Graduate Student Blog


Awakening the imagination, agitating for change: Reflections on the life and work of Maya Angelou & Maxine Green

August 6th, 2014 by


Kristina Brezicha Pennsylvania State University At the end of May, we lost two influential and impassioned voices. As many of you know, Dr. Maya Angelou, a noted author, artist and activist passed away. Did you know that Dr. Maxine Greene, a preeminent educational philosopher, also passed away the same week? Throughout her long career, Dr. Greene examined the interconnections between education, aesthetics, democracy and the moral life. In many ways, these two women’s legacies hold important and intertwining lessons for graduate students in educational leadership. While my original post was going to discuss the importance of the time for reflection, this sad occasion has steered my post towards some reflections on the importance of these two women’s work and the message it holds for educational leaders.

Maxine Greene advocated living a life wide-awake to the world including the myriad of injustices we confront on a daily basis. As she writes, wide-awakeness requires the “conscious endeavor on the part of individuals to keep themselves awake, to think about their condition in the world, to inquire into the forces that appear to dominate them, to interpret the experiences they are having day by day…Only then can they develop the sense of agency required for living a moral life” (Greene, 1978, p. 44). She argued that the modern life allows us to operate with an automaticity that prevents this wide-awakeness. This automaticity breeds complacency and allows for the injustices of modern society to continue unchallenged. Greene, therefore, argued that educators must continuously work to awaken themselves and their students.

Maya Angelou provides an example of a person who lived her life wide-awake. In her work as an author and civil rights advocate, Dr. Angelou challenged the injustices she saw in the world and provided us a vision of another mode of living. Through Angelou’s work as an artist and civil rights activist, she “awaken[ed] us to alternative possibilities of existing, of being human, of relating to others, of being other” (Greene, 1993, p. 214). This awakening and imagination is at the core of moral life for Greene who argued that it should be one of the fundamental purposes of education.

Greene also recognized the importance of courage in living a moral life and educating future generations. In her last interview, Greene spoke of the importance for educators to be courageous. She said “I would tell them to have courage! I would tell them not to get frightened by the possibility that you might get thrown out, and not to worry so much about tenure. Make your voice audible, make sure it’s heard, and don’t conform” (Ignaffo, 2014, What advice section, para. 1). This is a powerful statement particularly for us as young scholars.

Indeed, Greene’s and Angelou’s life and work hold deep implications for us as graduate students in educational leadership. Both women courageously shared their work and dreams of how the world could be otherwise. As educators, we need to do the same. We need both courage and imagination when taking stock of the current educational system. This was clearly illustrated to me at Penn State’s Civil Rights and Education conference this weekend. In presentation after presentation, scholars detailed the injustices of the American educational system but rarely offered solutions to change these problems. While we need to know and name these injustices, it is just as important to then generate possible solutions. These solutions will require both courage and imagination. We need imagination to know that our education system can be otherwise and to envision such an alternative and courage to challenge the status quo and upend a system which is seemingly designed to perpetuate injustices. Both of these women provide us examples of the deep courage, conviction and imagination needed to change our educational system. Therefore this summer, I ask you to think about this: how can our educational system be different and what can we do to make it so?


Greene, M. (1978). Landscapes of Learning (p. 255). New York: Teachers College Press.

Greene, M. (1993). Diversity and Inclusion: Toward a Curriculum for Human Beings. Teachers College Record, 95(2), 211–221.

Ignaffo, T. (2014). Profile of Maxine Greene, Professor Emerita. Arts & Humanities. Retrieved June 08, 2014, from