February 2019: Question For Discussion

Maxine Greene in her book Releasing the Imagination (Jossey-Bass, 1995) says that “the main point of education (in the context of a lived life) is to enable a human being to become increasingly mindful with regard to his or her lived situation – and its untapped possibilities” (p.182). For this purpose, she says that we need to release the imagination in the person, particularly “poetic” use of imagination and “social” imagination (pp.4-5). The “poetic” imagination means, according to her, “to bring into being the “as if” worlds” created by artists and to “be in some manner a participant in artists’ worlds reaching far back and ahead of time” (p.4). In short, informed encounters with the works of art enables a person “a startling defamiliarization of the ordinary” (p.4). This is closely connected with the “social” imagination, which means “the capacity to invent visions of what should be and what it might be in our deficient society, on the streets where we live, in our schools” (p.5). Referring to Jean-Paul Sartre, she says, “we acknowledge the harshness of situations only when we have in mind another state of affairs in which things would be better” (p.5).

How does Maxine Greene’s work contribute to your understanding of imagination?

Please join the conversation below.

Keiichi Takaya

9 replies
  1. Tim Waddington
    Tim Waddington says:

    A lovely prompt, Keiichi. Thank you

    Maxine Greene is one of my favourite writers on education in that she challenges us to take up ideas, live with them in encounter, and take them as an expression of freedom into the world.

    In “Teacher as Stranger” she relays the ideas of one of her students who said something like the following: “You can’t run away from a broadened awareness. If you try, it will follow you and haunt your conscience…you run the risk of being less than the person you might otherwise be.” While this is only an approximate quote, the idea is clear: we learn and read and confront and encounter. We dance and play with ideas, pulling on them until they snap back at us. In that encounter we are called to enact our understanding in-the-world. We need not be dark and dreary, as with Sartre but might feel quite bouyant and emancipated, more fully enabled to live and be in-the-world in meaningful and intention-filled ways. The elements of choice and action are key.

    To me, this is an expression (and likely interface) of poetic and social imagination.

  2. Keiichi
    Keiichi says:

    Thanks Tim,

    Although I haven’t read the particular work, “Teacher as Stranger,” the theme sounds familiar to me, from what I read in “Releasing the Imagination.”

    Since the idea of using the arts as a way to expand students’ horizons was almost totally absent from my experience of schooling (in Japan), reading Maxine’s book was quite an eye-opener to me.

    I particularly appreciate her emphasizing that schooling should invite students to the pleasure of poems, stories, paintings, plays, etc., and at the same time, the pleasurableness that the encounters with artistic works provide them does not mean that the educational use of the arts be confined to the break from “the cognitively rigorous, the analytical, the rational, and the serious” (Releasing the Imagination, p.27).

  3. Fred Harwood
    Fred Harwood says:

    “Social Imagination” I find reflected in many of my writings. As a math/science educator, poetry was a surprise. I had employed it at one point when some brain-based teaching said, “To learn something deeply, create your notes in a genre that is unfamiliar.” I hadn’t liked the rule-based meter and rhyme of my schooling so I tried making notes in poetry. As I wrote, the crystallizations were powerful learning tools that led to clarity. As I continued to craft poems, even during action research and note taking, I discovered elements of pre-cognitive awareness that poems released.
    A Special Treasure Brought to Light

    There are moments in life that change you;
    Moments in time and in place and in relationship
    where you are transformed and your life . . . lives
    are forever different!

    How many moments like these are missed though?
    Missed or passed by because we are unaware,
    Unlistening . . . unstill. [end poem fragment]

    As Sfard’s writing (1998) on Two Metaphors opened my eyes to participatory learning, I reflected back and saw the power of it in my own life. Maxine Greene’s Wide-Awareness was a big part of these reflections. As I analyze so many of my writings since, I see community, interconnectedness, traces of contact rippling out from interactions, collective intelligence, and so many metaphors and analogies that my imagination (and others’ imagination) created to make meaning happen. Even the reading of another’s work is different from the writing. Imaginative empathy allows for us to view and consider from new eyes and perspective.
    As Maxine wrote: “Without the ability to think about yourself, to reflect on your life, there’s really no awareness, no consciousness. Consciousness doesn’t come automatically; it comes through being alive, awake, curious, and often furious.” <– Wide-Awareness.

    "At the very least, participatory involvement with the many forms of art can enable us to see more in our experience, to hear more on normally unheard frequencies, to become conscious of what daily routines have obscured, what habit and convention have suppressed." (p. 123, Releasing the Imagination)

    Imagination can cause wide-awakeness in our Stops (Appelbaum) to lead to a deeper appreciation of these moments and their ripples in time. It also is a joy when playful-work that you do leads to Stop moments for others.

    To highlight these points, I wrote this to conclude an SFU M.Ed. paper on our cohorts collective journey. I hope the formatting holds.

    We otter dance together,
    Not because it is over,
    but because it is begun well.
    Dance we shall on the edge of chaos,
    feeling the joy of sea foam bubbles in our wake,
    fully living and seeing all ways with wonder,
    laughing with hope, with joy, learning.
    Heart, mind and soul balanced,
    living still, still loving,
    living poetically,
    co-building drift wood structures
    in co-emergent spaces pregnant with possibilities.
    Dancing, though the change wind blows.
    Wandering, wondering & pondering.
    but I don’t know. . .
    that is why they call it re-search

    Fred Harwood

  4. Keiichi
    Keiichi says:

    As for me, the part of Maxine’s words, “Consciousness doesn’t come automatically; it comes through being alive, awake, curious, and often furious,” seems particularly important. It is, however, not easy to make myself or my students be aware of what she calls hidden possibilities. It has not occurred to me to “create your notes in a genre that is unfamiliar,” but this may be something I will give a try.

    I did not know Sfard’s two metaphors and haven’t read Appelbaum’s The Stop; but I will definitely read them very soon.

    Thanks Fred.

  5. Kieran Egan
    Kieran Egan says:

    I confess, despite a few meetings and discussions, in print and in person, with Maxine Greene I could never get clear about her conception of imagination, except that it posited the arts as crucial to its development, and tied it into a more harmonious kind of social life, etc. I suppose that social life always looked to me a distinctive left-wing New York pattern that was familiar from the various radical folk I used to know in that city in the late 60s and early 70s. I suppose I felt a lack of concern about the creativity and imagination and rationality that were developed in, say, the sciences; too often it seemed that scientific creativity only worked if one had some kind of arts activity to kick it into life. I’m not sure this is true, and suggests a more limited sense of the imagination than I’d like to accept. Maxine Greene’s enthusiasm and great communicative powers, and generally popular liberal attitudes, created for her a large and enthusiastic following–clearly, that is, she was saying things that a lot of people believed and wanted to hear promoted with the rhetorical flair she undoubtedly had. I know that suggesting doubts about the message of such a generous and accomplished person doesn’t gain any prizes, or indeed matter if the doubter is so much less generous and accomplished than she was. But I sometimes used to fear that a degree of her popularity turned on the general vagueness of her conception of imagination while allying it with a set of popular general social, political, and aesthetic preferences. None of this is to question what seem truisms about the value of the arts (and science one should add) to enlarging horizons, as Keiichi put it. One can see why Dr. Greene’s ideas might seem immensely liberating to people caught up in conventional and dull forms of schooling.

  6. Keiichi
    Keiichi says:

    I am more interested in engaging students’ imaginations in such regular subjects as math and social studies rather than in the arts. (And that’s why I came to SFU to work with Kieran many years ago.) Firstly because I think that the way these subjects are taught requires imagination more urgently. Secondly because appreciation of artistic works is not in my expertise; if one of my students come to my office and shows me a poetic rendition of his analysis of, say, injustice in Japan’s immigration policies, I do not know how to evaluate it. I might be able to judge factual part of his writing, but I do not know how to properly appreciate the art form. And I suspect, it’s not just me; appreciating art properly is not as easy as it seems.

    But to Maxine Greene’s credit, she is aware, in my view than many other art-oriented writers, that it requires training to appreciate artistic works. She says that “informed engagements” with works of art is the key, and the releasing of imagination via encounters with art won’t happen automatically or naturally. Also, “The point is that simply being in the presence of art forms is not sufficient to occasion an aesthetic experience or to change a life” (Releasing the Imagination, p.125).

  7. Keiichi
    Keiichi says:

    Additionally, I think… I suspect that the concept’s, I mean imagination’s, appeal lies to some extent in its vagueness. The modern ideal of rationality suggests that everything in this world, including the human mind, is ultimately understandable, and we tend to think that, though there are certain things we do not know yet, we understand and are in control of the part of the world as far as science allows us to know (and that science will reveal more and more). On the other hand, the idea of imagination seems to work to offset such presumption. It symbolizes what Isaiah Berlin calls the unfathomable depth of the human mind and the world, the idea that there are things, or aspects of the world that always escape our attempts to grasp. As such, imagination’s conceptual vagueness, its evasiveness, might be part of its raison d’être.

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