Maxine Greene, Megan McDermott Lecture
What a pleasure to attend such an inspiring event! A lot was discussed by the panelists in a short while. In addition, there were young poets displaying their unique talents to the room. In freely expressing themselves, by creating their own verse, having their own rhythm, and meter, these poets embodied the kickoff’s clear message: students that tune in to their own unique frequencies and inner feelings, and then share these perceptions, allow for others to build on and or find their own set of beliefs, and enable them to make sense of their world (paraphrasing Dr. Greene).
The lecture had a magnificent impact on my thought processes in the days to follow. I found myself writing poetry the next day while on my lunch break: a freeing and cleansing exercise, in and of itself. However, while I have always felt that way about creative writing in general, I will admit, in my many conversations with friends, family, students and colleagues, I seem to be in the minority. Perhaps I could never adequately articulate why the arts are so important, most notably in the mental and spiritual sense. This is where Dr. Greene comes in, and why I feel so blessed to have been in attendance. She helps put into words what all poets feel. That there is no such thing as good or bad poetry (that all of it is good) as long as it comes from the heart. That poetry is a medium with the capacity to hold feeling and emphasis. That poetic words go beyond didactic meaning. That poetry is an aesthetic response to the outside world that can overcome aloofness and pacificity and allow for tangible change through the communal voice of individuals seeking to better and improve the externality of our existence.
In the pedagogical sense, the lecture opened my senses up to, yet again (pfffff), the question we, as educators ask ourselves over and over again: How do we bring out the voices of our students? Leave it to a room of poets to sweep everyone up off their feet feeling elated, everyone exiting the lecture on cloud nine, but no one with any clear direction as a means to sustaining that high. This was the one thing I found the lecture to be lacking in: specificity. However, in thinking about it more, that is kind of the message, and also where preemptive education enters the classroom. Maxine Greene says she “welcomes ambiguity,” and that she “hates fixed anwers.” One of the questions asked in response was, “How do we teach that to students, when the school system only wants to test us?” There is no clear distinct answer to this question in my opinion. If we are asking our students to find themselves, we as teachers need to do the same, and do it quick, before students get used to responding in a way that is strictly what they think we want to hear.
I go back to the original message of the lecture: that by tuning in to our unique frequencies we allow for others to do the same. In the practical sense, we as teachers can be ourselves, first and foremost. Also, we can design lessons that focus more on upfront individual, student interpretation of the coursework and text, before honing in on conventional or accepted beliefs surrounding an idea or theme. This paves the way for assessment, more in terms of reflection and analysis, rather than relying strictly on rote and recall. There is a critical connection for students and teachers at every turn, readily accessible, assessment checkpoints for teachers, built-in to this formulaic approach, as students are allowed to first develop their sense of perception, and then hold that up to the canonical interpretation and either challenge, agree, or meet somewhere in between. You truly can allow students to learn on their own; as Megan McDermott said, it is our primary duty as educators “to create space for children with a vision to do THEIR best work,” and also believe they will arrive where they need to be in the end, to pass our tests, but also end up at a place of individual understanding, and come to make sense of what these exams and rubrics really signify, rather than having their entire scholastic existence revolve around what they have been told by teachers that come to fear the test. That is preemptive education: doing something to make a change for the better, before it is too late.