Or, we can heed Maxine Greene’s admonition to foster in each other a social imagination – the imagination to envision a more just society, a creative public spirit, and a collective sense of urgency to make democracy work for everyone. For Greene, an esteemed professor at Teachers College and a tireless advocate for educating through the creative arts, a social imagination was not idle musing or wishing what might have been. An informed social imagination leads to action for justice.
I invited readers to imagine along with me what it would mean if we had a Secretary of Education for America’s children: a cabinet member who understands the gravity of being the voice of the children –all our children – at the highest levels of government, and who acts accordingly. Now we need to imagine what a Secretary of Education would do in her first months in office if she understood, cared about, and used her power to advocate for the public’s schools.
Again, cue up John Lennon’s “Imagine” or maybe “What a WonderfulWorld.” And let’s imagine together…..
Imagine a Secretary of Education who understands that an investment in America’s infrastructure absolutely must include making sure that every public school, in every neighborhood, is built as an engaging learning environment and an asset to its community. That secretary would call in the Secretary of Labor to remind him that building good schools, and renovating older ones, is a great for job creation – for the workers immediately employed and for economies that that powerful learning will generate in the schools they build. Our imagined Secretary would enlist the Secretary of Health and Human Services and colleagues NIH and the CDC and EPA for their expertise in assuring the building materials are built with children’s health in mind, safety from toxic chemicals, with clean air and water a given. She’d of course call on the expertise of the Department of Energy and the professional organizations of school architects for specs on energy efficiency and renewable systems throughout, to model for the children a reverence for nature’s resources as well as to reduce expenses.
Imagine a Secretary of Education who tells the Congress and the President and infrastructure designers to get ready to build, but not until she has consulted with teachers and parents about what they want their school buildings to be. Lively learning centers, yes. Abundantly equipped, yes – even in the poorest neighborhoods, the most remote rural counties. And inviting to all – a place where teachers want to teach, children are excited to spend their days, parents and neighbors know they are welcome to visit and volunteer. Well acquainted with the amenities in private schools, the Secretary will already know that teachers need offices and conference rooms for study and lesson prep and collaborating across disciplines; teachers won’t have to ask for those basics. But teachers will want to weigh in on things this particular Secretary of Education may not think of – a community clinic with mental health services as well as basic family medicine, spaces for parents to meet, a community liaison who knows well the families’ languages, needs, assets and network of referral services throughout the community.
Imagine a Secretary of Education who understands that learning involves all the senses. She might take a literal walk in the park to confer with the National Park Service, the US Forest Service, the Secretary of the Interior as well as the leaders of Nature Conservancy and various urban park systems to ask how they could work together to make sure every American child has places to play outside. She would have read Last Child in the Woods on the plane in from Michigan and arrived fired up to get America’s kids outdoors, exploring, discovering, skinning their knees and – the radical part – getting to play!
I’m beginning to like this imagined Secretary of Education. Though I doubt she’ll materialize on her own. It will take a village – a very large and energized village and its teachers – to “raise” her. In a future post, we’ll imagine what she might learn from America’s teachers – if she did decide to become the Secretary of Education for all of America’s children and all of the public’s schools.
Add your imaginings to mind in the Comments section here: