"Philosopher Queen" Alumna Dies
We were deeply saddened to learn of the death of Maxine Meyer Greene ’34 on May 29, 2014. The influential, much-published Dr. Greene was 96. In her forty-plus years as a teacher at Columbia University’s Teachers College, Dr. Greene influenced generations of educators (including several of Berkeley Carroll's own: Head of School Bob Vitalo and Arts Director Peter Holsberg). She was a tireless champion of interdisciplinary education, bilingual learning, and the importance of the arts. “The aesthetic experience is the possibility of looking at a work of art and finding that it addresses something in you, that there’s a kind of responding, a tremor,” she once said. “Then, you have to force yourself to understand the meaning.” Born in Brooklyn on December 23, 1917, Dr. Greene spent thirteen years at a Berkeley Institute that has long since vanished; girls arrived at school in limousines, stood whenever teachers entered the room, and were punished if they were caught wearing ankle socks. Despite being a superb student and secretary-treasurer of her senior class, she felt isolated from Berkeley’s social life and had a nagging sense that there was something bigger out there. “We lived in Brooklyn, so I would sometimes think, If I could go over the bridge, I would be in the real world,” she said. Dr. Greene’s solution was to become a ravenous culture buff, and to enroll at Barnard College despite the reservations of her mother. “I couldn’t stand the idea of being just like everybody else; my neighbors and especially the kind of woman my mother said I should be,” she told Esteem Journal recently. “The kind of women who don’t show off or don’t speak out loud, they go shopping. I had to get past that, that was the obstacle. My mother said that’s the way young women are, we want you to get married. I resented that.” Dr. Greene graduated from Barnard in 1938 and earned her master's and Ph D from New York University. (She was raising her daughter at the time, and wrote in her NYU application, "I would like to attend your program but I can only be in class from 10 to 2.") In 1965, Dr. Greene joined the philosophy department of Columbia University’s Teachers College. She was the first female president of the American Educational Research Association, and served as Philosopher-in-Residence at the Lincoln Center Institute for the Arts in Education from 1976 to 2012. Until recently, she continued to advise individual students and host literary salons in her Upper East Side home. When we visited Dr. Greene in October 2013, the conversation straddled cultural eras. Then 95, she eloquently held forth on everything from Tolstoy to Colum McCann, from Al Jolson to Lee Daniels’ The Butler. “There’s a review in today's Times about a new book that's out, The Luminaries,” she said, “and I can't wait to read that. I don’t want to be behind the times. I teach literature, and I think that if you help people engage with literature, it changes them. It gives them a sense of alternative possibilities. I relish that.” Dr. Greene's ambition to redefine herself through self-education hadn't abated. At one point she said, “You know, you look back and you think, what the hell did I do with my life?” When we pointed out her slew of accomplishments—six books, ten honorary degrees, Phi Delta Kappa’s Educator of the Year Award—she replied, “Yeah. Not enough. I wish I knew more European people; I wish I had more varied connections. I wanted to understand other worlds, so I wouldn’t be trapped in a kind of insular world. I always wanted that."