TC Media Center from the Office of External Affairs

Section Navigation

Maxine Greene: The Arts and Shaping a Social Vision

The typical education conference doesn't include a theatrical demonstration, a poetry reading and a hip-hop performance. But then, Maxine Greene's day-long conference on Imagination and Social Action was never intended to be typical.

Greene, William F. Russell Professor Emeritus in the Foundations of Education, said the December 6 conference was an opportunity to explore the way that imagination can help shape a social vision and bring about change.

"I believe that it is imagination that lights the slow fuse of possibility," she said. "It was Herbert Marcuse who reminded us that the arts do not change society, but they could change the human beings who might change society."

For example, she said: "There are many books, art works, and films that appeal to our sense of indignation. Consider the films Glory or Amistad or Schindler's List.

"Did works like these affect us? What followed from it?" she asked.

She said that John Dewey considered imagination important. In The Public and Its Problems, Dewey wrote: "The function of art has always been to break through the crust of conventionalized and routine consciousness. Artists have always been the real purveyors of the news, for it is not the outward happening in itself which is new, but the kindling by it of emotion, perception and appreciation."

The day-long conference featured a film and a discussion about Paulo Freire, a Brazilian educator and the author of Pedagogy of the Oppressed. In that work, Freire said that education is the path to liberation. Guest speakers included artists and scholars who Greene warmly introduced as her "friends." Among them were Professor Judith Burton, chair of the Department of Arts and Humanities and Rene V. Arcilla, Associate Professor of Philosophy and Education.

Among the most entertaining components of the conference, however, were the workshops on theater, poetry and hip-hop where conference participants got a chance to see imaginative artists at work. Hector Calderon, humanities facilitator at El Puente Academy for Peace & Justice, explained why he teaches a course on hip-hop. El Puente is a public high school in Brooklyn that literally marches to a different drummer. "We look at education from a very different orientation," he said. "Disciplines--like math and language--were developed to meet community needs."

Hip-hop or rap meets a community need, he said. "Hip-hop is where they live, the music they listen to, their traditions, the language they speak, the way they interact in the streets." So along with courses in history, language, mathematics and science, students at El Puente can take a course in Rhythm and Poetry--R.A.P.

Most of the early rap was about having fun, he said. Now social realities are also discussed, he explained. Furthermore, poetic devises, such as alliteration and similes, are part of rap. The students were already using the devices--they just didn't know what they were called, he said. "Students should be the subject of an education--not the object of education," he said. "To do that, you have to engage people."

previous page