Journal of Educational Controversy


Thursday, November 13, 2008

From Poetry to Praxis—Even in Public Schools

A POST FROM AUTHOR, MAXINE GREENE, Teachers College, Columbia University

From Poetry to Praxis -- Even in Public Schools

That amazing Tuesday night not too long ago showed us a variety of human responses—all triumphant, but diverse and different. We were not seeing a mere crowd (massive as it was) but looking at-or looking with—and feeling our hearts go out to individuals. The young, shouting and waving their arms, resembled a rock concert audience, caught up in rhythms, in communal delight. The older people—John Lewis, Ophra Winfrey, Jesse Jackson, the hundreds whose names we could not know—were caught up in their memories. They were memories of marches, dogs, police clubs, fire hoses, beatings, moments of civil disobedience and the sound of "I have a dream." The poetry of the moment, the sense of possibility, even in a Birmingham jail. Dr. King said that he might not be with them when they reached the top of the mountain with its view of freedom beyond the gathering clouds and the deaths and suffering. There was the death of Dr. King, and the song that kept sounding; "Deep in our hearts we are not afraid; we shall overcome some day."

How little has been taught in most schoolrooms. How seldom has the very word "overcome" been heard? Teachers and their students may know the words, but the throbbing meanings are too often lost. Few have been freed to feel the histories embedded in those words or to consider what they have been called upon to do.

Too few have been awakened enough to think about playing a part in the "community in the making" Dewey called "democracy." I refuse to attribute this neglect to any sort of determinism, although I am aware of the corporate interests, the "buy out" deceptions, the stiffening "power elite." There are a range of contingencies, many of them dehumanizing. There are cultures of silence, "savage inequalities." President-elect Obama spoke eloquently of change and left its direction and particulars for us to define. "Yes, we can---" This is surely a responsibility of educators, those committed to enabling the young, through dialogue, through shared action, to choose themselves as persons, as members, as people with a sense of agency with a sense of new beginnings. "Becoming different," as Dewey said, "becoming human," Freire said, urging learners to name their worlds, to engage in reflective praxis—to transform, to change.

Editor: Many of you will remember our journal's very first prologue, "From Jagged Landscapes to Possibilities," that marked the inaugural issue of our journal in 2006. The article was written by Maxine Greene, who was the inspiration for this journal. We are pleased to announce to our readers that our upcoming winter 2009 issue will be dedicated to Maxine's life and work. The theme for the issue is: "Art, Social Imagination and Democratic Education."

From our first editorial:

"As my mentor and teacher at Columbia University, Maxine taught me to confront the complexities and contradictions of life with all our human capacities. Not only reason and rational inquiry but imagination, poetry, humane impulses, empathy, and the courage to choose and act in a context of uncertainty were all important in keeping our ideals and humanity alive. As the authors for this journal tackle individual controversies and dilemmas in future issues, Maxine gives us a larger framework within which to see the meaning of our work and writings. How do we live a life in a world of uncertainty, ambiguity and contradictions? What life are we preparing the young to live? How do we help the young to live a life of agency in a world of uncertainty? How do we help them to confront the inevitable controversies that life in a pluralistic, democratic society will present without falling into despair, apathy, or nihilism, or alternatively, clinging to a comfortable but illusionary certainty? Perhaps, in some small way, our journal will provide a forum for examining the complexities of teaching, learning, and becoming in the modern world."
Lorraine Kasprisin


Spencer said...

Very beautiful Maxine. I feel proud to be able to tell my children about November 5th.

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