Saturday, December 9, 2017

Expanding Education Leadership Innovation and Imagination by Valuing Art and Literature

I am going say something direct to those think the arts, literature, and even philosophy are frivolous and "impractical" for 21st century schools. We need these as educational leaders more than ever. 

This is because the only "truths" about leading schools are not going to be found in books located on the bookstore racks of the latest business management and business leadership, but somehow we unquestionably believe that the answers to our problems are found and can be resolved by the discourses of business management and business leadership.

Education leaders in the past 25 or 30 years have appropriated the latest book titles of authors like John Maxwell, Stephen Covey, and John Kotter (anyone else notice that these are "white" males as I do?) as if these business leaders offer the "gospel truth" regarding how to best lead schools or any organization. Schools are still struggling to find the golden fleece of reform while those peddling these "business discourses of leadership" have continued to fleece school systems out of uncounted sums of money. About the only thing the field of education leadership has to show for it is the improved bottom lines for those offering books, conferences, and official training sessions to administrators and school leaders who are genuinely searching for answers to the problems they are facing in the schools and districts where they work.

In reading Hofstadter, I stumbled across an idea and thought that I say has a lot of wisdom about being an intellectual leader of a school.

In his book, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, Hofstadter (1962) was writing about the limitations of thinking when we get caught up with the idea of limiting our thoughts just to the practical. He describes a physicist who discounted the invention of the telephone as a "bore." But Hofstadter points out that physicist James Clark Maxwell was limiting his imagination because he was only using "physicist-thinking" or physicist mind, and that was limiting his "vistas of imagination." "For him," Hofstadter writes, "thinking as a physicist, the new instrument (the telephone) offered no possibilities for play."

When we set limits on our thinking and imagining by requiring that it be "practical,""relevant," or "data-based" we destroy the playfulness of possibility. We restrict our own "vistas of imagination" and perhaps miss being truly creative and innovative. Fruitful and innovative ideas are found beyond the edges of the limitations that shackle thinking. The answers to 21st century problems to education may lie elsewhere.

Perhaps we as school leaders need to think like poets, like novelists, like artists, like sculptors, and even life musicians, in other words, become "intellectual leaders" instead of dismissing such as "impractical" or "fluff." History is full of inventive minds who worked beyond the margins of the acceptable, For example, Leonardo Da Vinci, considered by some to be the symbolic embodiment of innovation, had an enormous horizon of imagination, and the result was inventions in both art and science that did not exist before.

As educational leaders, the first step to really addressing the problems of our times might not always be checking the latest "scientific research." The answers to our current problems in education could lie in Shakespeare, Mozart, or even Rembrandt. Limiting our "vistas of imagination" to that which fits the scientific method and the education sciences, means our imagination for the possibilities of education are shackled. So, as education leaders, go see a Shakespearean play, listen to a Mendelssohn concerto, or read a Thomas Wolfe novel. We can't really be innovative and truly creative leaders and problem-solvers unless we're willing to break free from the limits of practicality and "science" and expand the "vistas of our imaginations."

Hofstadter, R. (1962). Anti-intellectualism in American life. New York, NY: Vintage Books.