Imagining future: the public school and possibilities

Bird Droppings June 5, 2017

Imagining future: the public school and possibilities

Reading an article from before the dawn of numerous federal bills that altered the face of education, and addressing the idea of moving between predictable and possible, literally defined my own journey through public education the past sixteen years. (Greene, 2000) As I read Maxine Greene’s article I recalled an idea I have used in my own writing. Greene used and referenced often art as the medium to pull students, engage or encourage students to communicate, and in communicating build community which encourages learning. (Greene, 2000) In my own research over the years Elliot Eisner in his book, The Educational Imagination, states, “Education is not the same as schooling, nor is it the same as learning.” (Eisner, 1979) Maxine Greene emphasizes education as involving imagination built through communication within the context of community.

Trying to clearly define education is not easy as each individual perceives a differing opinion of what is learning and or education. In a professional development session we were told to always frame the lesson with an essential question. Greene in her article promotes the idea of art as essential to the process of education. Eisner as well sees the context as definitive of what a student has learned. (Eisner, 1979)  Greene refers to John Dewey and his basis of experience as the actual way that we learn. Context is that delivery of what was given in the content. Can we provide context for our content, and even more so how do we immerse students in learning?

I have used and discussed for years the idea of education being a fluid entity. My first writing for Georgia Southern nearly eleven years ago gave me my reference, Mary Aswell Doll who wrote that the science room should be fluid and moving. (Doll, 2000) Education does not have to be static and constrained. (Greene, 2000) Trying to confine my thinking to just Greene’s article after living as an educator during the period of time she is addressing is almost like writing an autobiography. Referencing education as fluid allows and provides for imagination, it is not limited, and we can expand it from simply pouring into to being absorbed or spilling.

Greene addresses including the students in the learning and curriculum conversation. (Greene, 2000) Using the fluid analogy could imply immersing the student in the subject. I think that’s the key, being immersed in the educational process and this could be a weakness in Greene’s article. How do we apply that to our current educational setting? Over the years my own thinking has focused on education as pouring into, using the analogy of a liter bottle. A confined space, a specific entity, all the same this is the basis for many educators that of treating all children as not equal but the same. Greene raises many questions about limiting education to our traditional limited western view especially in light of the great changes occurring in cultural, ethnic, religious, and even language in populations of students being served in public school. (Greene, 2000)

Theoretically a liter bottle holds a liter so in effect can contain only a liter of information. I came to this conclusion while testing special needs students and another teacher made a remark “they can only learn so much”. With numerous federal and state imposed regulations and factors even if the plastic is elastic and can expand some we are still pouring the material into the bottle, now limited by specific standards and curriculum to be taught. We are literally dictating what fluid goes in and or what does not.

Maxine Greene is influenced by John Dewey’s democratic classroom, what if we immerse the bottle in the fluid (learning) and allow the student to self-fill the bottle. John Dewey had ideas along this line a hundred years ago with the concept of a democratic class room of active student involvement in their own learning. (Dewey, 1938) How to do this within the constraints of modern educational processes? I wonder if we could do this in today’s focus on teaching to the test mentality. Maxine uses a line from Bernard Barber, “Democracy is not a natural form of association; it is an extraordinary and rare contrivance of cultivated imagination. Democracy needs the arts.” (Barber, 1992) This is reminiscent of Dewey and that education is the key to a real democracy in effect learning by doing. (Dewey, 1938)

Piedmont college began in 2004 a venture within Rabun County Georgia with the Foxfire program. As I went into my Educational Specialist I was immersed in the Foxfire approach to teaching. In the years since I have read John Dewey’s Experience and Education numerous times, including Maxine Greene’s synopsis at the back of the current printing. In the columns of the pages are my notes relating to experience and learning how context and content are connected and intertwined. Every time I read Dewey again I added more.  As I read Maxine’s article and read about what she projects for the future of education I kept being drawn back to my John Dewey experiences and of my own experiences with Foxfire. I often wondered as I read John Dewey in terms of the comparison of needing education to be the basis for democracy. Maxine Greene draws a comparison from Dewey with his emphasis on experience as the basis for learning. (Greene, 2000) Maxine Greene’s idea of needing to build community in order to facilitate learning and education is a powerful concept. She looks towards education of the future and technology possibly drawing away from real learning by taking away the dialogue and communication so crucial to imagination. (Greene, 2000) For it is through direct communication and dialogue that we develop imagination, and it is through reflection on the imagination that community is built and that children learn.

In our rush to create schools and to structure curriculum we continue to borrow from John D Rockefeller and the industrial revolution. (Dewey, 1938) There should be thirty desks in a row and the curriculum all handed to the kids on precise sheets and checklists. Everything should be sanitized and standardized. All should be uniform and precise, so it will be efficient as a means of getting information to the students. In teaching in this manner we are overlooking and we forget to allow these students to imagine. I have observed kindergarten classes and older grades where the object was more coloring between the lines versus free hand. We lose the Dewey ideas of allowing these kids to think independently and to do, to use their hands and manipulate, to build and truly give context to the content. (Dewey, 1938)

I often wonder as I look back on my own education at the teachers that are more in line with what Maxine Green has exemplified in her article. I cannot help but think that instead of building efficiency and standardization we need to be allowing students to build on their own learning. Sometimes in our efforts to make the most, the fastest or quickest especially in terms of education we lose critical and essential pieces of the puzzle such as imagination, dialogue, communication, and community.

I have been an advocate for building in context ever since I got back into teaching in 2001. I have used context with all of my classes and built upon the idea of students having a real life reason for what it is they are doing giving the content context. In my own classroom I use live animals; in a biology class students compare an amphibian to a reptile. I will use a tiger salamander in one tank and leopard gecko in the other, the students observe the animals. Learning becomes what are the differences and what are the similarities and I guarantee you that any student that comes through my biology class ten years from now can tell you what a reptile or amphibian is.

I am watching and listening to the wind blow, looking at flowers as I am walking around, speaking into my phone, dictating my paper and it is amazing how much more we see and understand when we are in touch with reality. I wonder how much more we can build and develop and create and imagine when we are in touch with the context. When I walk into school and see students stuck within the confines of a two by three desk and situated in a thirty by thirty room listening to content poured into them I wonder are they learning? How do we change this future? I think this is what Maxine was addressing. How do we create a classroom where imagination becomes the forefront? How do we build a classroom where it is not just a homogenized, one idea, one concept, and making everyone be the same instead of combining ideas and creating more of a tossed salad of learning?

Our society as it is now is changing rapidly and many of the changes are happening on a daily basis. Sadly the current political structure is one that is almost driving us back to the old days back to the days when the being happy picture and everyone exactly the same was the norm. A picture today came across my computer screen today of Black Kettle laying on the ground frozen at Wounded Knee. In my thinking is this what we are doing in education, we are going back to this tragedy of Manifest Destiny of only one way, the American way. Maxine Greene was being prophetic in her article with concern about the impact of technology. I am seriously concerned that we are talking and we are looking backwards not forwards, we are definitely not looking at the future.

Far too many educators want to put a little cubicle around a computer and a student in front of computer. We want to lose that one on one communication and want the students to simply sit there and do the content. We are losing empathy as Maxine points out, students no longer have to address and communicate with others. (Greene, 2000) Education should be about applying, learning and about doing. Learning should be about experiencing and understanding what it is that you are being taught. I have been a fan of Maxine Green’s for many years I have read many of her articles books,  I have used her quotes and used her passages in many papers that have been written over the years. What a powerful woman she was. As I read the article I found very few ideas I did not think were positive. We should be emphasizing the arts and experiences. Students should be communicating and building a community of learners.

On a side note: One of my dear friends sat at her feet literally for several years at Columbia University.  My friend was working on her PhD and every Sunday Maxine would gather a group of students and just sit and talk. There would be no specific topic just a discussion, a communication amongst PhD students. All of her students were wanting to be teachers.  I think her emphasis on communication is what defined Maxine. It was about communication as in her Sunday morning group sitting there discussing, passing ideas around, talking, imagining, addressing teaching, and talking about what was happening in the world at that time.



Barber, B. (1992). An Aristocracy of everyone . New York: Hill and Wang.

Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and Education . West Lafeyette : Kappa Delta Ki.

Doll, M. A. (2000). Like Letters in Running Water: A Mythopoetics of Curriculum (Studies in Curriculum Theory). Mahweh: Lawnrence Erlbaum Associates.

Eisner, E. (1979). The Educational Imagination . Colombus: Merrill Prentice Hall .

Greene, M. (2000). Imaging futures: the public school and possibility. Journal of Curricuum studies, 267-280.


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