resist in their own voices, rather than mimic her ideas and language.
Known for her lyrical and expansive style, Greene has influenced several generations of social and cultural foundations scholars with her writings and lectures. She views the social foundations of education as a network of social epistemology, spurring her readers and students to live by the social constructions of our world and to do so in full awareness and exploration of such constructions. By living in full awareness, the individual can choose which social constructs to refuse, accept, or disrupt.
Although Greene does not regard herself as a feminist, generations of feminist students and readers have regarded her work and her life as emblematic of pushing past boundaries imposed upon women. Freedom, Greene contends, is locating the limits of one’s existence and then breaking through such limits. It is an identification of the fabric of shared reality, and then actively deciding how one lives in that reality.
For several decades, Greene has conducted a series of salons in her home adjacent to Central Park. At each salon, a wide range of participants discuss a work of literature chosen by Greene. Some participants are former students, others are academic colleagues, and many are socially engaged intellectuals from a range of New York City and international institutions. Through literature, they consider the possibilities of imagination. These salons characterize her ambition to communally investigate the possibilities of social existence.
For Greene, a life of freedom involves identifying limits and then breaking through those limits; freedom without boundaries is incomprehensible. Through her writing and teaching, she identifies arenas of social control and mechanisms for rebelling against such controls in the service of social justice. Rebellion for rebellion’s sake is not the point—all must be done in the service of social justice. All of this from a woman who recognizes that her own position, particularly as an academic, is a comfortable one. By example and by her writing, she teaches people to push themselves into locations of discomfort from where they can stretch beyond their own limits and imaginations, as well as the limits of the world around them.
1. Arendt, H. (1998). The human condition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
2. Ayers, W. C., & Miller, J. L. (1997). A light in dark times: Maxine Greene and the unfinished conversation. New York: Teachers College Press.
3. Dewey, J. (1934). Art as experience. New York: Perigee.
4. Greene, M. (1973). Teacher as stranger: Educational philosophy for the modern age.
5. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. Greene, M. (1978). Landscapes of learning. New York: Teachers College Press.
6. Greene, M. (1988). The dialectic of freedom. New York: Teachers College Press.
7. Greene, M. (1995). Releasing the imagination: Essays on education, the arts, and social change. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
8. Greene, M. (2001). Variations on a blue guitar: The Lincoln Center lectures. New York: Teachers College Press.
9. Merleau-Ponty, M. (1995). Phenomenology of perception.New York: Routledge.

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