An Artistic Vision of Education Takes Root in a N.Y. School

"People should be shocked into awareness that makes them ask, 'Why?'," says Columbia University professor Maxine Greene, 87, an innovative force behind the founding of Manhattan's High School for Arts, Imagination and Inquiry. (By Kathy Willens -- Associated Press)
By Verena Dobnik
Associated Press
Friday, July 8, 2005

NEW YORK -- Leaning against the television in Maxine Greene's Fifth Avenue apartment is a guitar, its body shimmering with decorative blue feathers.

It was a gift from the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, where the 87-year-old Greene is a "guru" whose ideas on how people learn and grow have been used to train teachers in about 600 schools across the United States, and in South Africa, Mexico and Japan.

"Imagination is the answer," says the Columbia University professor. "The idea is to get kids to imagine how things could be otherwise than they are, to reach beyond where they are toward the 'not yet,' toward the 'might be.' "

One of Greene's books is titled "Variations on a Blue Guitar," from the "blue guitar" in a Wallace Stevens poem that represents the creative energy of each human mind.

The Brooklyn-born daughter of a jeweler, Greene remains a force in education. She insists that students be driven not only by facts and grades, but by passions in literature, music, films, paintings -- and today's news. That includes the horrors seen on television, from terrorism to urban crime to the Iraq war.

In September, Greene's groundbreaking ideas will come alive in a new Manhattan public school called the High School for Arts, Imagination and Inquiry, where the standard subjects for a diploma will be taught with a twist.

Stephen Noonan, the school's principal, said one science teacher at first "didn't believe that contact with great music, dance, painting or any art could support his work with students in, say, a physics lab. But what he found was that studying a dance made students observe motion, light, movement, speed -- and their observations and notes in science improved, they became clearer."

The school is being financed by the city and grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Soros Foundation and the Carnegie Foundation through New Visions for Public Schools, a not-for-profit intermediary. It'll be housed in what is now the Martin Luther King Jr. High School, right behind Lincoln Center. It sits on what was once the turf of the urban gangs that inspired the hit musical "West Side Story."

The new school will open with 108 ninth-graders, growing each year by about that many to eventually form a full high school. Greene helped plan the curriculum, and she'll be dropping by classes to participate.

At Lincoln Center's Institute for the Arts in Education, where her job officially is "philosopher in residence," Greene has for 25 years helped create summer seminars attended by thousands of teachers who now run institute-inspired classes at their own schools. In South Africa, the latest foreign addition to the institute's roster, local tribal cultures merge with the approach of the American educator.

Some of the institute-linked schools are visited by live Lincoln Center performances.

The impact of Greene's ideas is clearest in action, among children.

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