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Educational Leadership for Ethics and Social Justice: Views from the Social Sciences

reviewed by Brian R. Beabout & Cherie Haydel-Goins - August 01, 2014

coverTitle: Educational Leadership for Ethics and Social Justice: Views from the Social Sciences
Author(s): Anthony H. Normore & Jeffrey S. Brooks (Eds)
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1623965357, Pages: 234, Year: 1623965357
Search for book at Amazon.com

In a 2011 conference hosted at Marquette University, Howard Fuller made an insightful comment about the modern accountability-focused school reform movement. To an audience of elected officials and educational leaders, he said:

There’s a difference between saying you got to end poverty before you can improve schools and saying ending poverty is a critical factor in our overall effort to improve schools . . . You can’t support stuff that says, I’m all for the kids in schools, but I’m going to take away health care, I’m going to take away jobs, I’m going to take away housing, I’m going to take away every single thing those kids need—but I’m with you (Borsuk, 2011, np).

As part of an exchange with equally hard-charging former Louisiana school superintendent Paul Pastorek, and persistently insightful educational journalist Sarah Carr, he identified a key question about modern school reforms: is it possible to diminish poverty and inequality via a schools-alone strategy, or do schools have a role in identifying and attacking the non-school problems that contribute to educational and economic disparities?

This is certainly not the first time (nor the last) that such questions have been raised (Counts, 1932; Noguera, 2011), but it is a question that forms a consistent refrain in the new edited volume by Anthony Normore and Jeffrey Brooks entitled Educational Leadership for Ethics and Social Justice: Views from the Social Sciences (Normore and Brooks, 2014). As the twelfth book in Information Age Publishing’s Educational Leadership for Social Justice series, the editors cast a wide net to further our understandings of social justice issues for school leaders from a variety of the social sciences. Normore and Brooks gathered ten chapters with diverse perspectives on social justice, society and schooling. Some feel rather familiar to social-justice oriented scholars, such as the politics of educational leadership (Chapter One by Diem and Carpenter), Anthropological and sociological understandings (Chapter Six by Rodriguez-Kiino and Peterson and Chapter Nine by Berends), and the role of public policy in understanding/combating educational inequality (Chapter Five by Seigel-Hawley). Less familiar, but no less vital, topics include positive psychology (Chapter Two by Yager-Elorriaga and McWhirter), knowledge economics (Chapter Seven by Ilon and Lee), and community violence (Chapter Ten by Limperopulos). This mix of familiar and unfamiliar, while sure to present all readers with new ideas, is part of the purpose of the book. In the editors’ introduction we learn of their intention to further the study of leadership for social justice by “taking a step backward in order to take several forward” (Normore and Brooks, 2014, p. xiv). They propose that social justice thought and research should take many forms: a disciplinary-specific, multidisciplinary, or even interdisciplinary approach will unearth new connections and help educational leaders minimize the pernicious inequality that characterizes American society.

In Chapter One, Diem and Carpenter put forth the essential idea that social justice-oriented educational leaders must take on a politically active persona, rather than simply be managers of buildings, or even student learning. Their socially-just leader is not a narrowly defined middle manager in a large public education bureaucracy, regardless of how their role is drawn up and conceived. Instead, such leaders are authentic problem solvers in the communities they serve, seeking both within the school and within the larger community, barriers to the healthy development of children. We are reminded of the characterization provided by Khalifa (2012) of principal as community leader. This re-casting of the role of the educational leader is deceptively radical, as it requires a political role for public employees and demands broad participation in public decisions. Both ideas are hardly commonplace in modern America.

Similarly, Seigel-Hawley (Chapter Five), identifies the ability to swim upstream against unhelpful public policies as an essential skill for educational leaders seeking to forward a social justice agenda. In her useful overview of the role of public policy in school reform, she documents the gains made in terms of access and outcomes during the equity focused reforms of the 1960s and 1970s, while lamenting increased racial achievement gaps at the onset of the standards-based reforms in the 1980’s.  While not an argument against standards per se, she argues that in drawing our attention away from racial and socioeconomic segregation in schools, we have ceased to build excellent, diverse school communities and train the leaders who can sustain them. A particular strength of this chapter are the concrete recommendations for those responsible for pre-service leader preparation, including: multidisciplinary coursework, reflection on the positionality of the leader in the social strata of the school community, and fostering a taste for diversity among future leaders.

One of the weaknesses of the book is a general lack of editorial voice. The individual chapters, wisely collected from an extremely diverse set of disciplinary perspectives, don’t speak to each other in a way that might provide signposts for the reader. Without a concluding chapter or editorial comments along the way, the reader has a lot of work to do. While this promotes the type of reflection and meaning-making required for the development of critically conscious leaders, it also makes it likely that some important lessons contained here will be missed by some readers.

As scholars most interested in the preparation of socially-just school leaders, there is certainly a contribution in that regard. As Furman (2012) argues, we are wise to view socially-just leadership as praxis (a process of reflection and action) and the preparation of such leaders involving the same process. This view does not lend itself to canned curricula. While the intent of the editors was not to describe existing programs, or divulge a curriculum for creating one, the depth and breadth of the foundations of these chapters gives the faculty member and the graduate student an excellent base from which to hone their practice for the community in which they work.

One of the key aspects of developing leadership for social justice is developing critical consciousness in our current and future leaders. This emotionally intensive process of recognizing the privileges we have not earned and the challenges we do not see remains an unsolved challenge for many programs.  Chapter Six by Jean-Marie and Dancy, with its overview of Black Studies and recommendations for applying the lessons of Black Studies to leadership preparation might provide a good jumping off point for this process. As Hopson (2010) notes, “educational leadership is not static but a developing interdisciplinary field that should be responsive to a set of issues and realities that confront schools. . .” (p. 782). Learning the history of Black Studies can provide an excellent case study of working in a context of diverse worldviews and still seeking common ground and shared action.

Faculty, school leaders, and graduate students alike should read this book and reflect on its content to better inform and influence action for change and improvement in contemporary social justice leadership scholarship, policy, program development, and practice.


Borsuk, A. (2011, November 17). Stirring the education policy pot. Retrieved July 7, 2014, from http://law.marquette.edu/facultyblog/2011/11/20/stirring-the-education-policy-pot/

Counts, G. S. (1932). Dare the school build a new social order? New York: The John Day Company.

Furman, G. (2012). Social justice leadership as praxis: developing capacities through preparation programs. Educational Administration Quarterly, 48(2), 191–229. doi: 10.1177/0013161X11427394  

Hopson, R. K. M., Hotep, U., Schneider, D. L., and Turenne, I. G. (2010). What’s educational leadership without an African-Centered perspective? Explorations and extrapolations. Urban Education, 45(6), 777–796.

Khalifa, M. (2012). A Re-New-ed paradigm in successful urban school leadership: Principal as community leader. Educational Administration Quarterly, 48, 387–423.

Noguera, P. (2011). A broader and bolder approach uses education to break the cycle of poverty. Phi Delta Kappan, 93(3), 8–14.

Normore, A. H., & Brooks, J. S. (Eds.). (2014). Educational leadership for ethics a social justice: Views from the social sciences. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: August 01, 2014
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17632, Date Accessed: 5/21/2022 8:17:23 AM

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About the Author
  • Brian Beabout
    University of New Orleans
    E-mail Author
    BRIAN R. BEABOUT is an Assistant Professor of Education at the University of New Orleans. His research interests include educational change, school-community-relations, and school choice. He is a founding board member of the Morris Jeff Community School in New Orleans.
  • Cherie Haydel-Goins
    University of New Orleans
    E-mail Author
    Cherie Haydel-Goins is a PhD candidate in Educational Leadership at the University of New Orleans. Her research focuses on the preparation and development of social justice leaders. She has served as a public school educator and leader in New Orleans for over twenty years.
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