Eminent Educators Studies in Intellectual Influence – BERUBE (CSS)

BERUBE, Maurice R. Eminent Educators Studies in Intellectual Influence. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2000. 176p. Resenha de: Canadian Social Studies, v.37, n.2, 2003.

Based on comments included in both the preface and introductory chapter of this book, it appears that the author of Eminent Educators intends to explore the ways in which selected intellectuals have impacted public school education in the United States. Specifically, the first line of the first chapter reads, This study seeks to flesh out the turning points in American public school education through biographical portraits of the major change agents combined with a policy analysis of their impact (p. 1). While this statement indicates a clear purpose, the book rapidly loses focus and coherence. Although Berube does examine the thought of John Dewey, Howard Gardner, Carol Gilligan, and John Ogbu and does attempt to demonstrate that these individuals did help to shape American education, several major problems undermine the author’s ability to achieve his stated purpose.

Problems emerge immediately. In the first chapter of the book, titled In Search of Leadership, Berube launches a discussion of the notion of leadership, presumably in the effort to clarify the ways in which he considers the individuals he has selected for examination to be leaders. The discussion begins by claiming that there actually is no clear definition of what constitutes leadership (p. 2). While this is not a surprising claim, the author does not provide a direct and clear argument explaining the qualities of leadership that will be used in this study. Rather, the discussion that follows examines such issues as whether leadership can be taught, the history of the idea of leadership (which includes an unsubstantiated claim that the word ‘leader’ does not enter the vocabulary of Europeans until the 14th century), and a nine page diatribe about the popularization of leadership (which includes a overly detailed and ahistorical trashing of ‘how-to-manuals’ and their authors from Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People to Bob Briner’s The Management Methods of Jesus).

While the attempt to elucidate a definition of leadership is obscure, a more serious problem is embedded in this chapter and is repeated throughout the book – that is, the serious lack of support for stated claims. For example, in this first chapter the author claims that leadership must have a moral component. To support this claim he strings together long quotations drawn from the work of James MacGregor Burns and then attempts to support Burns’ position by indicating a list of people (including Tomas J. Sergiovanni, Warren Bennis, Burt Nanus, Howard Gardner, and Stephen Covey) who claim to have been influenced by Burns (p. 5). This approach does not substantiate the claim. Further, the claim that leaders must be moral is seriously challenged when individuals such as Hitler and Stalin are considered. Berube does not ignore the challenge, but again he attempts to support his contention that such people are not leaders by quoting statements made by other writers. Specifically, the author poses the questions Must true leadership transform society for the good as Burns argued? Or are the Hitlers of the world also leaders since they had goals shared by followers? (pp. 5-6). These questions are immediately followed by these statements:

Wills confronted the Hitler problem. Wills’s [sic] ‘aim is to destroy Hitler’ as a leader, although ‘Hitler’s followers shared, at some level, his goals.’ ‘Hitler’s enormities’, he concluded, ‘arouse hatred in me.’ For Wills, then, Hitler is not a true leader.
Similarly, Covey dismissed Hitler as being an authentic leader. According to Covey, Hitler lacked a ‘moral compass’ and ‘violated compass principles.’ In short, Covey agreed with Burns that leadership must be moral (p. 6).

In the judgement of this reader, the simple reiteration of statements made by others does not provide a substantive or convincing argument to support the claim that leadership requires a moral component. Similarly the problems of incoherent narrative style and incoherent organization of arguments plague the rest of the book. An examination of the main chapters demonstrates the difficulty.

Berube devotes two chapters to an examination of John Dewey. Chapter 2, titled ‘John Dewey: American Genius,’ includes a brief discussion of Dewey’s life experiences and a rehashing of some of Dewey’s educational philosophy. Although this chapter does not illuminate any unique ideas about Dewey’s stature as an educational leader and includes some peculiar details with little explanation as to their importance a description of Dewey’s mystical experience, for example this section appears to be generally coherent with the originally stated purpose of the book. However, Chapter 3, titled John Dewey and Abstract Expressionists, has virtually nothing to do with an exploration of the ways in which Dewey impacted American public schooling. Although the author eventually does include a few comments about Dewey’s influence on art education, the chapter focuses on the argument that Dewey’s theories about art had a direct influence on the work of American abstract expressionist painters.

Chapter 4, titled Howard Gardner and the Theory of Multiple Intelligences, is the most coherent section of this book. Again, both Gardner’s life experiences and his intellectual theories are explored and some direct links are made between Gardner’s theories and school reform movements. However, Berube diverges from core arguments to explore Gardner’s interest in the arts and, in particular, Gardner’s theories about spatial intelligence. This section of the chapter has more to do with the author’s effort to create links between the chapter on Dewey and the expressionists, than with the exploration of Gardner’s influence on public schooling. In addition, at the end of this chapter, Berube includes several curious, confusing, ill-written, unembellished and unsubstantiated statements that leave the impression that Gardner may be a neoconservative who supports people with racist tendencies (pp. 87-88).

Based on the title Carol Gilligan and Moral Development, it appears that Chapter 5, co-authored with Clair T. Newbold, is intended to explore the life experiences and theories of feminist scholar Carol Gilligan. Although the authors include a discussion of Gilligan’s discoveries about the inner voices of women, particularly with respect to identity and moral development, the irony of the chapter is that Gilligan’s personal ‘voice’ is subsumed due to the inclusion of several other topics in the chapter. These topics include a generic discussion of feminism and education, an explanation of Lawrence Kohlberg’s theory of moral development, and a discussion of Kohlberg’s relationship with Gilligan. Further, in what seems a rather odd addition to this book, co-author Newbold describes an experiment she conducted to test Gilligan’s hypotheses. Newbold describes how she asked her daughter, her son, and her daughter’s friend the same set of questions used by Gilligan in a study of adolescent girls. Newbold discusses her findings and analysis, concluding: These personal case studies confirmed Carol Gilligan’s theses (p. 115). The addition of this case study not only subsumes Gilligan’s voice and story but is totally out of context considering the stated purpose of the book.

Chapter 6 titled, John Ogbu and the Theory of Caste, is fairly tightly focused on the life and work of cultural anthropologist, John Ogbu. Although there is some diversion into a generic description of the c.1960s civil rights movement and scholars associated with this movement, the incoherence in this chapter comes from the author’s claims that Ogbu’s work has changed the education landscape for minority youth and caused a major paradigm shift in American education (p. 147) while also implying that there was little attention paid by black educators and other scholars to Ogbu’s theory (p. 140). In fact, Berube sends mixed messages about the significance of Ogbu’s work in that it seems he spends as much time exploring critiques of caste theory as he spends exploring Ogbu’s theory and its impact in education.

Ultimately, the lack of coherence in both narrative and argument means that Berube is unable to substantiate claims. As it does not provide well-argued insights into the ways in which the selected intellectuals have influenced education, Eminent Educators has little scholarly value for post-secondary readers and no practical value for classroom teachers.

Lynn Speer Lemisko – University of Saskatchewan. Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

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