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Leading Against the Grain: Lessons for Creating Just and Equitable Schools

reviewed by Jerome Delaney

coverTitle: Leading Against the Grain: Lessons for Creating Just and Equitable Schools
Author(s): Jeffrey S. Brooks & Anthony H. Normore (Eds.)
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 080775871X, Pages: 176, Year: 2017
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In their edited book, Leading Against the Grain: Lessons for Creating Just and Equitable Schools, Brooks and Normore offer readers an unorthodox but highly captivating anthology of biographies of exceptional leaders from education to politics and all points in between. What I found intriguing about this particular publication is that it takes a pragmatic look at the work and accomplishments of a variety of leaders, whereas most books on this subject examine leadership from a purely academic and often esoteric perspective. The result is that readers come away from this book with a real-life, practical understanding of what leadership is all about. Chapter headings in any typical theoretical book on leadership are fraught with phrases such as: the nature and importance of leadership; characteristics of leaders; and leadership behaviors and attitudes, to mention just a few. These books very seldom put a face to leadership by referring to real-life leaders. This is perhaps what appeals to me most about Leading Against the Grain.

The book consists of 17 chapters, each ranging from six to eight pages, which delve substantively into different leaders’ histories and accomplishments before enumerating the lessons and takeaways for each story. The result is an enjoyable and informative reading process, and with only one exception (Chapter Five, “Karl Marx Meets Jesus Christ”), my comments are all quite positive.

Headings such as “Key Lessons for Educational Leaders,” “Implications for Today’s Educational Leaders,” and “Relevance for Today’s Educational Leaders” permeate this publication and make it a joy for readers, ensuring that they are able to glean the salient points from each chapter. Another highly positive aspect of this book is its succinctness. Being an instructor of graduate courses in educational leadership, I have read my fair share of publications on this topic. Sadly, the majority go on ad nauseam espousing the traits of leadership without specific information about how those characteristics are operationalized on a daily basis. Not so with Brooks’ and Normore’s Leading Against the Grain. I am also of the belief that any chapter longer than eight to ten pages will result in the reader losing sight of the main points. This publication does an excellent job of keeping each chapter to an acceptable length.


Another aspect of this book, very worthy of comment, is that the authors appear to have gone out of their way to balance the mix of leaders they have discussed; there are local, national, and international subjects highlighted to illustrate the fact that leaders can exist and do significant work at all levels. Subjects range from more obscure leaders at the community level (e.g., Ethel M. Smith) to internationally known figures such as Sun Yat-sen, Jimmy Carter, and Saul Alinsky.


While my impressions of Leading Against the Grain are overwhelmingly positive, one striking exception is Chapter Five, Peter McLaren’s “Liberation Theology: Karl Marx Meets Jesus Christ.” Notwithstanding the fact that Peter McLaren is a learned academic in the field of critical education and that Karl Marx and Jesus Christ were truly great leaders, I am strongly of the opinion that Brooks and Normore made an error in choosing to include this chapter in their book. I have commented earlier on the various positive aspects of this book; its succinctness, lack of academic verbosity, uniformity of format, and so on. McLaren’s chapter goes against all of these features, and the result is that you come away from it with a certain disdain and annoyance. What stood out quite dramatically for me was the academic verbosity, which seems intended to confuse or perhaps even impress the reader.

In summary, Brooks and Normore have brilliantly designed and edited an exceptional book on leadership. It is indeed an absolute pleasure to read, with the exception of Peter McLaren’s chapter, which would perhaps be more appropriate for a book on philosophy. Otherwise, Leading Against the Grain is a significant contribution to the body of literature on leadership.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, 2018, p. -
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22400, Date Accessed: 1/19/2019 5:59:55 PM

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