Dear Dr. Steedly,
Belatedly, I thank you for your generous letter, and, more than that, for the opportunity to read your beautiful, scholarly dissertation. It is not only the overlap of our commitments. It is the authenticity of your “class notes”; and it is the delicacy and skill with which you present the nuances of classroom life and the actuality of your students’ and fellow teachers’ lives.
I hope you publish it as a whole or in sections. The best of luck, and thanks again.
About a year after I finished my doctorate, I got the courage to send a thank you note and a copy of my dissertation to Maxine Greene. Maxine Greene responded with a hand written note, the text of which is captured above. I immediately framed the note and it currently hangs over my desk at home as both reminder and inspiration. She is a big deal to me and many others. I had built upon the concept of wide-awakeness in my dissertation, and Maxine Greene was responsible for my understanding of the truth contained in the idea. I stood on her shoulders in my work. She paved my way. To thank her for her role in my journey seemed necessary and important. To have her validate my work still makes me pause in gratitude. I hang on each adjective. I fully accept the challenge presented by the overlap of our commitments.
I learned several things from my exchange with Maxine Greene.
- Find your Maxine
Early in my doctoral studies, my dissertation chair asked me to think about the books I schlep around in deciding on a focus for my work. What was I carrying with me through the 100 degree Texas heat? Several of Maxine Greene’s books were always in my backpack. Her early work framed existentialism in a way that made sense to me, a person who was thinking about the soul of our educational system. Her later work argued for schools that put the arts front and center, and focus particularly the cultivation of imagination. (That definitely spoke to my drama teacher self.) One of my favorite Greene quotes is “Imagination makes empathy possible.”
Just as I found Maxine Greene, I think we are all called to find the artist, philosopher, scientist, theologian, yogi, or other person that resonates with our unique truth. We must find the person that talks to the special place in our heart that is reserved for unbridled optimism and fearlessness. When you find that person (or persons): study with them, learn from them, grow in your understanding of yourself through their work, let the inspiration they provide fuel your passion, and share your passion with the world.
- Acknowledgement matters
I had no idea I would hear from Maxine Greene when I sent her my dissertation. I just wanted to share my work with her because she had played a profound role. Her work made my work possible. She was a woman in “the academy” when few women were there. She was a philosopher in world that was more concerned with efficiencies than thought. She was a teacher who encouraged every student to think deeply about the world that we are creating through our lives. I needed to say thank you. Her generous response is testament to the value of acknowledgment. No one does this alone, and we must lift up those that help us along the way.
- Don’t be afraid to think big ideas
Accountability and standards have been the mantra of our educational system for many years, perhaps building to a crescendo with No Child Left Behind. I was in graduate school in Texas, a state that provided a framework for that policy, when No Child became law. Tell a committee of scholars that you intend to study wide-awakeness within that landscape, and you quickly understand fear has no role in the pursuit of your heart’s desire. I wanted to ask a question that had philosophical importance. I wanted to think about the experiences of students in schools, rather than focus on test scores. I had a dissertation chair and a committee that backed me up, so it was possible. Have the courage of your convictions, ultimately that is what matters.
- Do philosophy
One of my favorite things discussed by Greene is the idea that we can all do philosophy. Simply understood, it means living in ways that are aligned with our ethical compass, creative energy, and highest thought. If we are scientists, we must engage in science. If we are preachers, we must preach. If we are artists, we must create art. In this light, philosophy manifests in action, and leads to a more compassionate and just world. Greene views the arts as a primary way to do philosophy. The heart of doing philosophy is about imagination and creativity. Greene uses the Wallace Stevens poem “The Man with the Blue Guitar” to illustrate the idea that we are only bound by a world in which we can not imagine. We are called to be amazed by the shape we take when shape has been destroyed.