Maxine Greene with Perry Giuseppe Rizopoulos

Dr. Maxine Greene

Dr. Maxine Greene

Maxine Greene is a professor emeritus and the Founder and Director of the Center for Social Imagination, the Arts and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University. She is a past president of the Philosophy of Education Society, the American Educational Studies Association, and the American Educational Research Association. Also a member of the National Academy of Education and the recipient of nine honorary degrees, Greene has lectured widely at universities and educational associations nationwide. An Educator of the Year at Columbia University and Ohio State University, Dr. Greene has authored six books.

In this conversation with Perry Giuseppe Rizopoulos, a Master’s degree student in the Comparative International Education program at Teachers College, she shares her thoughts on the aesthetic experience, the use of the arts in bilingual education, and why she never wanted to be just like everyone else.

PERRY GIUSEPPE RIZOPOULOS 

Firstly, thank you for allowing me to interview you.

MAXINE GREENE

My pleasure.

PERRY GIUSEPPE RIZOPOULOS

As a native New Yorker, I am curious to know how growing up in New York, when you did, has impacted your scholarship?

MAXINE GREENE

I was particularly fascinated by the library. I thought for a while I had to read every book in the library (laughter). That I wouldn’t be intelligent if I didn’t. I was brought up in Brooklyn, and I wanted always to cross the bridge and walk every street in the city. I never did that, but I wanted to do that. Every little byway. I think a lot of people in Brooklyn felt because they were across the bridge that they had to walk across the bridge to see anything. I think my interest in reading and scholarship came from that. I want to see what’s on the other side.

PERRY GIUSEPPE RIZOPOULOS

So at a young age you had a genuine sense of curiosity, and literature became a way of fulfilling it and bridging the gap you felt physically?

MAXINE GREENE

Yes, exactly.

PERRY GIUSEPPE RIZOPOULOS

Can you please briefly operationalize the aesthetic experience, and then share some formative aesthetic experiences you had as a child.

MAXINE GREENE

"Guernica," by Pablo Picasso, 1937

“Guernica,” by Pablo Picasso, 1937

Of course, the aesthetic experience is the possibility of looking at a work of art and finding that it addresses something in you, that there’s a kind of responding, a tremor. Once you see the painting, it moves you. It is not true of all art, it’s true of some. Then, you have to force yourself to understand the meaning. Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica.” I looked at that and first I didn’t respond to it. First it was a mess. As I watched it, I looked at it, and after a while it became so meaningful. Not just human suffering but for human possibility. I would love to be able to paint like Picasso (laughter). I lived by the Brooklyn Museum, and I remember going from the big wide hall down at the bottom, up two flights, and then to the modern paintings, the Impressionist paintings. I was really hit by that. Not just the landscapes but also the images of individuals. The variety of human faces, that made me wish I could create something like that. I had to give it up, because I am no Raphael or Rembrandt (laughter). Now, when I go to a museum and look at a painting, I look at the way the painter painted the eyes, and they seem to look at you. I think, how could they do that?

PERRY GIUSEPPE RIZOPOULOS

Yes, I agree completely… Does any literature that you read as a child still stand out as influential?

MAXINE GREENE

heidi bookI read, you know, girl’s books. When I look back now, they don’t mean anything, you know? There was a book, Heidi, about a little girl in the mountains with her grandfather, and she was adventurous, I liked that. I didn’t like stories about good little girls who would stay home and help their mothers (laughter). It was alright to help your mother, but I didn’t want that as my life.

PERRY GIUSEPPE RIZOPOULOS

How did your feelings toward those kinds of gender roles play a part in your early years as a philosophy professor?

MAXINE GREENE

There was a feeling of exclusion, and it had an effect on me. It made me more determined. “I don’t care what the hell they say, I’m going to do this” (laughter).

PERRY GIUSEPPE RIZOPOULOS

That’s great. Did you always know you wanted to be an educator?

MAXINE GREENE

No, first, I wanted to be a writer. I never wanted to be a teacher.

PERRY GIUSEPPE RIZOPOULOS

Did you write from an early age?

MAXINE GREENE

Yes, I wanted to write stories that were based on what my father told me. These were stories about wandering and overcoming obstacles. I probably overestimated my father, (laughter) but I wanted to write about people who went beyond what other people expected of them. You know, women weren’t expected to do too much. My father probably thought women should stay home, but he was more encouraging.

PERRY GIUSEPPE RIZOPOULOS

Of your academic efforts?

MAXINE GREENE

Yes

PERRY GIUSEPPE RIZOPOULOS

My dad mockingly calls me Hemingway now.

MAXINE GREENE

(laughter) That may show that he read Hemingway.

PERRY GIUSEPPE RIZOPOULOS

(laughter) So, how did your passion for writing become a passion for teaching?

MAXINE GREENE

I think I must have had teachers here and there that were very inspiring. Teachers who let me think that I could create, a good teacher can do that.

PERRY GIUSEPPE RIZOPOULOS

They empowered you.

MAXINE GREENE

Yes, exactly.

PERRY GIUSEPPE RIZOPOULOS

Being a Philosophy major myself, I have always been curious as to which thinkers influenced you most.

MAXINE GREENE

Dewey, Kierkegaard, (noise coming from construction in the building) Oh shut up, not you.

PERRY GIUSEPPE RIZOPOULOS

(laughter)

MAXINE GREENE

I suppose Rousseau.

PERRY GIUSEPPE RIZOPOULOS

Rousseau is great I’m reading Emile now.

MAXINE GREENE

(nods)

PERRY GIUSEPPE RIZOPOULOS

How did your early years as a professor shape you as a scholar?

MAXINE GREENE

Oh, I don’t know if I’m a scholar. (laughter)

PERRY GIUSEPPE RIZOPOULOS

(laughter) I would say so.

MAXINE GREENE

During my early years, I felt that I always had more to read. I never knew enough, and I would listen to my colleagues, and think oh my God, I’ll never read what they read, and I’ll never know what they know. After a while, I got a little more conscious of what I can do and not, so afraid of people who seem to know it all. One year, one of my colleagues, who was a hot shot, and he always looked at everybody as if they were inferior, including me, I have some pictures of him and me. I am looking up like I am looking into heaven. After a while, I thought, if he can do it, damn it, I can do it (laughter). I just wanted to refuse to lie down in front of him. I had to decide to see myself differently. Have you ever had that feeling?

PERRY GIUSEPPE RIZOPOULOS

Yes, and I feel like what you’re addressing is really relevant to academia now and being a graduate student. I don’t let myself be timid. How do you feel the urge to be timid plays a role in education? You would often talk about bringing thinkers closer, treating them like interlocutors, not busts. How can we do that? I’m hearing this pugilistic urge, which is something I try to bring to my work, where do you see that in modern education?

MAXINE GREENE

(laughter) Pugilistic, I love that term. It’s like Rocky (laughter)

PERRY GIUSEPPE RIZOPOULOS

I see that in your work. You’re constantly going against cultural norms. What is your mentality when you think and write this way?

MAXINE GREENE

I couldn’t stand the idea of being just like everybody else; my neighbors and especially the kind of woman my mother said I should be. The kind of women who don’t show off or don’t speak out loud, they go shopping. I had to get past that, that was the obstacle. My mother said that’s the way young women are, we want you to get married. I resented that. I wanted boyfriends, it wasn’t that I didn’t like boys, I did (laughter). I didn’t want to pretend to be something else. If I had a boyfriend, I wanted to make it very clear that I had my own mind and my own desires and that nobody could take me for granted. Sounds very hot shot. (laughter)

PERRY GIUSEPPE RIZOPOULOS

(Laughter) No, not at all.   I understand not wanting to be normal and taking the risk of being ostracized to have a voice. Do you see yourself as countercultural?

MAXINE GREENE

I hope so (laughter).

PERRY GIUSEPPE RIZOPOULOS

I definitely see you that way.

MAXINE GREENE

Thank you (laughter)

PERRY GIUSEPPE RIZOPOULOS

In contemporary education, how important is it to make space for the aesthetic experience? And, from a practical methodological standpoint, how do you see its implementation?

MAXINE GREENE

Oh dear, I can only make space for it by opening the feelings of the teachers. The teachers have to be awakened, before the school and before the kids. They have to be awake before anyone can feel anything. The teacher has to rebel against the supervision and the demands made by, you know, the people in charge of education, the state. We have to be able to say that a lot of the things demanded of us are hurting children. No matter what they say, that it’s wonderful. We have to say, as a child, see what a child says. I think children, because of the pressure, are really hurt by modern education.

PERRY GIUSEPPE RIZOPOULOS

You’re making reference to the high stakes testing and the Common Core approach?

MAXINE GREENE

Yes.

PERRY GIUSEPPE RIZOPOULOS

In your opinion, how do these circumstances make it more difficult to create spaces for abstraction and for the aesthetic experience?

MAXINE GREENE

They absolutely make it more difficult.

PERRY GIUSEPPE RIZOPOULOS

Space is only left for the arts, not created. Whenever budgets get cut, the first thing to go is the art and the music. That’s dangerous and the importance of these disciplines is something you address in your work. Even the social sciences are viewed as “soft” subjects.

MAXINE GREENE

Everything needs to be empirical. You can’t experiment with human consciousness. There are people who think you can, but I can’t experiment with your opinions about art. For example, I can’t say, if I take him to the third floor to the Renaissance art, I’ll experiment and ask will he understand that like he understands the Impressionist art?

PERRY GIUSEPPE RIZOPOULOS

It’s too personal.

MAXINE GREENE

Exactly.

PERRY GIUSEPPE RIZOPOULOS

An understanding I garnered from your work was that art grants you the ability to craft a personal relationship with ideas.

MAXINE GREENE

Very good, that’s wonderful.

PERRY GIUSEPPE RIZOPOULOS

Paulo Freire

Paulo Freire

Thank you (laughter). I really got to know Paulo Freire in your course last semester, and one of the most evocative ideas I encountered with his work was the notion of pedagogy being representative of the students who comprise the community. What are your thoughts on how this idea is embodied, or not embodied, in our education system today?

MAXINE GREENE

I don’t think it exists in our society. We can only make it happen. If Paulo Freire got together with the teachers and the parents and explained what humanization is… (laughter)

PERRY GIUSEPPE RIZOPOULOS

Well, you and I have been working on a possible improvement, and I would like to talk about that for a bit.

MAXINE GREENE

Of course.

PERRY GIUSEPPE RIZOPOULOS

The second piece I wrote this semester was an amalgamation of what I learned in your course about the aesthetic experience and what I’m currently learning about Bilingual Education in a course with Estrella Olivares-Orellana. The work argues for the inclusion of the Bilingual Aesthetic Experience which I define as the use of works of art, mainly paintings, which through the inclusion of male and female painters who are representative of the students’ backgrounds and the use of more than one language, empower all learners both cognitively and socially. What are your thoughts on this concept?

MAXINE GREENE

I believe that bilingual education and the aesthetic experience must be linked. Bilingual learning involves imagination. When looking at art or learning another language, students must go beyond what they already know or what they are comfortable with.

PERRY GIUSEPPE RIZOPOULOS

In your opinion, how can this new kind of aesthetic experience lead to empowerment?

MAXINE GREENE

It opens people to possibilities that never existed. It opens doors and the more open doors there are, the more power we have. Doors can’t be closed, they can’t only be open to the elite and the wealthy. We have to fight our way to open doors. It’s the same thing with bilingual education, it creates opportunity. It is important for society as a whole.

PERRY GIUSEPPE RIZOPOULOS

Salvador Dali

Salvador Dali

One painter we talk about a lot, and one that was featured in the piece, is Salvador Dali. I suggest that the obstacles faced by the emergent bilingual student are a Dalinian dichotomy, as they are constantly forced to mitigate different understandings and expressions of reality, like the images from Dali’s works. Dali is the quintessential divergent thinker and emergent bilingual students thrive when given a chance to think divergently. Additionally, being a Spanish painter, he is a relatable figure for the large population of Spanish speaking emergent bilingual students. This was my understanding, what is your take on this?

MAXINE GREENE

Before reading your piece, I never thought of it that way. I think it’s true. The ordinary student who is deprived of that kind of opening or opportunity… Paulo (Freire) thinks that children are confined to one reality, and we do not open the door to new perspectives. Using these kinds of paintings has to have an impact on students. Young people are not blind or deaf, they are more open than adults. They can relate to artists and it won’t be marginalizing, it’ll be the opposite.

PERRY GIUSEPPE RIZOPOULOS

Does being in New York today give you an opportunity to create new perspectives?

MAXINE GREENE

Yes, I love it here, it excites me. There are so many openings for new experiences and so many voices that you wouldn’t hear if you were in the country or something. The idea that so many people have lived here without fighting. So many countries are destroyed, because they can’t get along with different cultures.

PERRY GIUSEPPE RIZOPOULOS

If you like, I want to end by getting your thoughts on a quote of yours I found to be particularly impactful.

MAXINE GREENE

Of course. I hope it’s good (laughter).

PERRY GIUSEPPE RIZOPOULOS

(laughter) It is. The quote is, “The time may have come again for the painting of murals.” Do you believe that time is now and if not, how can we make that time now?

MAXINE GREENE

I think it is the time. A mural includes many alternative things. It doesn’t focus on one tree or on one person, it allows for many trees and many faces, there’s room.

PERRY GIUSEPPE RIZOPOULOS

So for you, the idea of a mural embodies opportunity?

PERRY GIUSEPPE RIZOPOULOS

In the face of what we discussed earlier with the Common Core and excessive testing, how can we create space for mural making?

MAXINE GREENE

Mural making, oh boy (laughter). We have to ask people to share their perspectives on representation and on painting and finally understand how we are cheated if we are not open to these possibilities. There is a terrible deception that the Common Core imposes on us. Do you think that young people understand the deception in the Common Core, do they object to the testing, the kids?

PERRY GIUSEPPE RIZOPOULOS

Of course, it’s oppressive and unnecessarily pressured and competitive. It’s a claustrophobic teaching and learning environment.

MAXINE GREENE

Think about the population that will be affected as the years go on if it is not changed. It’s frightening when people making decisions who don’t understand teaching.

PERRY GIUSEPPE RIZOPOULOS

Agreed.

MAXINE GREENE

Do you paint?

PERRY GIUSEPPE RIZOPOULOS

No, unfortunately I don’t. (laughter)

MAXINE GREENE

You should learn.

Perry Giuseppe Rizopoulos

Perry Giuseppe Rizopoulos

Perry Giuseppe Rizopoulos is a second semester Master’s Degree student in the Comparative International Education program with a content concentration in Philosophy.  He recently graduated from Manhattan College, where he majored in Philosophy and minored in Spanish. He also graduated as a member of Phi Beta Kappa, and the valedictorian of the 2013 class. His interests include social justice, multicultural education, immigration studies, community development, the bilingual aesthetic experience and philosophies of education.  His work currently reflects the importance of integrating artwork in the classroom as a means of empowering emergent bilingual students. 

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