The past two years at my community college I have been in charge of the Arts in NYC course, a freshman requirement that introduces students to various art forms present in our amazing City, exposes them to criticism about/around those art forms, and has weekly experiential visits to various art institutions and artistic spaces that serve to drive home the concepts taught.
I wrote the curriculum for this course and have taught it twice now. Each semester I have been beyond impressed with the students’ abilities to dive in and discuss, critique, and engage in art (visual, dance, theatre, public art, installation art, film, photography). It’s as if their brains are suddenly alive in a new and different way. Their writing improves, their attendance is stellar, they don’t fall asleep in class, and they walk around museums and talk to each other, to me, to guards, and to strangers about art. It’s a metamorphosis. I feel that’s the semester when the students really become thinkers.
Teaching that course highlighted for me the need for my students to have time for art, creativity, and imagination in their academic experience–even though they are officially adults, even through they are community college students who need a lot of academic skill work–because it brings a unique life to the classroom. At risk of sounding cliche, it literally feeds the soul.
This past winter, I was the lead faculty on the Arts course again and had an adjunct professor come to me with a concern because his Arts in NYC class time conflicted with a class for his doctoral coursework at Teachers College (TC). He asked if I could switch classes with him, and I was hesitant. Switching classes would be a pain for me, but, being a TC alum, I asked him who the class was with and he replied, “Maxine Greene.”
“I will switch classes with you,” I said in less than a skinny minute. “You must study with that woman.”
Regardless of the fact that his class was from 3:00-5:00pm and I would have to race three days/week for six weeks in the cold of winter back to Brooklyn and risk not getting my kids on time at 6:00pm, I switched classes with him because THAT is how amazing Maxine Greene is to learn from. THAT is how important she is to arts in education.
I am so happy I did that now.
Maxine Greene came and spoke to two of my classes while I was at TC and I remember hanging on her every word. What she said rang true to me, both in my experiences teaching and in my experiences as a learner. And she was so old and still dropping knowledge steadily! This spring was her last semester teaching, and she was 96 years old. Read that again: 96 years old. Now that is a passion for what you do–you do it right up until the end because you can’t imagine doing anything else.
As an educator, what a life worth emulating.
Here’s a great quote from her:
“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.”
And here’s another:
“The arts, it has been said, cannot change the world, but they may change human beings who might change the world.”
Here’s a quick video of her and her beliefs:
I watched this video with my kids last night before I put them to bed. Nico (who’s 4 1/2) turned to me and said with the earnestness that only kids can deliver, “I believe in her. I believe in imagination.”
Me, too, little guy. Me, too.