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Managing to Be Different

reviewed by John P. Price - July 25, 2006

coverTitle: Managing to Be Different
Author(s): Ron Scapp
Publisher: Taylor & Francis, London
ISBN: 0415948630, Pages: 132, Year: 2006
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The purpose of Ron Scapp’s Managing to be Different is to answer the question, “How might we come to see differently the ways that power relations in academia unfold, the way they are maintained, [and] the way they can be challenged…?”  (p. 9) Scapp’s work is an attempt to awaken educational administrators to what he sees as the appropriate role of education in society: to be a driving force for individual freedom.  

The title takes on a double meaning.  Scapp perceives that many administrators frequently behave overwhelmingly conservatively, motivated by personal interest and self-preservation.    He hopes to provide a framework for educational managers to behave differently, while simultaneously describing tools that leaders need in order to manage and maintain this “differentness.”  The powerful forces enabling the status quo and working against change include a culture of apathy, the perception of dissent as a lack of patriotism, and the increasing corporate culture in university affairs.  Scapp calls educational leaders to action against these forces.  Unfortunately, because the book is so flawed, heeding his call is impossible.

Beginning with his personal narrative of educational administration, Scapp starts with the tone of a preface that he never moves beyond.   Throughout Managing to be Different, Scapp continues to raise important questions and ideas, but leaves unfulfilled the hope that they will be explained satisfactorily.  This is the first major shortcoming of the book.  A great deal of knowledge seems to be assumed on the part of the reader and is not explained or developed by Scapp.  On just two pages, 82 and 83, Scapp uses six short phrases placed in quotes that lead the reader to assume that he is referring to a very specific idea.  He uses “state of power relations,” “the systems of equivalence,” “ marginal agents,” “persistent critique,” “aggregative apparatus,” and “academic competition,” yet none of these ideas are explained.  Scapp fails to explain what he is alluding to with these words.  Perhaps he assumes that the reader has an in-depth understanding of these obtuse phrases.  However, by using such jargon so frequently, and by failing to provide a specific definition for any of them, I was left out of the greater meaning of the text.  Scapp did not bring me along with him when considering the large ideas addressed in the text.  This technique makes the book utterly impenetrable.

However, if I had possession of greater knowledge, Scapp would not have added anything new to my understanding of “marginal agents” or “aggregative apparatus.”  This problem occurs throughout the book.  Scapp quotes heavily from other authors who have written about the role of education in society and the calling of educators to be liberators.  His favorite authors from the family of critical pedagogy include Parker Palmer, Henry Giroux, Paulo Freire, and bell hooks.  Scapp’s redundant pattern throughout the book is to bring up an important idea, and then quote someone else at length to explain it for him.  He will mention the “restrictive binary dynamic,” and then go into an extensive quote from Palmer.  Or, he will rail against the dominant corporate culture in academia and quote from Giroux.  Scapp repeatedly defers to others in order to define and explain key ideas.  He weaves the quotes into his own writing well, but certainly left me wondering what new ideas he is personally contributing to the dialogue about progressive leadership.  He seems to be admitting throughout the book that he has nothing creative to add, hence the constant references and long quotations.  This practice has piqued my interest in Palmer and Giroux.  I certainly need to read more of their work, but I think I deserve more out of Scapp’s writing than a summer reading list.

The final problem with Scapp’s work is that he fails to provide any specifics with respect to his call for transformative management in education.  In a book that is meant to be a guide for administrators at all levels of leadership, very few specific ideas are discussed.  Scapp puts forth his purpose when he writes: “We need a strategy for dismantling those structures [of oppression], and we need to work with others to enact this change” (p. 106).  The only strategy discussed by Scapp is dialogue; and, while he provides several examples of dialogue, he does not provide any concrete ideas for improving one’s use of dialogue to improve administrative practice.  I would juxtapose Managing to be Different with Peter Senge’s book on educational leadership, Schools That Learn.  Senge also discusses the power of open dialogue, but unlike Scapp, Senge’s text provides specific instructions, appropriate settings, specific questions and methodology.  Beginning or reforming administrators could follow the path set by Senge, but not the one set by Scapp, because there are no bread crumbs that allow us to follow his thinking.   What characteristics of critical dialogue are likely to impact relationships and institutional functioning?  In what circumstances is critical dialogue likely to have little impact at all?  Once again, Scapp’s entire book reads like a preface; it raises ideas and poses questions, setting the stage for potent answers.  Yet, he never delivers on the promise.

A striking passage in the middle of Scapp’s book reads, “Those of you who have read this far are probably asking, ‘What does any of this have to do with educational leadership…?’” (p. 102).  I found myself asking this question throughout the book, and wondering to myself, “When is he going to get himself around to giving some answers to these questions?”  Perhaps as a journal, Scapp’s book succeeds, since he spends a great deal of time summarizing personal experiences and literature that have made an impact upon him.  The book should not be scrapped, but certainly retooled with greater attention to the perspective of the reader, and the reader’s desire for new ideas.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: July 25, 2006
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 12614, Date Accessed: 5/27/2022 6:49:14 PM

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About the Author
  • John Price
    Audubon Elementary School, Chicago, IL
    E-mail Author
    JOHN PRICE is the Principal of the Audubon Elementary School in Chicago. His most recent publication is "Contested Territory, Parents and Teachers Wrestle for Power in an Urban Neighborhood School Located Within a Gentrifying Community", published in the Journal of Cases in Educational Leadership, 8(3), 2005.
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