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In Memoriam: Teachers College’s Maxine Greene from Inside the Academy

by Noelle Paufler & Audrey Amrein-Beardsley - June 03, 2014

Dr. Maxine Greene, distinguished philosopher, scholar, and professor emerita at Teachers College, Columbia University, passed away recently on May 29, 2014 at the age of 96. As a self-proclaimed existentialist, Greene served as an advocate for aesthetic education in American public schools for well more than half a century and remained committed to expanding creativity among children by encouraging them to imagine possibilities both within and beyond the classroom. Despite her unparalleled contributions to the field of education, Greene maintained that she was “always becoming.” Her tireless dedication as a teacher and mentor continues to inspire others who seek to improve education for all children. Featured on Inside the Academy (http://insidetheacademy.asu.edu/maxine-greene; see also a three minute video capturing interview highlights here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R8hp8GD8-p4) for her distinguished contributions to the philosophy of education, Dr. Greene will be remembered as an exemplary scholar, inspirational educator, and visionary in educational research and practice.

I'm not the kind of teacher who wants to impose an authority on people. I suppose I'll never stop trying to wake people up to ask questions and have passion about how they look at the world.

—Maxine Greene, 2010, Inside the Academy Interview

Dr. Maxine Greene, distinguished philosopher and professor emerita at Teachers College, Columbia University, passed away recently at the age of 96. Greene, a visionary in aesthetic education for well over half a century, challenged educators to awaken children to the possibilities that can be unleashed through imagination and creativity. Encouraging those around her to envision “how things might be, not how they are,” Greene imagined and worked tirelessly to fashion a world in which public schools are prepared to welcome and teach all children, encouraging them to ask difficult questions and fully participate as citizens in a democratic society. She advocated for the inclusion of literary art education as a means rather than an end through which the young can imagine and ultimately create a narrative all their own.

A past president of the Philosophy of Education Society and the American Educational Studies Association, Greene devoted her early studies to literature and the philosophy of education, receiving degrees from Barnard College (1938) and New York University (1949, 1955). Having also taught English and philosophy courses, Greene shared her passion for literature as the Editor of Teachers College Record, Founder and Director of the Lincoln Center Institute for the Arts in Education, and later as a “Philosopher in Residence.” Greene, a distinguished member of the faculty at Teachers College since 1965, actively served the American Educational Research Association as the first female president in more than 30 years. For her immeasurable contributions as an advocate for aesthetic education in America’s public schools, Greene received numerous awards and honors including election to the National Academy of Education and nine honorary degrees. In recognition of her dedication to her students as both a teacher and mentor, she was also named Educator of the Year at Columbia University and Ohio State University. Greene, widely recognized for scholarly excellence in her published works, authored six books including: The Public School and the Private Vision: A Search for America in Education and Literature (1965/2007), Teacher as Stranger: Educational Philosophy in the Modern Age (1973), The Dialectic of Freedom (1988), and Variations on a Blue Guitar: The Lincoln Center Institute Lectures on Aesthetic Education (2001).

Born and raised with her parents and twin siblings in Brooklyn, New York, Greene discovered a love of literature and writing at an early age—she had planned to write her first novel before reaching the age of 20. Even after completing her graduate studies, Greene began pursuing additional philosophy courses due in part to convenient scheduling that allowed her to both attend class and transport her young daughter to school each day. Her fascination with existentialism at a time when other philosophers ascribed to analytic and logical philosophies paralleled her keen interest in literature as an art form. Expressing her belief in the critical role of schools in communicating to children the excitement of imagination, Greene modeled her own commitment to lifelong learning through “wide-awakeness.” Evidencing her appreciation for aesthetics and passion as a self-proclaimed existentialist, Greene insisted to her family and friends that she was “always becoming” even though her scholarly contributions profoundly shaped the field of education throughout a career spanning more than six decades.

Challenging policy makers, educators, and the public to support literary art curricula in public education, Greene traveled throughout the United States and Europe as a featured speaker and panelist at numerous academic and cultural institutions. Renowned for her early work, The Public School and the Private Vision: A Search for America in Education and Literature (1965/2007), Greene offered a thoughtful and complex analysis of educational history in America from the 1830s to the 1960s. She illustrated the intrinsic relationship between literature and education, chronicling the formation and development of common schools through the works of authentic, exemplary American writers. Capturing the essence of public schooling as an extension of a uniquely American identity and natural conduit of common experiences and heritage as a means through which to reduce social class differences, Greene affirmed the foundational values of public education and sought to ensure that a plurality of voices are both acknowledged and celebrated.

Respected for her deep understanding of and commitment to “wide-awakeness” as a means of transcendence to a moral life, Greene reflected upon her own journey as a teacher and scholar through an essay compilation entitled Landscapes of Learning (1978). Acknowledging the importance of one’s personal history or landscape as a vantage point from which to perceive and interact with the surrounding world, Greene called upon educators to explore their own identities as moral beings before assuming responsibility for educating their students. She encouraged teachers to embrace “wide-awakeness” by considering the possibilities for transformation both within and beyond the classroom. Greene’s desire to awaken others to recognize their own autonomy and capacity as human agents defined her life-purpose and continues to inspire others.

Also refashioning classrooms as public spaces of dialogue and possibility within which students engage one another in meaningful ways, Greene reexamined the need to encourage and express multiple perspectives in The Dialectic of Freedom (1988). Greene eloquently argued that without an awareness of “realizable possibilities,” the young “have no hope of achieving freedom” beyond that which prompts compliance through a lack of consciousness (p. 134). Again, Greene critiqued the lack of human agency presumptive of passive, meaningless freedom and championed the urgent need for transformation within public schools as the bedrock of democratic communities, especially in the context of inequitable social conditions.

In Releasing the Imagination: Essays on Education, the Arts, and Social Change (1995), Greene traced her own life’s narrative, reexamining her belief in transformation through literary experiences, public education as a space for possibilities, and commitment to plurality through the creation of communities (Pinar, 1998). Insisting that such a transformation hinges on imagination, she encouraged educators to recognize and seize opportunities to actively engage students through aesthetic experiences while reflecting upon and maintaining their presence in the classroom as a stranger who sees everything anew (Greene, 1973). Steadfastly believing in the value of aesthetic education as “a process of enabling persons to become different” through perception, sensation, and experience (Greene, 2001, p. 5), she motivated generations of teachers to create space in their classrooms for literature, poetry, and various other forms of art.

Greene continued to fulfill her commitment to “wide-awakeness” as a teacher, scholar, and contemporary voice for those who seek meaningful education reform. As the gracious host of Sunday Salons in her home for the past several decades, Greene also espoused a wider appreciation for the arts, namely literature, music, and theater, to a new audience. Greene, having inspired the creation of a small public high school devoted to arts education, also actively engaged others through aesthetic experiences, teaching workshops and delivering lectures at the Lincoln Center Institute.

In recognition of Greene’s profound dedication and unparalleled achievement as an educational researcher and scholar, Teachers College Trustees created the Maxine Greene Chair for Distinguished Contributions to Education in 2004. Through her sustained efforts to increase and enhance learning opportunities for children, Greene impassioned educators and students alike to “speak, write, and resist in their own voices” (Maxine Greene Center for Aesthetic Education, 2012). And although Greene had planned to compose a novel at an early age, many would agree that she fulfilled her dream by writing in her own voice all of her life.

To view a brief, three-minute overview of the Inside the Academy interview with Maxine Greene, please see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R8hp8GD8-p4. To view the complete Inside the Academy interview; her photo gallery; and reflections from family and friends, please see: http://insidetheacademy.asu.edu/maxine-greene (Amrein-Beardsley, 2010)


The personal and professional journey of Dr. Greene, an exemplary scholar in the field of education, has been digitally archived through Inside the Academy, a free online repository sponsored by Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University. Inside the Academy features enlightening and often entertaining interviews with America’s most distinguished and influential educational researchers, most of whom are members of the National Academy of Education. Through each honoree’s personal webpage, viewers can explore customized photo gallery collections, read candid reflections from family and friends, and access supplementary materials for further reading. Intended to serve as a resource to students, teachers, and the general public, Inside the Academy offers viewers a unique opportunity to meet Dr. Greene and share in her passion for education. Please join us to get a glimpse into the life behind one of few existential visionaries in educational research and policy: Dr. Maxine Greene.


Amrein-Beardsley, A. (2010, November 11). Inside the Academy video interviews with Dr. Maxine Greene [Video files]. Retrieved from http://insidetheacademy.asu.edu/maxine-greene

Greene, M. (1965/2007). Public schools and private vision: A search for America in education and literature. New York, NY: New Press.

Greene, M. (1973). Teacher as stranger: Educational philosophy for the modern age. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Greene, M. (1978). Landscapes of learning. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Greene, M. (1988). The dialectic of freedom. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Greene, M. (1995). Releasing the imagination: Essays on education, the arts, and social change. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Greene, M. (2001). Variations on a blue guitar: The Lincoln Center Institute lectures on aesthetic education. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Maxine Greene Center for Aesthetic Education. (2012). In MaxineGreene.org. Retrieved from http://maxinegreene.org/index.html

Pinar, W. F. (Ed.). (1998). The passionate mind of Maxine Greene: ‘I am…not yet.’ Bristol, PA: Falmer Press.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: June 03, 2014
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17555, Date Accessed: 1/21/2022 9:15:15 PM

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    About the Author
    • Noelle Paufler
      Arizona State University
      E-mail Author
      NOELLE A. PAUFLER is a PhD candidate in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University. Her research interests include research methods and educational policy and more specifically, the impact of value-added measures and their related teacher evaluation systems on educators, their professional practices, and the educational system as a whole.
    • Audrey Amrein-Beardsley
      Arizona State University
      E-mail Author
      AUDREY AMREIN-BEARDSLEY is an associate professor in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University. Her research interests include educational policy, research methods, and, more specifically, high-stakes tests and value-added measurements and systems. She is also the creator and host of a show titled Inside the Academy during which she interviews some of the top educational researchers in the academy. For more information, please see http://insidetheacademy.asu.edu. Two of her recent and related publications include “Working with Error and Uncertainty to Increase Measurement Validity,” which she co-authored with Joshua H. Barnett (Educational Assessment, Evaluation and Accountability, 2012), and “Methodological Concerns about the Education Value-Added Assessment System (EVAAS),” (Educational Researcher, 2008, volume 37, no. 2).
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