Saturday, November 12, 2005

29] On Thinking Like Maxine Greene

ON THINKING LIKE MAXINE by Azly Rahman “… since a Maxine Greene has existed, more should be created” were the words which were crafted in my mind as I was walking home after listening to the existential phenomenologist’s narrative of the Self, curriculum, schooling, and what the possibilities in education should be. Maxine Greene’s idea of the mind as “verb” rather than a “noun” captured my imagination in analyzing what mass deception can potentially do to creative young minds schooled in a capitalist, totalitarian, or a mixture-of-both state. “A mind is a terrible thing to waste” would be an appropriate juxtapository statement to Professor Greene’s maxim. It frames the question of the role of schooling as a mass babysitting state-sponsored enterprise which pegs thinking and human beings, mould them, and invent their realities into believing that the modern state is a moralistic and democratic institution to be abidingly served in the name of “national interest”. I think much of what is said by Professor Greene has given me the added fuel to go more miles ahead in exploring the terrain of the more radical humanistic philosophies such as radical humanism and creative anarchism; the latter a much misunderstood perspective of the Self in the relation to the State. Several points made by Professor Greene have helped me link existentialism with the meaning of teaching. First, the idea that the “self doesn’t exist but created in the course of action” and second, “individuals become persons because of other persons and culture”. These two can be interpreted by the notion of the evolving creative self in dialogue with others and with experience to create a community of learners closer to humanity than to forms of ideological domination and mental constructs which limit the meaning of freedom. I find these transcendentalizingly refreshing notions which are Deweyian, Vygotskian, and Freirian in essence. The notion of dialogue in Greene’s narrative is similar to Dewey’s idea of “democracy to be lived for”, to Vygotsky’s “learning as a social cognitive enterprise based upon collaboration culturally meaningful”, and Freire’s “conscientization and the subjectivizing of the objective so that the power of the word can be realized”. Greene talked about life as the activity of “naming things and after doing so change them”. “To name the world and to change it”, as she puts it. I would extend Greene’s notion of existential phenomenology with the idea that the Self is in “trialogue”, i.e. in constant dialogue with the Surreal, and the Supreme Spirit; that the “I” in us powers Technology in the presence of the Inner Conscience so that what the I creates (technological tools, ideology, institutions, and ideas for social change) is imbued with a deep sense of moral conviction and reflectivity which constitute ethical behavior. The Creative Self is hence existing within Creativity in the Moral domain. What is the use of one being schooled if in the long run is agenda is to be engineered as beings who would create and propagate structures of oppression such as militarism, structural violence, state-sponsored terrorism, engines of mass destruction, and instruments of the perpetuation of Space Age imperialism? I believe Greene’s idea of teaching for understanding, much popularized by Howard Gardner these days, points to such a notion of developing the trialogical self through a curriculum which brings meaning and creates authenticity in learning and promotes inclusionary practice. Her idea of freedom as also mentioned in her Dialectic of Freedom must begin with the developing of the holistic self through the arts, for, human beings themselves are a metaphor of the humanism governing life and living which is in constant threat of technologism we too, ironically, has created. We live perhaps in an Orwellian society wherein realities are invented and packaged out of an industrialized culture and schooling has become a powerful instrument of social reproduction rationalized in the language of utilitarianism, technological determinism and liberalism. With apologies to Albert Camus, “one must imagine our human race happy, as we roll the rock up the hill of mass deception” after having been condemned by the God of Economic Productivity or the Goddess of Surplus and Plenty! In the words of Roger Waters of the British rock group Pink Floyd, “… all and all we’re just another brick in the wall”. But however captivating Greene’s idea of human freedom within the context of existentialism is, she left me with some perplexing questions: Is freedom merely a means to and end? If it is a process, from what should one be free from? Is death the end of freedom or the beginning of one? We live in a world of wants and needs and of constructs – race, ethnicity, ideology, biological, political etc. – and what is the condition like to be free whilst at the same time still “be in this world”? We are biologically constructed and by virtue of such a construction, can our mind be a “verb” without being conscious of the desires of the flesh we are encapsulated in? i.e. the “noun” we live in? and by claiming one to be an existential phenomenologist, can one also claim to be ideologically free from domination? I reflect upon a “goodbye phrase” written be my advisor at Ohio, George Wood who cautioned me of becoming an ideologue (Marxist humanist presumably) when he wrote: (to the effect) “be closer to the people and to the self rather that to ideals for Marxism, existentialism, and anarchism are themselves constructs; they condition one to become an ideologue” For ten years hence, I have reflected upon these words and attempt to capture the essence of what education and teaching means within world wherein the only permanent thing is change! To recap this reflective notes, I would say that Maxine Greene has provided us with an example of an intellectual commitment for dialogue within the world we call education, within the context of contending paradigms of the what schooling should mean and how curriculum should become. This dialogue must be continued so that we may then, as teachers become closer to becoming a “verb” than continue to exist as “nouns” unaware of what “adjectives” are used to describe us or how we use them to describe ourselves.

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AZLY RAHMAN is an educator, academic, international columnist, and author of nine books on Malaysia and Global Affairs. He grew up in Johor Bahru, Malaysia and holds a Columbia University doctorate in international education development and Master’s degrees in six areas: education, international affairs, peace studies communication, fiction and non-fiction writing. Twitter @azlyrahman.