The Dialectic Of Freedom
(Teachers College Press, $14.95)
The German socialist Rosa Luxemburg once wrote to a friend: "See to it that you remain a Mensch. . . .Being a Mensch means happily throwing one's life 'on fate's great scale' if necessary, but, at the same time, enjoying every bright day and every beautiful cloud." I think of Luxemburg writing that line from a prison during World War I, and my thoughts turn to Maxine Greene. In her many articles and books, from Teacher as Stranger to Releasing the Imagination, but particularly in The Dialectic of Freedom, Greene reminds me to engage the world, to see this or that new film, to rush out to an important exhibit, to live life fully, and she challenges me to throw myself into the struggles for peace, justice, and freedom. Maxine Greene is a mensch, and she invites her readers-her students-to join her.
In Dialectic, published in 1988, Greene displays the range of issues that animate her active and creative mind: the role of the arts, the power of social imagination, the question of justice, and the problem of freedom. Drawing on film, literature, and theory as well as everyday encounters, she demonstrates how each of us can "do philosophy," how we can engage the world in an ongoing exercise of thinking about what we're doing.
Through her writing and teaching, Greene carries the progressivism of John Dewey and W.E.B. Du Bois, Hannah Arendt, and Paulo Freire forward into the 21st century. She embodies progressivism as hard work performed in the mud and muck of daily life. There is nothing weak or easy or softly romantic in her progressivism. It is, rather, a muscular and troubled progressivism, rooted in the hard realities of the times we live in, edged with the challenges we face. It is political struggle, intellectual conflict, social tension, and more. She offers progressivism with a punch.
Like Dewey, Greene is a philosopher committed to freedom and intelligence, democracy and imagination. She challenges us to imagine a world that could be otherwise and, in that gesture, to consider what life demands of us at each and every step along the way. Like Du Bois, she seeks freedom for all and values the power and meaning new points of view bring to the collective search for fulfillment.
Like Arendt, Greene reminds us that freedom requires a refusal to accede mindlessly to the given, a reaching for new possibilities. And like Freire, Greene embodies an education ideal that is deeply political, that fights the "silences" and the dehumanizing objectification of people.
Greene urges us to become more intentional and more aware in our teaching and in our lives, to confront issues as they emerge. She insists that we keep our eyes wide open to the students before us, certainly, but also to the contexts of their lives, to the wider world we share, to the indecent and the unacceptable. She insists that we link our consciousness to our conduct-that as we know, so must we act.
Without sounding quaint or orthodox, Greene upholds the best in the progressive agenda. She resists the soft progressivism of sloppy practice and shoddy standards. She rebels against progressivism as a fad or an easy niceness without the pain and difficulty of authentic engagement with real obstacles. And she is acutely aware that it is not just the Christian Right or the Republican impeachment managers who are entangled in dogma; she also decries the convention, the easy beliefs, of comfortable progressives unwilling to engage the challenges of today.
In the end, Greene reminds us that education is about freedom, that it's a powerful project of liberation. This beautifully written book shows us a tough progressive at work. Maxine Greene loves life in all its messiness, complexity, and richness. Her words resonate with hope.
Vol. 11, Issue 7, Page 60Published in Print: April 1, 2000, as The Dialectic Of Freedom